Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Turpin with Oliver Hardy in Two’s Company, released as Saps at Sea, May 3, 1940

Cross-Eyed Star Now Out To Convulse Another Generation

By MAY MANN, Standard-Examiner Staff

    HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 9 – “Heroes are born – not made,” remarked Ben Turpin, who as a cross-eyed comedian convulsed one generation of movie patrons – and is now about to start a second career at the age of 72.
    Turpin, as funny-eyed as ever, was standing on the set of the new Stan Laurel-Oliver Hardy picture at Hal Roach studios. He plays the role of a plumber whose crossed eyes are responsible for the erratic plumbing in the Laurel and Hardy apartment.
    The director called for action and Turpin and Hardy stepped into a flooded bathroom set. Water was spurting from faucets and Hardy began reprimanding the naive cross-eyed Ben.
    “I can’t understand what’s wrong,” he explained. “It all looked all right to me when I was putting it together.”

Custard-Pie Ring

    In 1925 Ben Turpin retired from pictures. Slapstick comedy and custard pie-throwing had become obsolete. His real estate holdings occupied his time.
    Hollywood Cavalcade featuring the Keystone Comedy Cops brought him back to the screen earlier this year. “Now that slapstick is being revived, I think I’ll start my career over again from where I left off,” he mused.
    Whited-haired, the comedian walks with a springy step and vows that he can keep up with the sprintiest. “My first comedy was made in 1907 and was entitled An Awful Skate,” he recalled. “In fact it was pretty awful, but we used to get a lot of laughs. I don’t know whether the audience had more fun watching us then we had ourselves.

90 Scenes a Day

    “We used to make 90 scenes a day, in those days. We didn’t have stand-ins or doubles. We did our own falling – and every night we’d apply the liniment bottle to black and blue spots and next morning’d find us falling out of runaway cars, horses, trolleys, or off buildings or cliffs. It was a great lark to us.
    “We never had a scenario or a script. Someone would get an idea about a stolen necklace – or the villian pursuing the heroine – and the picture would start right out – and end when we’d shot enough film and had put in enough good laughs.
    “I was a hero of a sort – though my cross-eyes defeated any serious notions I had along those lines. I played leads opposite Mabel Normand, Phyllis Haver, Marie Prevost, Mary Thurman and Louise Fazenda.
    “We didn’t have a lot of lights and things. Quite often our film was shot out on the beach and in a little prop village out in the sunshine at the Sennett studio.”

Radical Change

    The most radical change for Ben Turpin in modern day movies is correlating the action and dialogue. It’s difficult for him to get used to the idea of acting for the camera at the same time he speaks lines.
    Your reporter asked if he would make another picture on completion of the Laurel-Hardy opus. “Yep, I fully expect to stay in harness,” he said. “When I get through over here I’ll take my grease-paint box over to Charlie Chaplin’s. I’m going to play the cross-eyed executioner who shoots the wrong spies in his movie The Dictator.” (That’s the picture based on Hitler).

Twice As Well Off

    “Cock-eyes are always good for a laugh,” he concluded, as he departed for the flooded bathroom set for another “take.” “I see everything double – but that’s plenty good enough for me. Where the average person only sees one dollar – I see two when I have one and so on – which is a comfortable feeling. Makes a man feel twice as well off. I wouldn’t trade my eyes – no sir! Not even to be a hero!”


My thanks to Ed Watz for bringing the above recently found article to my attention, unfortunately a little late for inclusion in the book, For Art’s Sake. In the headline, it should be noted that Turpin was embarking on his 71st year and not 72nd. Ben sadly died before reaching his 71st birthday and unfortunately never made it in Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.


  1. Somewhere, there's supposed to be a still taken during the filming of "Saps at Sea" showing Stan and Babe with Ben Turpin and D. W. Griffith, who was working with Hal Roach on "One Million B.C." I've never seen it, but I understand from an interview that Gordon Douglas gave in the '70s that one day when Ben was on the set, a booming voice rang out with "Where is the GREAT BEN TURPIN?" It was Griffith, who made a special point of visiting Ben.