comedy and sorrow

BathclownAndrew McConnell Stott at Lapham's Quarterly:

Is it a condition of comic genius to be perpetually wrestling with demons? From Canio, the iconic, stiletto-wielding clown of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s 1892 opera, Pagliacci, to modern greats like Richard Pryor, Andy Kaufman, and John Belushi, it would seem so. Even in Chaplin’s day, the depressed and often violent clown was a well-established trope, both offstage and on. Hollywood Pagliacci types included Frank Tinney, the blackface vaudevillian accused of brutally assaulting his mistress; Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, whose brilliant career was undone by the untimely death of Virginia Rappe, a bit-part actress who suffered a fatal trauma in his hotel room; and the suave French comedian Max Linder, brought in by Essanay Films to replace Chaplin after the tramp had departed the studio but who failed to replicate his predecessor’s success. Suffering from a severe depression that was deepened by service in the Great War, Linder claimed he could practically feel the ability to be funny seeping out from him. In February 1924, he and his young wife, Ninette, a wealthy heiress, made a suicide pact at a hotel in Vienna but failed to consume a sufficient dose of sleeping powders. The following autumn in Paris they were better prepared. Both drank large drafts of barbiturates before injecting morphine into their veins and slitting their wrists. Chaplin dedicated a film to his replacement, declaring himself Linder’s disciple.

more here.