Interview with Anita Garvin

At the age of 87, Anita Garvin, one of the great, albeit unsung, slapstick queens of films passed away in July 1994 at the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, CA. In her last years Anita was very frail. Nevertheless, I was able to obtain the following interview from her in the course of my earlier research on Mabel Normand. Anita began her career on the stage as a young girl, appearing in the Ziegfeld Follies. One of her earliest recollections was of how Will Rogers allowed her, of all the Ziegfeld girls, to hold his rope. After some years working and touring with vaudeville, she went into films where she first got a job with Al Christie. Later, she went to work for Hal Roach and appeared in films with, among others, Mabel Normand, Zasu Pitts, Charley Chase and Thelma Todd. It is her work, however, with Laurel in Hardy in some of their silent films, like From Soup to Nuts and Battle of the Century, however, for which Anita will probably be best remembered. In the late thirties, Anita later quit films to settle down and have a family when she married band leader Red Stanley. The marriage lasted happily 49 years, up until his death, and "Mrs. Stanley" always a maintained great loyalty, love and affection for him. As all who knew her can attest, Anita was one of the most sweet, funny and warm people you could possibly know. Although she is greatly missed, she will not be forgotten.

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WTS: You appeared with Mabel Normand in a three reeler, "Raggedy Rose," at the Roach studios. What are your very earliest recollections of her?

AG: I think I just loved her. When I was a kid I adored her, I worshipped her. But after I met and worked with her she was just a normal person!

WTS: That's how it always seems to turn out, doesn't it?

AG: (laughing) Yes.

WTS: How did she compare in popularity with someone like Mary Pickford?

AG: Oh she was a big star. They were close as being the same as far as (fans') admiration and love for her. She was married to Lew Cody, and he was an angel. He would always be standing by on the set for her. She was losing her mind about that time - or having some kind of problems, and he was absolutely wonderful!

WTS: He was some ladies man wasn't he?

AG: Oh yes, the women loved him!

WTS: What was it like playing with Mabel in "Raggedy Rose?"

AG: Mabel was hard to work with. She would move her way - which would confuse you if you were working with her. She kept you jumping, you didn't know what to expect. One thing I remember which she didn't do perfect was that she couldn't find her spot. She would get a little wild and not stay within camera range where she was supposed to be, if you know what I mean. But you must realize that this happened in her later days. She was trying to make a come back at that time (1926), but it didn't work out.

WTS. What do you remember about Charley Chase?

AG. What I recall is that he always wanted me to wear a blonde wig. But my hair was jet black then, now it's pure white. At that time he liked blondes for some reason or another so I wore a blonde wig. He was a real nice guy.

WTS. I noticed that you wore the blonde wig in "Raggedy Rose?"

AG. That because she (Mabel) was dark - like opposites.

WTS. Her hair was black wasn't it?

AG. Maybe it was dark brown, but I thought it was black.

WTS: About that time, (1926) did you ever hear comments, said behind her back, to the effect that she was all washed up?

AG: Yes, but I never listened to that. I liked her, she was nice. But I only worked with her on the one picture, so you see it's hard to remember very much. It's so long ago.

WTS. It was "Battle of the Century" where you fall on the pie.

AG. They (televison) ruined the cutting of that one. You know they had to fit it into a TV version. Originally as I slipped and fell on the pie I get up and walked back the way I came. They had an insert of a damp spot just in the shape of the pie and it wasn't funny. They just ruined it.

WTS. Laurel and Hardy loved music, didn't they? Did you get to see that side of them?

AG. Oh yes. Babe had a beautiful singing voice.

WTS. Did you only see them on the set, or what was your relationship?

AG. I knew Stan and his wife and the baby. I say "baby" but she's an old woman now like me. I knew them socially they were nice people.

WTS. I know you worked with Al St. John, who, along with and in the company of Keaton, Arbuckle and Cody, was an accomplished practical jokester off the set. Was Laurel ever like that?

AG. No. Stan was the type that concentrated on the picture at all times; thinking of funny things to happen.

WTS. Did they (L & H) ever have disagreements among themselves?

AG. No never, absolutely never. I swore that after what they wrote about Thelma Todd, you know "Hot Toddy," I swore after I was interviewed on the thing I would never do this again: because they screwed the whole thing up! They were absolutely out of their minds. There wasn't anything in that book that was worth five minutes of her time. What they did to Thelma Todd! "Hot Toddy" they liked the title, but I could see through whoever wrote it. (groans) Oh God!

WTS. That was Andy Edmonds.

AG. I know Andy Edmonds. But I knew Thelma very well, and she was straight laced. She never went through all these things. And she (Edmonds) even got my husband and I - had our business and things - she got that all wrong. It was at the old Monmart on Hollywood Blvd. near Highland. She had us on out on the strip someplace before there was a strip. She got everything backwards. And she interviewed me and I gave her the straight scoop on Thelma. But I think she just decided she knew because she probably liked the title "Hot Toddy" and thought she was going to make it "Hot Toddy!"

WTS. In the pictures, you are rarely smiling. You seem like you are scheming with that wry, dead-pan expression of yours.

AG. I never over-acted in other words.

WTS. There alway seems to be something going on behind your eyes like you knew what you wanted, and were going to have it. Where did that character come from?

AG. It was me, just me. A lot of these things I could be doing something and I said this is isn't funny so I put a little something into it; trying to make it funny. You know, I did mostly comedy or wicked women. [(laughing) Yea, I know what you mean.] There is a charicature here in my room that Nancy Bourbon [Nancy Beiman] did and she caught that in the sketch that she made. I thought "how did she get the expression there?" But she did!

WTS. You really were an incredible doll and a lot more attractive and talented than movie history on the surface has seemed to have given you credit.

AG. Well, I think that was because of my kids. I quit the business just when I had a seven year contract on the Fox lot of Winnie Sheehan's desk waiting to be signed and I wouldn't.

WTS. You'd married (band leader) Red Stanley then? (1930)

AG. Yes, fifty beautiful years of the most wonderful guy in the world!

WTS. What was his music like?

AG. Oh, his music was nothing compared to his dancing. He introduced the "Charleston" in Paris. He was wonderful. A marvellous dancer!

WTS. I can see why he was dancing.

AG. He was darling .

WTS. And you're a great-grandmother?

AG. Yea.

WTS. Seems like things turned out all right for you.

AG. I don't know about that. I can't walk. I can't write.

WTS. O.K., but how old are you?

AG. Eighty-six!

WTS. Well that's pretty old, for pete's sake.

AG. You're darn tootin!

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