Any true movie fan should read, ‘Mr. Suicide, Henry ‘Pathè’ Lehrman: The Birth of Comedy’
The new book titled “Mr. Suicide, Henry ‘Pathè’ Lehrman: The Birth of Comedy” written by Thomas Reeder is a hefty book with over 700 pages of text and might appear to be intimidating to the casual reader just by its size. But once the book is picked-up and reading starts, all thoughts of such intimidation are replaced with delight and downright fun as author Thomas Reeder explores the earliest years of American filmmaking. If the name Henry ‘Pathè’ Lehrman is not known to you, just think in your mind about a very early silent film you may have found enjoyment watching. Perhaps this film is an early comedy? Perhaps this film contains slapstick comedy? Well, if so Lehrman played a huge part in the inception of this very popular form of entertainment. And he developed his comic expressions which then played out in his films.
Lehrman’s story is that of the story of an American. He came to America to follow his dreams, even before those dreams were fully realized. He eventually landed a job at Biograph Studios. This studio launched careers of Mary Pickford, David W. Griffith, Mack Sennett and many more. The Biograph days were a mix of experimental filmmaking and a race to bring a new kind of pastime to the American public. They fell in love with this early form of the art of motion pictures and this new art form not only evolved into one of America’s most treasured forms of entertainment, but became highly successful form of commerce.
Lehrman experienced all the highs and lows of the early film industry. He helped to develop what we know today as slapstick comedy. He rose in the ranks of the film industry from a bit part player to one of the most coveted directors of silent comedies. He was also one of Charlie Chaplin’s early directors, before Chaplin started making his own films.
“Mr. Suicide, Henry ‘Pathè' Lehrman: The Birth of Comedy” explores the many studios such as Biograph, Keystone and Lehrman’s own L-KO studios. Lerhman moved to Sunshine Comedies, a Fox subsidiary. And Lehrman got trapped during the recession that hit the film industry in the early 1920's, leaving Lehrman broke and in need of work.
Then he hit even darker despair when he his fiancée Virginia Rappe died at a party in San Francisco. Actor and comedian Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, a friend of Lehrman at the time, was put on trial for raping and murdering the young actress. Arbuckle was found not guilty, but his career was ruined. Anyone related to the news story was subjected to continuous scrutiny by the press and no one was left unscathed.
Thomas Reeder’s in-depth look at this extraordinary filmmaker takes the reader back a century and into the early days of Hollywood. It is book that provides more insight to this period of the film industry and is a complete joy to read. No stone was unturned in the research of this book, and Reeder even acknowledges that someday more insight to the subject may be gleaned - which is doubtful to me considering the time and effort Reeder took in his research. The lives the many people written about in this book have been long forgotten by the average film fan of today and is a reminder of the hard work, creativity and pure courage these filmmakers took to bring movies to a nation in need of diversion. It's no doubt that “Mr. Suicide, Henry ‘Pathè' Lehrman: The Birth of Comedy” will shine a light on these forgotten pioneers of the movie industry both in front of the camera and behind it.