All These Haunted Things

The Haunted Lounge
R: Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson. D: Ben Turpin. P: Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. USA 1909

“How to Disguise Yourself as Furniture and Fool Your Friends
This is an instance where two types of routines blended together to form a new type of routine. The first type of routine was derived from an inanimate object being propelled forward by a living creature hidden inside. The Lubin comedy The Haunted Hat (1909) involved a crowd of people breaking into a panic when they see a hat moving down the street, apparently under its own power. A city official is summoned immediately to address this crisis, but the official picks up the hat only to find a common house cat underneath. The second type of routine had to do with characters hiding inside of furniture or, even stranger, disguising themselves as furniture. The Commedia dell’Arte routine ‘Lazzo of Hiding’ finds Arlecchino trapped in a woman’s bedroom with the woman’s lover at the door. Arlecchino, unable to find a place to hide, is persuaded by the woman to pose as a chair. Arlecchino extends his arms to form the arms of a chair and bends his knees to form a seat just before the woman throws a sheet over him. The lover enters and, unheeding of the woman’s warning, sits down on Arlecchino.
These routines eventually combined into a single routine where a person hiding inside of furniture makes it look as though the furniture has come to life. In Georges Méliès’s The Tramp and the Mattress Makers (1906, see below), workers take a break from sewing together a mattress, at which time a drunken man crawls inside the mattress for a nap. The workers return, unaware of the tramp, and finish sewing the mattress together. The tramp awakens, finds himself trapped, and goes into a panic. The mattress suddenly sprouts legs and runs off, with the mattress makers in pursuit. A similar comedy produced by Essanay was The Haunted Lounge (1909), in which a tramp (Ben Turpin) escapes from a police officer by running into a secondhand shop and hiding inside a folding lounge. An old woman purchases the lounge and arranges for it to be delivered immediately to her home. The tramp has a bumpy ride inside the back of the express wagon. He gets banged up even more when the lounge falls out of the wagon. A car then slams into the lounge, which goes rolling down the street. Once the lounge is finally delivered, the old woman becomes frightened upon seeing the lounge move around and decides to get rid of the lounge by giving it to a neighbor. The neighbor has a similar experience with the lounge and brings it back to the secondhand dealer, who is able to sell the item to the police officer who chased the tramp into the shop earlier in the day.”
Anthony Balducci: The Funny Parts. A History of Film Comedy Routines and Gags. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers Jefferson, North Carolina, and London 2012, p.135

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