Until recently, Harry Watson Jr. was a largely forgotten clown of the silent screen. His Mishaps of Musty Suffer series, produced by George Kleine and Essanay, had been preserved but unseen by the general public since its original release in 1916/1917. Now, thanks to a successful Kickstarter project spearheaded by silent film accompanist/historian Ben Model, 10 Musty whirls are available on DVD, and one in particular has direct Chicago ties.
When the Chicago Motion Picture Exposition was staged in July of 1916, the industry’s biggest stars were in attendance -- including Musty Suffer himself, Harry Watson Jr. Watson and George Kleine arrived for the Expo just in time to enjoy Harry Watson Days, which was held July 17 & 18. In celebration, Musty and his ragtag group paraded around the city, with a convoy of cars and a band playing in the streets. He mugged for movie lovers old and young, drove around downtown, received a key to the city, and caused quite a stir. As Kitty Kelly, critic for the Chicago Tribune wrote, “Musty Suffer, roasting in his grease paint and putty nose, frolicked for the camera and exchanged airy persiflage with the juvenile populace drawn up admiringly.”
In addition to performing his famous boxing scene for the Expo-goers, Watson and co. also filmed scenes for upcoming “whirls” using special studios in the Coliseum (the Expo venue) and the beautiful scenery of Lincoln Park. Musty’s admirers followed them there, and as Kitty Kelly reported, “Some of them had a chance to get in the pictures themselves by riding on the little train, and some real sure enough actors were developed in the train’s driver, A.L. Gordon, who became suitably histrionic at Musty’s efforts to usurp his engine; [and] in the conductor, whom director Myll had intended to order keep still but didn’t because he acted so well.”
Amazingly, these exploits were recorded for posterity in the form of a promotional film called Capturing Chicago. Fortunately, this is one of the films that has been preserved and transferred for Ben Model’s fantastic DVD. It’s a clever and entertaining short offering great shots of movie-loving Chicagoans, great gags and fantastic shots of the City during the mid-teens -- when it was a major movie hub.
Want to see it for yourself? Check it out, along with the 9 other fantastic Musty whirls, on The Mishaps of Musty Suffer, available here. You can also learn more about the man behind the putty nose with Steve Massa’s companion booklet, available here.