These 18 Filmmakers Changed History

Keystone Kops circa 1914 in a publicity shot. Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle is the heavyset officer on the far right. Library of Congress

2. Mack Sennett created a phrase which continues to refer to police ineptitude

In 1912, a New York filmmaker who acted, danced, produced, designed sets, and directed short films for the Biograph company (he also portrayed Sherlock Holmes, one of the earliest actors to do so on film, though in a satiric manner) moved to California and started his own studio. He named it Keystone Studios, and the short films he produced focused on visual comedy known as slapstick, a genre perfect for silent films. Among the actors who worked for him were Charles Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, William Claude Dukenfield, who used the stage name W. C. Fields, and a young crooner named Harry Lillis Crosby, who called himself Bing. Sennett invented one of film’s longest lived staples, the car chase, though his were always comedic in nature. He became famous for filming an old vaudeville routine known as the pie fight in his pictures.

A depiction of Keystone Kops. Wikimedia.

Sennett created a group, or rather groups, of inept policemen in helmeted uniforms, armed with nightsticks, which were called the Keystone Kops. A lesser known (today) Sennett presentation was the Sennett Bathing Beauties, whose scanty for the time bathing suits were the subject of moral outrage by some less appreciative audiences. But it is for the Keystone Kops he is most remembered today, and they became such a fiber in the American social fabric that whenever police forces act with unfortunate error today they are referred to with derision as the Keystone Kops. In fact any group of authorities which acts questionably is often referred to as the Keystone Kops. Sennett died nearly penniless in 1960, having never successfully transitioned to motion pictures with audio tracks, but his Keystone Kops are a part of society around the world, a ready label for the incompetent anywhere to don in the eyes of the public.