Mack Sennett
(01/17/1880 - 11/05/1960)

Michael Sinnott was born to Irish immigrants. At 17, his parents moved to East Berlin, Connecticut, and he became a laborer at American Iron Works, a job he continued when they moved to Northampton, Massachusetts.

He happened to meet the actress Marie Dressler in 1902 and through her, went to New York to try for a career on the stage. He managed some burlesque and chorus-boy parts. In 1908, he began acting in Biograph films. His work there lasted until 1911; it included direction by D.W. Griffith and acting with Mary Pickford and Mabel Normand. By 1910, he was directing.

In 1912 he formed Keystone with Adam Kessel and Charles Bauman. The company was originally a production subsidiary of the New York Motion Picture Company. He brought Mabel Normand with him and soon added Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, Chester Conklin Al St. John, Slim Summerville, Minta Durfee, and Charles Chaplin. He told Chaplin: "We have no scenario--we get an idea then follow the natural sequence of events until it leads up to a chase, which is the essence of our comedy."

To the slapstick chase gags of the Keystone Kops were gradually added the Bathing Beauties and the Kid Komedies. In 1915, he and Griffith and Thomas H. Ince formed Triangle Films. Comedy moved from improvisational slapstick to scripted situations. Stars like Bobby Vernon and Gloria Swanson joined him.

He was the first producer to hire stars Charles Chaplin, Fred Mace and Ford Sterling in the movies, and while both Mabel Normand and 'Roscoe "Fatty' Arbuckle' had worked in front of cameras before Keystone was established -- Mabel at D.W. Griffith 1910-1912 and Roscoe at Selig 1909- 1910 -- it was during their employment at Sennett they rose to stardom.

In 1917, he formed Mack Sennett Comedies, distributing through Paramount and later Pathe. Oddly, Sennett and his key competitor, Hal Roach, were both distributed by the same company, Pathe. This arrangement worked to the detriment of both studios while it lined the pockets of the French firm, which was able to play the comedy short giants off each other for years. By the time Pathe's U.S. fortunes declined considerably in 1925, Sennett was in far worse shape than Roach, who had valuable re-issue rights to Harold Lloyd's library and the wildly popular Our Gang series gained him a lucrative distribution deal with MGM (his former associate, Harold Lloyd jumped to Paramount). Sennett had far less to fall back on. Although he had a well-deserved reputation of discovering talent, being able to keep them under contract was another matter. His inability to hang on to major stars became the stuff of legend.

When he returned to Paramount in 1932, he produced shorts featuring W.C. Fields and musical ones with Bing Crosby. After directing his only Buster Keaton film, The Timid Young Man (1935) he returned to Canada a pauper.

In 1937, he was awarded a special Oscar -- "to the master of fun, discoverer of stars ... for his lasting contribution to the comedy technique of the screen."In his next and most important film, The Great Train Robbery (1903), Porter took the archetypal American Western story, already familiar to audiences from dime novels and stage melodrama, and made it an entirely new visual experience. The one-reel film, with a running time of twelve minutes, was assembled in twenty separate shots, along with a startling close-up of a bandit firing at the camera. It used as many as ten different indoor and outdoor locations and was groundbreaking in its use of "cross-cutting" in editing to show simultaneous action in different places. No earlier film had created such swift movement or variety of scene. The Great Train Robbery was enormously popular. For several years it toured throughout the United States, and in 1905 it was the premier attraction at the first nickelodeon. Its success firmly established motion pictures as commercial entertainment in the United States.

Available Films

The Little Teacher (1915) (short)

Biograph Productions Vol. 2 (1904-1908)

D. W. Griffith Director (1908-1909) Vol. #1

D. W. Griffith Director (1909) Vol. #2

D. W. Griffith Director (1909) Vol. #3

D. W. Griffith Director (1909) Vol. #4

D. W. Griffith Director (1909-1910) Vol. #5

D. W. Griffith Director (1910) Vol. #6

Mack Sennett Director at Biograph Vol. 1 (1911-12)

Mack Sennett Director at Biograph  Vol. 2 (1912)

Yankee Doodle in Berlin (1919)

Films of Bing Crosby*

Hypnotized (1932)