Charley Chase's comic abilities went far beyond his on-camera antics: he was also a talented director, screenwriter, and even a songwriter. Born Charles Parrott on October 20, 1893, he was already a seasoned vaudeville performer by the time he was in his late teens. His travels brought him to Los Angeles, where he began appearing in comedies for Al Christie in 1913. A few months later, he went to Mack Sennett's Keystone Pictures. Because of his good looks, it was hard for him to stand out amongst such eccentric Sennett comedians as Chester Conklin and Mack Swain; nevertheless, he made a solid supporting comic for the studio's luminaries, Charles Chaplin, Mabel Normand, and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. He made even more of an impression as a director, and, for the latter half of the 1910s, he worked in that capacity for actors such as Ford Sterling, Hank Mann, Charles "Heinie" Conklin, Billy West, and Mr. and Mrs. Carter DeHaven. In addition to working for Sennett, he worked at Fox, L-KO, Paramount, and King Bee (where he directed Oliver Hardy).
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Chase came into his own when he began working for producer Hal Roach in 1921. Roach was looking both for a director and for someone who would supervise the other comedy units. Director/writer James Parrott, who was already working at the studio, suggested his older brother. Chase -- still known as Charles Parrott -- directed Snub Pollard's comedies and oversaw production on the Roach lot. In 1923, in a return to acting, he starred in a new series for Roach, billing himself as Charley Chase to keep his identity as a director (where he was still known as Charles Parrott) separate from his identity as an actor. In his first series of one-reelers, his character was called Jimmy Jump (later he just used his own name, as did most of Roach's actors), and he developed his screen persona: usually a white-collar guy bashfully in love with his sweetheart or a young married man getting himself into one scrape or another. Through the silent era, Chase was one of Roach's most popular stars, and, because he possessed a wonderful speaking (and singing) voice, he made an easy transition to sound. His most notable co-star during the early talkie era was comedienne Thelma Todd, before she went on to her own two-reelers; in addition, Chase was often supported by Roach favorites James Finlayson and Billy Gilbert. However, Chase is probably best remembered for his supporting role in Laurel and Hardy's 1933 feature, Sons of the Desert, in which, playing against his usually likable type, he portrayed an obnoxious conventioneer. Although there was talk of starring Chase in features, he never made the move up. By the mid-thirties, the era of classic comic two-reelers was on the wane, and Chase was released from the Roach Studios in 1936.
A few months after being let go from Roach, Chase went over to Columbia's comedy shorts division, where he appeared in such films as The Wrong Miss Wright (1937) and The Heckler (1940). He also directed a number of films for the studio, most notably for The Three Stooges, including one of their best shorts, Violent is the Word for Curly. Columbia's high-volume slapstick wasn't Chase's comic approach of choice, but he adapted nevertheless, and he even added the sublimely subtle touches that he specialized in throughout his career. Chase died of a heart attack in June 1940. His last Columbia short, His Bridal Fright, was released three weeks after his death. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi