Mabel and Fatty's Wash Day


1915
Mabel and Fatty's Wash Day

Brief Synopsis

In this silent short, a henpecked husband's innocent friendship with a married woman leads to chaos.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Short
Silent
Release Date
1915

Synopsis

In this silent short, a henpecked husband's innocent friendship with a married woman leads to chaos.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Short
Silent
Release Date
1915

Articles

Mabel and Fatty's Wash Day -


Call them the slapstick Cinderellas: Mabel Normand, slaving away at household chores while her useless hubby Harry McCoy naps; and Fatty Arbuckle, scrubbing while his harridan wife Alice Davenport nags. But when Mabel and Fatty accidentally swap some of their laundry, these two neighbors find solace in each other's friendship. Nothing spells the start of a lasting friendship quite like handling each other's dirty underwear. Too bad their respective spouses don't agree--but this is a Keystone short, where all domestic disagreements can be resolved by throwing things and kicking.

Harry McCoy was one of the most versatile performers in Sennett's Keystone company. Over the course of some 75 shorts, he played every kind of role--from villains to heroes, walk-ons to leading parts. Perhaps because of this unusual range, at a studio where the stars specialized in easily recognizable character types, McCoy did not become as well-known as his frequent appearances would suggest. McCoy also branched into directing, and worked as a writer for the likes of Harry Langdon. In 1937, he joined Walt Disney's company as a gag writer, but died young before making his mark in this new venture.



By David Kalat
Mabel And Fatty's Wash Day -

Mabel and Fatty's Wash Day -

Call them the slapstick Cinderellas: Mabel Normand, slaving away at household chores while her useless hubby Harry McCoy naps; and Fatty Arbuckle, scrubbing while his harridan wife Alice Davenport nags. But when Mabel and Fatty accidentally swap some of their laundry, these two neighbors find solace in each other's friendship. Nothing spells the start of a lasting friendship quite like handling each other's dirty underwear. Too bad their respective spouses don't agree--but this is a Keystone short, where all domestic disagreements can be resolved by throwing things and kicking. Harry McCoy was one of the most versatile performers in Sennett's Keystone company. Over the course of some 75 shorts, he played every kind of role--from villains to heroes, walk-ons to leading parts. Perhaps because of this unusual range, at a studio where the stars specialized in easily recognizable character types, McCoy did not become as well-known as his frequent appearances would suggest. McCoy also branched into directing, and worked as a writer for the likes of Harry Langdon. In 1937, he joined Walt Disney's company as a gag writer, but died young before making his mark in this new venture. By David Kalat

Fatty Arbuckle Comedy Shorts
Mabel and Fatty's Wash Day at 9:15 pm ET
He Did and He Didn't at 10:45 pm ET
Fatty and Mabel's Simple Life at 3:15 am ET


During the 1910s -- the years in which the distinctive style of comedy known as slapstick evolved -- one dynamic duo dominated the form: Mabel Normand and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. Appearing in more than 50 films together over the course of three years (mostly one- and two-reel shorts, produced by Mack Sennett), they bore a profound influence on the industry and the innovative artists who would follow in their wake.

Fatty and Mabel's Simple Life (1915) shows that comic anarchy can erupt on even the most "poor but honest" farm. Fatty and Mabel are playful sweethearts, but their relationship is threatened by the attentions of the Squire's son (Al St. John), who offers to relieve a debt if he can have Mabel's hand in marriage. Mabel's father (Josef Swickard) considers the indecent proposal but the young lovers thwart the plot by attempting to elope -- a plan that goes hilariously awry as soon as the ladder hits the windowsill. The foursome chase each other through the house, until the comedy spills outside in a madcap automobile/bicycle chase. The two-reeler is capped off with an elaborate physical-comedy sequence centered around an uncovered well.

A more sophisticated side of Fatty and Mabel is seen in He Did and He Didn't (1916). Arbuckle and Normand star as a prosperous couple dressing for dinner -- a dinner that is complicated by the last-minute arrival of Mabel's old schoolmate, Jack (William Jefferson). After a heavy meal of lobster, the comic stakes grow increasingly higher as burglars (Al St. John and Joe Bordeaux) invade the home while Dr. Fatty is sent on a house call. He returns to find Mabel and Jack in a compromising position, and the knockabout comedy reaches a shockingly grim climax... or does it?

