Obscurity of the Day: Marcus the Boarding House Goat

In response to several requests, here’s a comic strip by Larry Semon. Semon was a comedian in silent films, and you can read an extended bio and appreciation of him here, here and here (the bio is in three parts), his IMDB filmography here, and an extensive research site here.

I won’t presume to talk about his film career (haven’t seen a single one of his movies, sorry to say), but I’ll venture that he was a much greater artistic success on the screen than in the funny papers. Despite the hype that some movie historians give to his cartooning career, Semon was never more than an itinerant penman in the newspaper field. His first comic strip series was for the Philadelphia Record in 1908, then he switched over to the North American in 1909-10, then on to New York for stints at the Evening Telegram (1910-12) and finished up with a brief appearance at the New York World.

Marcus the Boarding House Goat was his only World series, and if it represents the apex of his cartooning career, the mountain surely wasn’t Himalayan in scale. The strip ran about once a week from December 24 1912 to March 29 1913.

As a cartoonist he made a darn fine movie actor, if ya get my drift.

PS – this post also a tip of the tam for film and comics historian Cole Johnson, who today forsook email and favored me with a marathon phone gabfest. Did we really talk for three hours? Geez, what a couple of hens we are. Seriously though, it was a terrific pleasure to talk with someone who so perfectly mirrors my lunatic fascination with all the minutiae of newspaper cartooning. What a bit of nirvana to be able to pow-wow about the vagaries of WNU, Associated Editors, Roger Bean, C. Toles, Eddie Eks etc etc with a kindred spirit.

5 comments on “Obscurity of the Day: Marcus the Boarding House Goat

  1. Hello Allan—It was great fun chewin’ the rope with you yesterday, discussing the relevant, burning issues of the day, like who ghosted HAIRBREADTH HARRY for four weeks in 1931. Larry Semon is one of the forgotten delights of silent comedy. The wildest sight gags, and the most incredible destruction mark the funniest of Semon’s films. (The havoc involved got so expensive, it contributed to his home studio’s going under!)Anyhow, He hung up his pen when he entered the film industry in 1915, (-Except for some minor drawings to promote his comedies-) but started a daily series for Bell in 1924, called “LARRY”, using himself as the main character. (How many strips were about the artist?) I think Semon’s earlier style was slick, but this last series was quite slapdash and whacked out quickly. Semon had a mental breakdown in 1925, which kept him off the screen for two years, so it couldn’t have lasted very far into that year. Another silent comic, Harry Langdon, has often been said to have been a cartoonist, but what and when I’d like to know. Yours to a cinder, Cole Johnson.

  2. Allan: Thank you for posting an example of Larry Semon’s work. You’re right, it’s nothing special.

    This site has some quicktime clips from his movies:

    They are rather small on the screen, but they give you an idea.

    Unfortunately, his most widely available movie is the bad 1925 feature version of “The Wizard of Oz”. Larry was the scarecrow and Oliver Hardy was the Tin Man. Very little of Baum’s story survived.

    Joe Thompson ;0)

  3. Hello, Folks—-If you want to be introduced to Larry Semon at his hilarious best, check out his short comedies up to 1925. After this point, the quality just jumps off a cliff, they are generally terrible. The same thing with his feature films—the surviving ones (THE PERFECT CLOWN, SPUDS, and especially the god-awful THE WIZARD OF OZ), are as bad as the earlier shorts were good. Larry’s aforementioned nervous breakdown must have contributed to this quick decline in his work, as well as his health, as he died in 1928. ——Cole Johnson.

  4. Re the “Larry” strip Cole refers to, only place I know that ran it was the Long Island Press — they ran it for three months in late 1927. Bell must have been selling the strip in reprints. I haven’t seen the strip myself (the Press info is courtesy Jeffrey Lindenblatt) so if anyone has a sample, I’m sure we’d all love to see it. And Cole, I agree that there are few autobiographical strips from back in the day. Does “Carnera” count?


  5. Hi–
    Intriguingly, the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley has 6 original Larry strips in the Gus Arriola collection–apparently Arriola collected them, which was a big surprise to me. (What a coincidence that your Boarding House Goat example includes a Mexican character.) I just went up there and looked at them in person. They're cute, although not particularly original in style: there's a character who looks a bit like Mac from Tillie the Toiler, and another who resembles Sunshine from Barney Google. I didn't actually see a character I thought really looked like Semon, although I was so occupied with reproduction issues that I forgot to really think about that. Maddeningly, I was not allowed to get any pictures that I can share, but the Library is open to the public, so anyone in the area can go look at them (although you have to run a huge security gauntlet).

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