Eric Campbell and Charley Chase

This post is edited and expanded from entries in the “Too Young, Too Soon” series on my old Angelfire page, written around 2005–07.

My IWSG post is here.

Alfred Eric Campbell (26 April 1879-20 December 1917) was formerly believed to have been born in Dunoon, Scotland, home of the Campbell clan, but today his true birthplace is believed to be Cheshire, England. It’s unclear if Eric, his longtime co-star Charlie Chaplin, or the press invented this myth.

He began acting in melodramas in local theatres in Wales and Scotland. At one of these shows, famed English theatre impresario Fred Karno discovered him and was quite impressed by his baritone and hefty build. Fred took him to London, where Eric became a slapstick actor.

In 1914, Eric moved to New York and became an established stage actor. Luck smiled on him in 1916 when Chaplin, in town to sign his Mutual contract, saw Eric in a Broadway play and invited him to work together.

Eric played the heavy (i.e., villain) in all twelve of Chaplin’s Mutual two-reelers (the last of which was unreleased). Big, tall, and imposing, with his walrus moustache and intimidating facial expressions, he was the perfect foil for the Little Tramp, someone you want to see him humiliate and defeat.

Don’t let his appearance fool you; off-camera, Eric was a true gentle giant, a very kind, sweet, shy, generous person.

Thankfully, none of Eric’s films are lost, because he made them with Chaplin, who owned the rights to all his films. The survival rate of films from people who owned their films is much better than that of most stars who didn’t.

Chaplin signed with First National after his Mutual contract ended, and planned to take Eric with him. Sadly, this never came to pass. Eric’s wife Fanny died of a heart attack on 9 July 1917, and when his 16-year-old daughter Una was walking to a store to buy a mourning dress, she was hit by a car and seriously hurt.

Eric met notorious gold-digger Pearl Gilman on 12 September, and married her five days later. Una, still recovering from her injuries, didn’t know about this for a few weeks. Less than two months after the wedding, Pearl sued Eric for divorce.

Eric moved into a room next to Chaplin at the L.A. Athletic Club. Shortly afterwards, Eric got drunk at a cast party, crashed his car on the way home, and was killed at age 39. Una was taken in by family in Nottingham.

Eric’s ashes were unclaimed for over 30 years, but finally have a home in L.A.’s Rosedale Cemetery.

Charley Chase (né Charles Joseph Parrott) (20 October 1893–20 June 1940) was born in Baltimore and began acting in vaudeville as a teen. His career as a film actor began with the Christie Film Company in 1912.

Charley later moved to Keystone, where he was both actor and director. People from other studios were very impressed with his work, and invited him to direct for them too. In 1920, he joined Hal Roach Studios, and in late 1921, he rose to director-general.

When Charley began acting again in 1923, he took the stage surname Chase. Charley excelled at situational comedies of embarrassment, often playing befuddled husbands, suitors, and businessmen. Like Harold Lloyd, his character was a regular guy.

Charley was a quadruple threat, writing, directing, producing, and acting. When sound came along, he became a quintuple threat with his lovely singing voice. Hal Roach often called him the funniest guy he’d ever known

Sadly, Charley’s planned début starring feature, Neighborhood House (1936), was plagued by problems, and ultimately edited down to two reels. After being dismissed from Hal Roach Studios, he starred in another series of shorts for Columbia. Charley also continued directing, most notably for the Three Stooges.

Charley’s longtime alcohol problems got worse after his little brother James died in 1939. Thirteen months later, Charley passed away of a heart attack at age 46.

Today, Charley’s comedic genius has been rediscovered by a new generation.

7 thoughts on “Eric Campbell and Charley Chase

  1. Pingback: A to Z Reflections 2019 | Welcome to My Magick Theatre

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