In Mabel and Fatty's Wash Day (1915), Mabel works her fingers to the bone while her ne'er-do-well husband (Harry McCoy) wallows in bed. Nearby, a portly house-husband (Arbuckle) also tends the washing, while being henpecked by a nagging wife (Alice Davenport). Eventually the suffering spouses realize their common plight and form a friendship. When the couples' paths cross during a morning stroll, Mabel and Fatty escape their balls-and-chains and enjoy a peaceful moment at a small cafe. The quietude is short-lived when the spurned spouses turn vengeful -- a situation further complicated by a case of mistaken purse-snatching -- causing the tranquil morning to end in slapstick chaos.

There are numerous conflicting accounts of how Arbuckle was discovered by pioneer producer Sennett, but the only undeniable facts are that he was already a seasoned vaudevillian, and that Normand was ensconced as the female star of the troupe (as well as Sennett's girlfriend). It took a while for Arbuckle to modify his comic style of performance to suit the screen, and for this reason Sennett doubted the comedian's filmic potential. Normand, however, recognized his promise and wielded enough power on the set to school Arbuckle in the subtleties of slapstick.

According to Arbuckle biographer Andy Edmonds, "Mabel never lost faith in her rotund co-star and coached him. She taught him when to ignore the camera and when to play to it to win audience sympathy or set up an 'inside' joke with the audience. She also gave him a nicer name, 'Big Otto,' because he looked 'German' like 'someone named Otto would look.' she joked. By this time others on the set had already started calling him 'Fatty.'"

Arbuckle always detested the monicker "Fatty" and no doubt appreciated Normand's more considerate nature. However, it was a standard practice that every comedy troupe have a so-called "fat laugh" and Arbuckle had begun his career filling that bill.

As Normand and Sennett's relationship cooled, the actress and Arbuckle began to have an "on-again off-again love affair" (Edmonds), even though the actor was married. On camera, a different sort of relationship was blossoming, one that was even more harmonic. They learned to play off each other's strengths and find a balance of comedy that allowed them equal status as movie stars (as a sign of their box-office equality, their names were often reversed in billing). It is believed that the pie-in-the-face gag (from which innumerable pie fights sprang) was innovated by Arbuckle and Normand in 1913, as a bit of on-the-set improvisation.

Sometimes Arbuckle was credited as director, sometimes Normand. Often no one received on-screen credit. In every case, evidence indicates that the Fatty and Mabel films were created in close collaboration.

Eventually, Normand and Sennett's relationship imploded -- when Normand caught Sennett in flagrante delicto with actress Mae Busch. In the ensuing fracas, Normand was struck in the forehead by a thrown vase. Physical and emotional complications of the injury (such as an attempted suicide and alleged substance abuse) kept her off the Arbuckle/Normand set for three months. According to some observers, her mental faculties were never quite as sharp (she never directed again), and her career began its quick decline.

Arbuckle tarried alone in her absence, and became Keystone's top box-office attraction, before moving on to a stellar solo career at Paramount.

Although they were once considered the Cadillacs of silent comedy, the Fatty and Mabel shorts have lost some of their luster over time. This is partly due to the Virginia Rappe scandal of 1921, which effectively ended Arbuckle's career. And Normand was embroiled in the William Desmond Taylor murder case of 1922. These high-profile Hollywood scandals should have made Arbuckle and Normand's careers ripe for reappraisal by contemporary viewers... yet their films go largely unseen.

One reason is that the Fatty and Mabel films belong to a different era, and rarely transcend the Victorian values from which they arose. Though the films delve into grotesque comedy, and have moments of visual inventiveness, they maintain a tone of innocent fun that by the 1920s had become outmoded. Arbuckle and Normand were quickly overshadowed in the roaring twenties by actor/directors who broadened the boundaries of early comedy, introducing new layers of emotional depth (Charlie Chaplin), cinematic ingenuity (Buster Keaton) and a spirit of modernity (Harold Lloyd).

