Still from the missing footage of BACK STAGE (1919) .
For the longest time people have said that Al got less work in the Comiques because of his lack of talent, and BACK STAGE have been the one short that is being mentioned over and over again, supposedly proving that Al “got nothing to do anymore”.
For many years now I have been asking myself why on earth are so many film fans dead set on dragging Al down in the dirt ?
It is “common knowledge” that: “He’s got no talent, all he could do was mug, jump and take a fall..but his falls lack technique and this was the reason why Al got less work in the Comiques and was never really successful.”
Oh boy, sorry to burst the bubble of whoever is resting peacefully on that pile of shit.
Anyway..BACK STAGE..most of Al’s footage from the short is lost as of today.
Various stills, like this one, as well as reviews from that time prove that Al had just as much to do in this short as in the others.
Al was a big star at the time and was also billed and mentioned as such in the ads and reviews.
Also I am afraid I will have to play the part of a broken record..again..Al’s technique: It is there. It was always there. It was not taught to him by Roscoe, Buster or friggin Santa Claus.
Al St. John got his start in the movies in 1912.
Mack Sennett picked him up at Long Beach because he needed a stuntman.
Al learned his way by himself, by failing and learning from his mistakes as well as his work in the circus, vaudeville, theatre, street artist, lifeguard etc.
Anyone with some experience with breaking falls and tumbling can see that Al knew very well what he was doing and if he got injured it was not due to lack of knowledge.
Al was also taller and/or older than most of the other tumblers.
Height, weight and age got a lot to say on how your body can handle a fall.
Then on to the “lack of talent”. Yeah..sure OK..so..how many non-talented people do you know about who can:
Take 100ft + dives, do wing walking, wire walking, trapeze, fire eating, sword swallowing, jump REALLY high, ride a horse like a real cowboy, pimp out cars to do whatever stunt needed, hang head down from a plane high up, be a versatile comedian as well as an emotional actor, savvy race car driver, amazing acrobat in general, contortionist, tame animals, trained dancer, trick biking and driving, excellent marksman…and much more (!)..but you get the picture, right ?
On to “lack of success”.
Hm.. Al was one of the richest people in Hollywood, his neighbour was Valentino at one point and he had his own table with engraved silverware in the hippest restaurant in town.
He owned a ranch as well as a yacht, several large cars and race cars, a plane that he could fly himself..does not sound like “lack of success” to me.
Throughout his career he was featured in something like 350 films, Al himself had no idea how many films exactly, it was just too many to keep track of..
Can’t have been so terribly unpopular and non-talented since he was hired for all that..hm ?
Isn’t it about time we put all that baloney to rest and embrace the fact that we have a nearly undiscovered great comedian to discover and enjoy ?
We need more clowns - Al was one of the greatest !
Photo from The Al St. John Archive.