Oh boy. If ever there was a sad, sad example of an overly cluttered mind, it’s this piece. I set out to thank screenwriter Darin Morgan for remembering a forgotten silent-era great in an X-Files episode. And I somehow ended up talking about:
Growing older; the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows; Texan writer Robert E. Howard; ex-wives; failed relationships; desert island discs; and whatever you’re having yourself.
Everything in fact except Clyde Bruckman (1894 – 1955), who was something of a writing-directing comic genius and who worked with such greats as Laurel & Hardy, W.C. Fields, Harold Loyd, and Abbott and Costello.
And if you’re a regular here at the Silent Cinema you will have seen his work with Buster Keaton twice in the past year, in Sherlock Jr. and The Cameraman. Oh yes… and he was the guy who directed that famous Laurel & Hardy custard pie battle that we’re all so fond of here.
In fact, with everything going swimmingly you’d wonder how things could have gone so terribly bloody pear-shaped for Clyde Bruckman. But they did. How they did.
It’s never one thing that brings a person down and nor was that the case here; but a rather depressing personality (I know --comedians, right?) combined with an increasingly out-of-control alcohol addiction saw him reach a low point where he began to recycle old gags, found himself getting sued and his name blackened to the extent where finding work was harder and harder.
Although… as Bruckman had originally written the gags that the likes of Harold Loyd sued him for, it’s a subject and a terrain that I’ve never been happy with, very much something of a grey area.
Clyde Brookman’s father had committed suicide by gunshot in 1912, and in 1955 Clyde chose to exit this dimension in the same manner.
His is a tragic American tale of success, excess, and downfall and -- fond of flawed heroes as I am – he has always had a special place in my heart.
Which is why I was so happy to see him honoured, if only in name, in the third-season episode of The X-Files, called Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose. It became one of the most popular of all episodes and won an Emmy for writer Morgan as well as Best Actor for the great Peter Boyle, who played Bruckman.
However, it is a tip of the hat only, Boyle’s character having no connection with his silent-era counterpart beyond the fact that both commit suicide.
Why this character? As Morgan puts it:
“I was so depressed after [the X-Files episode] Humbug that I felt suicidal… You hear these things about people’s careers going downhill and Clyde Bruckman always struck me as the ultimate Hollywood horror story. He worked with Keaton, Loyd, Laurel & Hardy… there was a ten-year span when that must have been the greatest.”
Quite. And one more thing: the two detectives in Final Repose are called Jean Havez and Eddie Cline, gag writers for… Buster Keaton.
Have you ever had one of those moments where you’re sorry you started writing something? My next Silent Gem will be more cheerful.