Ben Turpin in one of his pre-Mack Sennett silent films for Vogue Comedies, "The Musical Marvel" released February 11th, 1917. Ben Turpin (September 19, 1869 -- July 1, 1940) was a cross-eyed American comedian and actor, best remembered for his work in silent films. He worked in vaudeville, burlesque, and circuses. Turpin had a distinctive appearance, with a small wiry frame, a brush mustache, and crossed eyes. Turpin's famous eyes, he said, only crossed as a young adult after he suffered an accident.
Turpin was convinced that the crossed eyes were essential to his comic career; his co-workers recalled that after he received any blow to the head he made a point of looking himself in the mirror to assure himself that they had not become uncrossed. Turpin was a devout Catholic and his workmates would occasionally goad him by threatening to pray that Turpin's eyes would uncross, thus depriving him of his livelihood.
Turpin famously bought a $25,000 insurance policy with Lloyd's of London, payable if his eyes ever uncrossed. (How serious this was is open to question; such publicity stunts centered around a performer's "trademark" were common at the time.) He developed a vigorous style of physical comedy, including an ability to stage comic pratfalls that impressed even his fellow workers in the rough-and-tumble world of silent comedy. One of his specialties was a forward tumble he called the "hundred an' eight'" (probably a corruption of "one hundred and eighty," referring to a 180-degree somersault). It was basically an interrupted forward somersault initiated by kicking one leg up turning over 180 degrees to land flat on the back or in a seated position.
In 1917 Ben Turpin joined the leading comedy company, the Mack Sennett studio. Turpin's aptitude for crude slapstick suited the Sennett style perfectly, and Sennett's writers often cast the ridiculous-looking Turpin against type (a rugged Yukon miner; a suave, worldly lover; a stalwart cowboy; a fearless stuntman, etc.) for maximum comic effect. Through the 1920s his roles often spoofed serious actors and celebrities of the time -- e.g., "The Shriek" for "The Sheik" -- and Turpin became one of film's most popular comics. Turpin appeared in both short subjects and feature films for Sennett. Delighted with his own success, he took to introducing himself with the phrase, "I'm Ben Turpin; I make $3000 a week."
Ben Turpin died July 1, 1940 of a heart attack and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California following a Requiem Mass at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. He was eulogized at the Mass as "a fine member of his church, strong in his faith" by Father J. P. Concannon. His active pallbearers included Andy Clyde, Billy Bevan, James Finlayson, and Charlie Murray.
Resources: wikipedia.org, imdb.com
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