The Tragic Tale of Marceline Orbes, the Suicidal Clown Who Influenced Chaplin
Mishaps of Marceline – The Reconstructed Film
The evolution of comedy in early twentieth century America is dominated by names like Chaplin and Keaton but prior to the explosion of those cinematic luminaries, the medium was dominated not by stars of the silver screen but the superstar clowns of the stage. Foremost among these was Marceline Orbes, the Spanish-born clown who was watched, and adored, by hundreds of thousands -if not millions- in his prime from 1905 to 1915. Marceline, as he was simply known, was one of New York’s clowning superstars – he influenced Charlie Chaplin and was fondly remembered by Buster Keaton as one of the ‘greatest clowns’. And yet his name is almost completely forgotten today – unlike those comedians he influenced, Marceline’s work occurred almost entirely on the live stage and, as a result, little is left to remember him by or appreciate. One of the most important comedic artists of the twentieth century left almost nothing around which a legacy could be formed and, as a result, is all but forgotten today. That is a situation that needs to change.
Appearing in The Appendix, my latest article –‘Silent Film Killed the Clown’– seeks to rectify that situation by recovering the tragic tale of Marceline’s rise, fall, and suicide – it also aims to recover something of his life’s work in order to create something that pop culture scholars can use as a basis for future appraisal and appreciation. Included in the digital first article is a reconstruction of Marceline’s lost silent film, Mishaps of Marceline. This article, then, is a trans-media project and the first in a two-part series that aims to recover the legacies of New York’s superstar cadre of clowns and comedians whose work evaporated into memory and then obscurity (the second article will appear in Studies in American Humour in 2016).