Alice Howell

Active - 1914 - 1923  |   Born - May 5, 1888   |   Died - Apr 12, 1961   |   Genres - Comedy

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With her fuzzy hairdo piled atop her dizzy head, a vacant stare, and a shuffling penguin walk as the finishing touch, Alice Howell is arguably the most unfairly neglected of the silent era's few female comedy stars. Howell, who plowed both vaudeville and burlesque with her husband as Howell & Howell, entered films with Mack Sennett's Keystone comedy factory in 1914. She was there during the time of Chaplin, which is the only reason her name has survived at all (they appeared together in Caught in a Cabaret and Laughing Gas, both 1914). But Mabel Normand received almost all the plum female roles at Keystone, and when the self-important Henry "Pathé" Lehrman left Sennett and failed to persuade Normand to come along, Howell joined the exodus. She became the Queen of the Lot at Lehrman's L-KO ("Lehrman-Knockout"), but was still considered a pale imitation of Normand. Still, Howell remained with L-KO for the duration of the company's existence before moving to the Stern brothers' Century comedies. Century released through Universal, and Howell saw her star rise dramatically. When Century suddenly changed gears towards child stars and performing animals, Howell left and signed with a new company, Reelcraft. It was a step down, and although frequently described as hilarious (if somewhat low-class), the Howell comedies played mainly the hinterlands. But Universal had never forgotten the dizzy dame with the hairdo, and Irving Thalberg, in one of his final decisions before moving over to MGM, teamed her with the debonair Neely Edwards and the rotund Bert Roach in an extremely successful series in which she and Edwards played a married couple, with Roach as their inept butler. Existing series' entries such as One Wet Night, in which the Edwards-Howell household is burglarized by a transvestite (leading Alice to suspect Neely of infidelity), are still mirth-provoking and do much to corroborate Stan Laurel's oft-quoted ranking of Howell as one of the screen's ten best "comediennes" of all time. Belonging thoroughly to the silent era, Howell retired with the advent of sound.

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