• 11 January 1886
  •  Oskaloosa, Iowa, USA

Chester Conklin


Iowa-born Chester Conklin was raised in a coal-mining area by a devoutly religious father who hoped that his son would go into the ministry. However, Chester got the performing bug one day when he gave a recitation at a community singing festival and won first prize. Knowing his father would never approve of his desire to become a comedian, he left home. One night in St. Louis he caught a vaudeville act by the famous team of Joe Weber and Lew Fields, who were doing what was called at the time a "German" act. Conklin thought that he could do that act himself, and better, so he decided to develop a character patterned after his boss at the time, a Dutch baker named Schultz. Schultz had a thick accent and a very brushy "walrus"-type mustache, which Conklin appropriated for his new character. He managed to break into vaudeville with this act and spent several years on tour with various stock companies. Eventually he secured a job as a clown with a traveling circus. After seeing several of Mack Sennett's Keystone Kops shorts in theaters, Conklin went to the Sennett studio and applied for a job there. Sennett hired him as a Keystone Kop (at $3 a day). He stayed with Sennett for six years, and became famous for his pairing with burly comic Mack Swain in a series of "Ambrose and Walrus" shorts and appeared in several of Charles Chaplin's shorts for the studio (Chaplin adapted Conklin's "walrus" mustache as part of the costume for his "Little Tramp" character). Conklin was approached by Fox Films to do a series of comedy shorts, and when Sennett refused to match the offer Fox made, Conklin left Sennett and signed with Fox. He stayed with Fox for several years, then freelanced for several independent producers in a series of comedy shorts. Conklin worked steadily into the sound era, and retired from the screen in 1966. His last movie was the well-received Western comedy A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966), in which his character was named "Chester."