Charley Chase (October 20, 1893 - June 20, 1940) was an American comedian, screenwriter and film director, best known for his work in Hal Roach short film comedies. He was the older brother of comedian/director James Parrott.
Born Charles Joseph Parrott in Baltimore, Maryland, Chase started his career in films by working at the Christie Comedies in 1912. He then moved to Keystone Studios, where he began appearing in bit parts in the Mack Sennett films, including those of Charlie Chaplin. By 1915 he was playing juvenile leads in the Keystones, and directing some of the films as "Charles Parrott." His Keystone credentials were good enough to get him steady work as a comedy director with other companies; he directed many of Chaplin imitator Billy West's comedies, which featured a young Oliver Hardy as villain.
In 1920, Chase began working as a film director for Hal Roach Studios; among his notable early works for Roach was supervising the first entries in the Our Gang series. Chase became Director-General of the Hal Roach Studio in late 1921, supervising the production of all the Roach series with the exception of the Harold Lloyd comedies. He eventually moved back in front of the camera with his own series of shorts following Lloyd's departure from the studio in 1923, adopting the screen name Charley Chase.
Direction of the Chase series was soon taken over by Leo McCarey, who in collaboration with Chase formed the comic style of the series — an emphasis on characterization and farce instead of knockabout slapstick. Chase was a master of the comedy of embarrassment, and he played either hapless young businessmen or befuddled husbands in dozens of situation comedies. His screen persona was that of a pleasant young man with a dapper mustache and ordinary street clothes; this set him apart from the clownish makeups and crazy costumes used by his contemporaries.
Chase remained the guiding hand behind the films, acting as director, writer, and, editor. However, he only began to receive director's credit, as Charles Parrott, on his own films in 1933. Some of Chase's starring shorts of the 1920s, particularly Mighty Like a Moose, Fluttering Hearts, and Limousine Love are among the finest in silent comedy.
Chase moved with ease into sound films in 1929 and continued to be very prolific, often putting his fine singing voice on display and including his often humorous, self-penned songs in his comedy shorts. Chase's The Pip from Pittsburgh (1931), co-starring Thelma Todd, is one of the most celebrated Hal Roach comedies of the 1930s. Throughout the decade, the Charley Chase shorts continued to stand alongside Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang as the core output of the Roach studio. Chase appeared on-screen with Laurel and Hardy in their 1933 feature film Sons of the Desert. But Chase had no place in producer Roach's ambitious plans to make prestigious feature films, and he was dismissed from the Roach studio in 1936.
In 1937, Chase began working at Columbia Pictures, where he spent the rest of his career starring in his own series of two-reel comedies, as well as producing and directing other Columbia comedies, including those of The Three Stooges (1938's Mutts to You and Flat Foot Stooges) and Andy Clyde. He also directed the classic Violent Is the Word for Curly and penned the song "Swingin' The Alphabet," which the Stooges would perform for the remainder of their careers. Chase's own shorts at Columbia favored broader sight gags and more slapstick than his earlier, more subtle work, although he does sing in two of the Columbias, The Grand Hooter and The Big Squirt (both 1937). Many of Chase's Columbia short subjects were strong enough to be remade in the 1940s with other comedians.
Chase suffered from alcoholism for most of his professional career, and his tumultuous lifestyle began to take a serious toll on his health. His hair had turned prematurely gray, and he dyed it jet-black for his Columbia comedies. Even with the dark hair, though, he looked far older than his years. Though still producing quality comedies, Chase's physical decline in the late 1930s is evident in his work.
His younger brother, Jimmy Parrott, had personal problems resulting from a drug treatment; his diet medications were actually pep pills, and he developed a dependency. He died in 1939.
Older brother Charley was devastated. He had refused to give his brother money to support his drug habit, and friends knew he felt responsible for Jimmy's death. He coped with the loss by throwing himself into his work (one of his last comedies, The Heckler, is one of his funniest) and by drinking more heavily than ever, despite doctors' warnings. The stress ultimately caught up with him; only months after his brother's death, Charley Chase died of a heart attack in Hollywood, California in 1940 and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. Chase was 46.
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Charley Chase has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6630 Hollywood Boulevard.
Since the 1990s, there has been a revival of interest in the films of Charley Chase, due in large part to the increased availability of his work and the undated, contemporary feel of his best comedies. An extensive website researching his life and work, The World of Charley Chase, was created in 1996, and a biography, Smile When the Raindrops Fall, was published in 1997. His films, particularly his canonical silent work, are now being screened in repertory theaters more often than ever. Chase's sound comedies for Hal Roach were briefly televised in the late 1990s on the short-lived American cable network The Odyssey Channel. Retrospectives of his silent comedies organized by The Silent Clowns Film Series were held in 1999 and 2006 in New York City. A marathon of selected Charley Chase shorts from the silent era was broadcast in 2005 on the American cable television network Turner Classic Movies. Kino International released two Charley Chase DVD collections in 2004-2005, and a long-anticipated two-disc set from Milestone Films is currently in production. In late 2006, Turner Classic Movies began to air the Charley Chase sound-era comedies on American cable TV. In 2007, Charley Chase's Mighty Like a Moose (1926) was selected for inclusion in the Library of Congress's National Film Registry.