Normand biographer Betty Harper Russell accurately captures the spirit of the Fatty and Mabel films: "The appeal of Fatty and Mabel was their innocence... They were absurd and lovable cartoons of the small-town rural America drawn by Mark Twain, country kids fighting and courting over the milking pails...Their knock-about spooning, marriage, adultery, and divorce burlesqued the violence of real social change and restored sex to innocence. In Mabel and Fatty's Wash Day, they commit adultery in the park by running off to share a soda pop: one bottle, two straws. In Fatty and Mabel Adrift (1916), they pretend to be newlyweds, but they sleep in separate beds in their little doll house...They portrayed puppy love for a public nostalgic for love without sex, and they did it so well that when Arbuckle was later charged with rape, the public felt betrayed."

To call these films symbols of Victorian innocence is not to discredit Arbuckle and Normand, but to situate their films in the appropriate context so that viewers can realize just how important they were at the time.

The Fatty and Mabel films defined comedy of the 1910s. Of these films (and Arbuckle's directorial style), Edmonds writes, "Arbuckle's comedies were not strictly slapstick; they were a mixture of low comedy and high drama with highly charged action and tender love scenes. Though they failed to evolve to the sophisticated level of the later Chaplin comedies, they had their own look and feel, and stood above and apart from the majority of comedies the studios were churning out in the early teens."

It should be noted that some of Chaplin's earliest films were Mabel Normand vehicles (Mabel's Busy Day [1914], Mabel at the Wheel [1914], and Mabel's Married Life [1914]). In his book The Day the Laughter Stopped, David Yallop claims that Chaplin's characterization of the Little Tramp was constructed from Arbuckle's cast-off wardrobe: "From Roscoe he borrowed a pair of balloon-like trousers, which he tied around his waist, a small hat (one of Arbuckle's trademarks), and a pair of outsize shoes... Amused, Arbuckle and the others watched, and Chaplin, encouraged, proceeded to put together the basic costume for what was to become one of the screen's greatest characters."

Chaplin wasn't the only innovator nurtured by Arbuckle and Normand. Once Arbuckle set up his own production company at Comique/Paramount, he hired stage comedian Buster Keaton and tutored him in screen comedy. Keaton's first fifteen films were made under Arbuckle's supervision, and when Keaton was given the opportunity to star in his own line of films, he did so with Arbuckle's blessing.

Had their careers not been derailed by scandal, perhaps Normand and Arbuckle might have kept pace with the other comedians who occupy the higher pedestals in slapstick's pantheon. Rather than speculate, one should instead savor the fruits of their labor, and appreciate the importance of these cornerstones of silent comedy, upon which other cinematic geniuses were allowed to build.

MABEL AND FATTY'S WASH DAY 1915
Director: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle
Music: Donald Sosin
Cast: Mabel Normand (Mabel), Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (Fatty), Alice Davenport (Fatty's Wife), Harry McCoy (Mabel's Husband), Luke the Dog
BW-14m.

HE DID AND HE DIDN'T 1916
Director: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle
Producer: Mack Sennett
Screenplay: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle
Music: Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra
Cast: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (The Doctor), Mabel Normand (The Doctor's Wife), William Jefferson (Jack), Al St. John (The Burglar), Joe Bordeaux (The Burglar's Accomplice)
BW-20m.

FATTY AND MABEL'S SIMPLE LIFE 1915
Director: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle
Producer: Mack Sennett
Music: Donald Sosin
Cast: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (Roscoe), Mabel Normand (Mabel), Al St. John (The Squire's Son), Josef Swickard (Mabel's father), Joe Bordeaux (Farm Hand)
BW-25m.

by Bret Wood

Fatty Arbuckle Comedy Shorts Mabel and Fatty's Wash Day at 9:15 pm ET He Did and He Didn't at 10:45 pm ET Fatty and Mabel's Simple Life at 3:15 am ET

