The Funny Mr. Linder
The season of 1916-17 contributed yet another interesting chapter of failure to the annals of the screen. It seems that when George K. Spoor purposefully lost Chaplin so that he could reduce the cost of buying out G. M. Anderson's share in Essanay, it was done with considerable internal regrets. By mid-summer of 1916 the success of Mutual with the Chaplin comedies was becoming decidedly conspicuous. Spoor of Essanay had meanwhile joined in the K.E.S.E., distributing concern, which included Kleine, Edison, Selig and Essanay. This company like its predecessor, V.L.S.E., was a realignment of survivors of the Patents Company licensees endeavouring to maintain a hold on the market which the new feature era had taken from them. K.E.S.E. now announced, in terms none to well veiled, a rival for Chaplin, in the person of Max Linder.
M. Linder was reckoned to be very funny. His fame was greater within the industry than with the public. His day of greatness had been back almost ten years before when Pathe's foreign-made pictures invaded the American market with great success, but with no star campaigns to the public.
Public Refuses to Recognize Linder as Chaplin's Rival.
The advertising of the return of Linder, through Essanay, was shot directly at Chaplin and it was filled with innuendo. It contained inferential charges that Chaplin was sordid, sloppy and unclean on the screen. Whereas M. Linder in his comedies was to be a Beau Brummel of dress and a Chesterfield of manners. A good many thousands of dollars were poured into this propaganda in trade publications. It made little progress in the public prints. Despite the fact of Chaplin's British parentage he was, in screen terms, a creation of the American public. Linder was decidedly an alien. The inevitable reaction with the public was:
"So this is the guy that's come over to show Charlie Chaplin up. Well he'd better be pretty funny."
When the public gets into that attitude no one can be funny enough.
A considerable ripple in the tide of anti- Linder sentiment grew out of a fictitious tale from the Mutual's press department, which announced that in the heat of their rivalry Linder had challenged Chaplin to a duel. Whereupon, it was stated, Chaplin as the challenged choose for the weapons—insect powder.
This story travelled and did its little bit. It is only fair to state that Chaplin knew nothing about it, and possibly does not yet.
"Max Comes Across" was the title of the first Essanay Linder. It was a following on the old pattern. Remember that the first Essanay Chaplin had been "Charlie's New Job." Linder's re-debut went to the screen February 6, 1917. - Nothing happened.
Two more Linder's were made with similar results. It was then announced that Linder had become dangerously ill, due to the after effects of patriotic service in the World War.
While Linder was nobly dying in the newspapers, he went to Hollywood to visit Chaplin. They shook hands under a lemon tree and Max headed for Paris.
Spoor wrote off a loss of $87,ooo on the Linder adventure, which was an item of no great moment to the wealth of Essanay.
Some years later Linder returned and suggested to Spoor a new line of pictures to recoup that loss. "No," Spoor responded, "the books are closed on that comedy."
The Linder episode is just another in the thousands of experiences which in that totality prove that after all the stars are made by the ticket buyers at the box-office. It is one of the problems of the screen industry that conditions make it necessary to spend thousands in production to poll that box-office vote. (Terry Ramsaye, The Romantic History of the Motion Picture, Chapter XXXIV, Photoplay Magazine, January 1925)