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Who was Louise Fazenda?

(June 17, 1895 – April 17, 1962)

 

 

 

December 12, 2008

 

Louise Fazenda was born in Lafayette, Indiana of a working-class Catholic family. Her father, Joseph Fazenda, was born in Mexico.  His ethic background seems to have been a mix of Italian, Portuguese and French descent.  Louise’s mother was born in Chicago.  Joseph Fazenda had a grocery store in Los Angeles.  Louise attended Los Angeles High School and St. Mary's Convent. Louise had a number of after school jobs before her entering into motion pictures; she worked for a dentist, a candy storeowner, and a tax collector and delivered groceries, she recalled hitching up the family horse after school and making the rounds for the family store.  Like a number of young girls in Los Angeles, she knew that there was money to be made at the local studios as an extra.  Louise got her start as early as 1913 with Universal Studios’ Joker Comedy Unit when she was just 18 years old.

 

In 1915, she was recruited by Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios, Sennett was happy with her willingness to do anything for a laugh. Louise in these films appeared as a gawky, frizzy-haired, buck-toothed bumpkin with spit curls and multiple pigtails, however in real life she was an attractive woman.  She began appearing in small parts in the Keystone/Triangle one reel and spit reel comedies with good success. She quickly became a star. 

 

Sadly, Mabel Normand never co-stared with Louise Fazenda as in 1915, Mabel was busy making the wonderful Mabel & Fatty films and the Keystone/Triangle comedies with Raymond Hitchcock before going with Roscoe Arbuckle to work at the East Coast Triangle Studio at Fort Lee.   Louise was busy working in the Ambrose series of short comedies with Mack Swain.  She was also paired with Charlie Murray in the Hogan comedies. She was featured as a number of ethnic characters parts.  Louise worked hard as The Mack Sennett Weekly stated, “Being a character comedienne at Keystone isn’t the softest berth in the world,” (as Mabel could attest).

 

With Mabel’s absence, Louise filled a real need for a comedienne to work in the slapstick short comedies, as there was a requirement for a steady supply of the type of slapstick material that the public was demanding.  Louise had a natural girlishness albeit a bit daffy but not the beauty that Mabel Normand had brought to the screen.  Early 1916, Mack Sennett found that he needed not just the character comediennes like Louise but also pretty girls to replace Mabel so he recruited “a number of young and attractive player” these became the Bathing Beauties.

 

It has been indicated recently by the film historian, William M. Drew that Louise was “one of the most intellectual persons in all of Hollywood, really had a brilliant mind, extremely well-read (her favorite writer was Proust)”.  In many ways, Mabel and Louise had a great deal in common; both coming from working class backgrounds, slapstick comediennes, working for the same studio, both with a rather intellectual bent, charitable and yes, both were very pretty.  Again William Drew describes Louise as “…she wasn't just attractive--she was drop-dead gorgeous in real life with a beautiful face and a figure to die for.”  He goes on to write that, “Louise, unlike Mabel, built up an entire career in which, without resorting to outright Lon Chaney-type make-up, she was able to conceal successfully that fact of (her beauty) from the public, I think, one of the more amazing acts of deception in cinematic history.” 

 

Louise made over 60 films with Mack Sennett but after becoming a big star for Sennett and one of the highest-paid comediennes on the Keystone lot; she left him for better roles and more money. She appeared in vaudeville 1921-1922 but returned to the movies making a variety of shorts and feature-length films.  She was featured in musicals and even dramas often appearing as an elegant society dowager, who dominated her husband. She made the transition to sound pictures working for most of the large studios Warner Brothers, Paramount and M-G-M. She continued to work in a number of musicals and comedies as a character actress during the 1930s. Louise was the for-runner of comediennes like Judy Canova and Minnie Pearl. She retired from the screen in 1939. Yes, she was at the dedication of the plaque at the Mabel Normand sound stage at Republic Studio.  It is possible that Mabel and Louise were friends but the information hasn’t appeared yet.

 

In her private live, she was an avid art collector, which passion continued, throughout her life. Louise was recognized as a philanthropist, her work with children and one charitable act was recorded in a book by Edward Burnker  titled ‘The Education of a Felon’ She paid bills for people she read about in the newspapers that needed help, feed children at the UCLA Medical Center, subsidized students in college, she found out about. Actress Laura LaPlante witnessed one of her charitable efforts. LaPlante described Fazenda helping one child, who refused to eat. The actress reportedly went back and forth to the hospital from her home, making various dishes, until she was successful, and the youth regained his health.  It has been said that Louise was one of the most beloved stars in Hollywood even after she was no longer on the screen.  She was still a lovely woman in 1954 when she appeared to help celebrate Mack Sennett on the Ralph Edwards program, This Is Your Life and part of the promotion of Mack’s upcoming book, King of Comedy.

 

Louise married Noel Smith in 1917 but they were divorced in 1926.  Her second husband was Hal Wallis, the Warner Brothers’ producer, who produced six of her movies, they were married in 1927, and their marriage lasted until her death.  Hal Wallis was sometimes called “The Prisoner of Fazenda.”  They had one son, Brent Wallis, a psychologist in Florida.  In 1962, Hal Wallis was making a film in Hawaii when Louise had a cerebral hemorrhage and died on April 17, 1962, in her home in Beverly Hills, her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 6801 Hollywood Blvd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOTES

Brumburgh, Gary, Short Biography

Burnker, Edward, The Education of a Felon

Drew, William, Film Historian

Goldensilent website

Hal Erickson, Short Biography

IMDb

King, Rob, The Fun Factory pages 233-234, 236

Mack Sennett Weekly, The,  1917

Photoplay, March 1914, page 18 “The Most Impish Sprite of Screen Comedy” Louise Fazenda,

Strickling, Howard “Life Story of Louise Fazenda” press release

Who's Who On The Screen (1920) Vintage Biography

Wikipedia

 

PHOTOS OF LOUISE FAZENDA