During the 1910s -- the years in which the distinctive style of comedy known as slapstick evolved -- one dynamic duo dominated the form: Mabel Normand and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. Appearing in more than 50 films together over the course of three years (mostly one- and two-reel shorts, produced by Mack Sennett), they bore a profound influence on the industry and the innovative artists who would follow in their wake. Fatty and Mabel's Simple Life (1915) shows that comic anarchy can erupt on even the most "poor but honest" farm. Fatty and Mabel are playful sweethearts, but their relationship is threatened by the attentions of the Squire's son (Al St. John), who offers to relieve a debt if he can have Mabel's hand in marriage. Mabel's father (Josef Swickard) considers the indecent proposal but the young lovers thwart the plot by attempting to elope -- a plan that goes hilariously awry as soon as the ladder hits the windowsill. The foursome chase each other through the house, until the comedy spills outside in a madcap automobile/bicycle chase. The two-reeler is capped off with an elaborate physical-comedy sequence centered around an uncovered well. A more sophisticated side of Fatty and Mabel is seen in He Did and He Didn't (1916). Arbuckle and Normand star as a prosperous couple dressing for dinner -- a dinner that is complicated by the last-minute arrival of Mabel's old schoolmate, Jack (William Jefferson). After a heavy meal of lobster, the comic stakes grow increasingly higher as burglars (Al St. John and Joe Bordeaux) invade the home while Dr. Fatty is sent on a house call. He returns to find Mabel and Jack in a compromising position, and the knockabout comedy reaches a shockingly grim climax... or does it? In Mabel and Fatty's Wash Day (1915), Mabel works her fingers to the bone while her ne'er-do-well husband (Harry McCoy) wallows in bed. Nearby, a portly house-husband (Arbuckle) also tends the washing, while being henpecked by a nagging wife (Alice Davenport). Eventually the suffering spouses realize their common plight and form a friendship. When the couples' paths cross during a morning stroll, Mabel and Fatty escape their balls-and-chains and enjoy a peaceful moment at a small cafe. The quietude is short-lived when the spurned spouses turn vengeful -- a situation further complicated by a case of mistaken purse-snatching -- causing the tranquil morning to end in slapstick chaos. There are numerous conflicting accounts of how Arbuckle was discovered by pioneer producer Sennett, but the only undeniable facts are that he was already a seasoned vaudevillian, and that Normand was ensconced as the female star of the troupe (as well as Sennett's girlfriend). It took a while for Arbuckle to modify his comic style of performance to suit the screen, and for this reason Sennett doubted the comedian's filmic potential. Normand, however, recognized his promise and wielded enough power on the set to school Arbuckle in the subtleties of slapstick. According to Arbuckle biographer Andy Edmonds, "Mabel never lost faith in her rotund co-star and coached him. She taught him when to ignore the camera and when to play to it to win audience sympathy or set up an 'inside' joke with the audience. She also gave him a nicer name, 'Big Otto,' because he looked 'German' like 'someone named Otto would look.' she joked. By this time others on the set had already started calling him 'Fatty.'" Arbuckle always detested the monicker "Fatty" and no doubt appreciated Normand's more considerate nature. However, it was a standard practice that every comedy troupe have a so-called "fat laugh" and Arbuckle had begun his career filling that bill. As Normand and Sennett's relationship cooled, the actress and Arbuckle began to have an "on-again off-again love affair" (Edmonds), even though the actor was married. On camera, a different sort of relationship was blossoming, one that was even more harmonic. They learned to play off each other's strengths and find a balance of comedy that allowed them equal status as movie stars (as a sign of their box-office equality, their names were often reversed in billing). It is believed that the pie-in-the-face gag (from which innumerable pie fights sprang) was innovated by Arbuckle and Normand in 1913, as a bit of on-the-set improvisation. Sometimes Arbuckle was credited as director, sometimes Normand. Often no one received on-screen credit. In every case, evidence indicates that the Fatty and Mabel films were created in close collaboration. Eventually, Normand and Sennett's relationship imploded -- when Normand caught Sennett in flagrante delicto with actress Mae Busch. In the ensuing fracas, Normand was struck in the forehead by a thrown vase. Physical and emotional complications of the injury (such as an attempted suicide and alleged substance abuse) kept her off the Arbuckle/Normand set for three months. According to some observers, her mental faculties were never quite as sharp (she never directed again), and her career began its quick decline. Arbuckle tarried alone in her absence, and became Keystone's top box-office attraction, before moving on to a stellar solo career at Paramount. Although