29¢ Keystone Cops
Silent Screen Stars
Issue Date: April 27, 1994
City: San Francisco, CA
Printed By: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Lithographed and engraved
Color: Red, black and bright violet
In August 1912, so the story goes, the Keystone Film Company’s troupe of comic actors arrived in Hollywood the same day as the town’s annual Shriner parade. Seizing the opportunity, Mack Sennett, the Keystone’s director, sent his star comedienne Mabel Normand into the parade. Clutching a baby doll, she began searching the ranks of Shriners for the child’s supposed father. In hot pursuit was Ford Sterling, playing the part of Mabel’s irate, two-timed husband.
When a brawl erupted between Sterling and an embarrassed Shriner, the police came charging in to break it up. Meanwhile Sennett, who had set up his camera, captured the entire ruckus on film and sent it off to New York as the first Keystone comedy.
A master of comic timing, Sennett used this formula of spontaneity and controlled confusion to create more than 1,000 short comedies. Oftentimes these slapstick skits featured the famous Keystone Kops, who instead of imposing order, added to the chaos.
This incompetent police force kept viewers laughing as they bungled their way through frantic chases, collided with one another, and became entangled with clotheslines, ladders, and folding tents. But through it all, their serious expressions remained unchanged.