they were once considered the Cadillacs of silent comedy, the Fatty and Mabel shorts have lost some of their luster over time. This is partly due to the Virginia Rappe scandal of 1921, which effectively ended Arbuckle's career. And Normand was embroiled in the William Desmond Taylor murder case of 1922. These high-profile Hollywood scandals should have made Arbuckle and Normand's careers ripe for reappraisal by contemporary viewers... yet their films go largely unseen. One reason is that the Fatty and Mabel films belong to a different era, and rarely transcend the Victorian values from which they arose. Though the films delve into grotesque comedy, and have moments of visual inventiveness, they maintain a tone of innocent fun that by the 1920s had become outmoded. Arbuckle and Normand were quickly overshadowed in the roaring twenties by actor/directors who broadened the boundaries of early comedy, introducing new layers of emotional depth (Charlie Chaplin), cinematic ingenuity (Buster Keaton) and a spirit of modernity (Harold Lloyd). Normand biographer Betty Harper Russell accurately captures the spirit of the Fatty and Mabel films: "The appeal of Fatty and Mabel was their innocence... They were absurd and lovable cartoons of the small-town rural America drawn by Mark Twain, country kids fighting and courting over the milking pails...Their knock-about spooning, marriage, adultery, and divorce burlesqued the violence of real social change and restored sex to innocence. In Mabel and Fatty's Wash Day, they commit adultery in the park by running off to share a soda pop: one bottle, two straws. In Fatty and Mabel Adrift (1916), they pretend to be newlyweds, but they sleep in separate beds in their little doll house...They portrayed puppy love for a public nostalgic for love without sex, and they did it so well that when Arbuckle was later charged with rape, the public felt betrayed." To call these films symbols of Victorian innocence is not to discredit Arbuckle and Normand, but to situate their films in the appropriate context so that viewers can realize just how important they were at the time. The Fatty and Mabel films defined comedy of the 1910s. Of these films (and Arbuckle's directorial style), Edmonds writes, "Arbuckle's comedies were not strictly slapstick; they were a mixture of low comedy and high drama with highly charged action and tender love scenes. Though they failed to evolve to the sophisticated level of the later Chaplin comedies, they had their own look and feel, and stood above and apart from the majority of comedies the studios were churning out in the early teens." It should be noted that some of Chaplin's earliest films were Mabel Normand vehicles (Mabel's Busy Day [1914], Mabel at the Wheel [1914], and Mabel's Married Life [1914]). In his book The Day the Laughter Stopped, David Yallop claims that Chaplin's characterization of the Little Tramp was constructed from Arbuckle's cast-off wardrobe: "From Roscoe he borrowed a pair of balloon-like trousers, which he tied around his waist, a small hat (one of Arbuckle's trademarks), and a pair of outsize shoes... Amused, Arbuckle and the others watched, and Chaplin, encouraged, proceeded to put together the basic costume for what was to become one of the screen's greatest characters." Chaplin wasn't the only innovator nurtured by Arbuckle and Normand. Once Arbuckle set up his own production company at Comique/Paramount, he hired stage comedian Buster Keaton and tutored him in screen comedy. Keaton's first fifteen films were made under Arbuckle's supervision, and when Keaton was given the opportunity to star in his own line of films, he did so with Arbuckle's blessing. Had their careers not been derailed by scandal, perhaps Normand and Arbuckle might have kept pace with the other comedians who occupy the higher pedestals in slapstick's pantheon. Rather than speculate, one should instead savor the fruits of their labor, and appreciate the importance of these cornerstones of silent comedy, upon which other cinematic geniuses were allowed to build. MABEL AND FATTY'S WASH DAY 1915 Director: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle Music: Donald Sosin Cast: Mabel Normand (Mabel), Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (Fatty), Alice Davenport (Fatty's Wife), Harry McCoy (Mabel's Husband), Luke the Dog BW-14m. HE DID AND HE DIDN'T 1916 Director: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle Producer: Mack Sennett Screenplay: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle Music: Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra Cast: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (The Doctor), Mabel Normand (The Doctor's Wife), William Jefferson (Jack), Al St. John (The Burglar), Joe Bordeaux (The Burglar's Accomplice) BW-20m. FATTY AND MABEL'S SIMPLE LIFE 1915 Director: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle Producer: Mack Sennett Music: Donald Sosin Cast: Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle (Roscoe), Mabel Normand (Mabel), Al St. John (The Squire's Son), Josef Swickard (Mabel's father), Joe Bordeaux (Farm Hand) BW-25m. by Bret Wood

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