December 25, 1893|
New York City
|Died||December 5, 1984
Sherman Oaks, California
|Occupation||Producer, director, screenwriter, actor|
|Spouse(s)||Louise Granville (1922–68) (her death); 2 children|
|Awards||1933 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film – Krakatoa|
Joe Rock (December 25, 1893 – December 5, 1984) was an American movie producer, director, actor, and screenwriter best remembered today for producing a series of 12 two reel comedies starring Stan Laurel in the 1920s.
After infantry service in World War I, Rock began his film career as a comedian in silent films working under his real name "Joe Simburg" — he had a broad grin and protruding ears, which gave him a comical appearance – but soon found greater success as a producer.
Joe Rock began his career as a stunt double for Mary Pickford, A short-lived career with Vitagraph Studios as a comedian teamed with Earl Montgomery in countless comedy shorts as Hash and Havoc (1916), Stowaways and Strategy (1917), Farms and Fumbles (1918), Harems and Hookum (1919), Zip and Zest (1919), Vamps and Variety (1919), Rubes and Robbers (1919), Cave and Coquettes (1919), Throbs and Thrills (1920), Loafers and Lovers (1920), Sauce and Senoritas (1920) and many more.
In the book Comedy is a Man in Trouble: Slapstick in American Movies by Alan Dale, Joe Rock once described the two-reelers he made with Earl Montgomery: "We always finished our comedies with a shot of us running away from a cop, a schoolteacher, or a principal, and then running smack into them again. If we'd run away from cops, we'd run back into cops."
By 1924, Stan Laurel had forsaken the stage for full-time film work, and was still involved with actress Mae Dahlberg. Among the films in which they jointly appeared was the 1922 parody, Mud and Sand. Around this time, Mae started interfering with Laurel's work and was holding him back. Laurel insisted (no doubt with pressure from her) that she be in his every picture, and audiences didn't like her. When Joe Rock put Laurel under contract for twelve two-reel comedies, the contract had one unusual stipulation, that Dahlberg was not to appear in any of the films. It was felt that her temperament was hindering his career. When she balked, Rock held firm, finally offering her a most unusual and humiliating deal. He would give her several thousand dollars, along with some jewels she had pawned, if she would go back to Australia. When Stan showed no inclination to demur, she accepted the offer, which was ironclad. The ship's purser had strict instructions: Mae would not receive her payment until the ship was a day out at sea. Stan was finally free. Without any distractions, Stan finished the twelve films ahead of schedule, although he was still technically under contract to Joe Rock. Stan next joined the Hal Roach studio as a writer and director, but due to the contract with Joe, could not act in any of the films.
The twelve two-reel comedies were Mandarin Mix-Up (1924), Detained (1924), Monsieur Don't Care (1924), West of Hot Dog (1924), Somewhere in Wrong (1925), Twins (1925), Pie-Eyed (1925), The Snow Hawk (1925), Navy Blue Days (1925), The Sleuth (1925), Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde (1925), Half a Man (1925).
Ton of Fun
From the Joe Rock Studios came the "A Ton of Fun" series of comedy shorts, promoted at the time as 'starring the three fattest men on the screen'. The series was launched in 1925 and ran two years. Alternatively known as The Three Fatties, they were played in order of girth by Hilliard "Fat" Karr, Kewpie Ross and Frank "Fatty" Alexander. The films were Tailoring (1925), All Tied Up (1925), Three Wise Goofs (1925), Heavy Love (1926), The Heavy Parade (1926), Three of a Kind (1926), Old Tin Shoes (1927), Three Missing Links (1927), and Campus Romeos (1927). Produced by Joe Rock, the shorts were made by Poverty Row studio Standard Photoplay Co. and released by Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.'s Film Booking Offices of America, (F.B.O.).
Ironically, comedian-turned-producer Joe Rock, who created the series, didn't think The Three Fatties were fat enough. Frank Alexander and Kewpie Ross were actually padded far beyond their natural waistlines. Built on the premise that three fat men were funnier than one, Rock created a surprising number of outlandish situations for the trio during the series long run.
The Neptune Film Company opened the first studios in Borehamwood in 1914. It contained just a single small windowless stage (the first "dark stage" in England), relying entirely on electricity from a gas powered generator for lighting. Production ceased during 1917 and the studio was sold to the Ideal Film Company who used the site up until 1924. During 1928 the studio was sold to Ludwig Blattner. The Blattner Studio was leased to Joe Rock Productions during 1934 and 2 years later they purchased the site. Joe Rock made Ludwig Blattner's son Gerry the studio manager. Rock Productions built 4 new large stages and began making films including the 1937 feature The Edge of the World. These studios would eventually (in 1984) become BBC Elstree Centre, Clarendon Road Studios, Borehamwood.
In 1935 Rock met director Michael Powell. In return for Powell agreeing to direct The Man Behind the Mask, Rock agreed to back the filming of what would become The Edge of the World, Powell's directorial breakthrough.
As a boy, Joe was an avid reader. He had been very impressed by a book that described the Krakatoa eruption of 1883. In that year, an obscure island in Indonesia exploded in one of the biggest volcanic eruptions of recorded history: the explosion was heard thousands of miles away, and many people died. In 1933, for the fiftieth anniversary of the eruption, Joe Rock produced a documentary titled Krakatoa: partly about the island's history before and after the eruption, but mostly about the eruption. Making the documentary was a challenge, because Joe had no film footage of the island and he was unable to locate any witnesses who recalled the original 1883 event. After making this movie on a very low budget and releasing it, Joe went on a trip to England. He had formed a production company to make Krakatoa, but he permitted that company to go out of business because he had no further projects envisioned for it.
Rock has the unenviable distinction of holding one of filmdom's more bizarre records: the longest wait between winning an Academy Award and actually receiving it. Rock produced the 1933 film Krakatoa, a documentary about the volcanic eruption of 1883. This film won the Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Novelty) in 1933. However, Rock was in Europe at the time that the award was announced, and had no representative to claim the trophy. Rock's name did not appear in the film's credits. Meanwhile, his production company had failed, and when he returned to the United States he could no longer document that he was the head of the production company named in the film's credits. Almost fifty years later, while sorting out some of his papers, Rock located documents which established his proprietary claim ... and the Academy belatedly gave him his statuette.
Joe Rock was married to actress Louise Granville. They had two children actress Felippa Rock born in 1923 and writer Phillip Rock born in 1926. His grandson is actor Christopher Pate.
- Obituary Variety, December 12, 1984, page 63.
- "The Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History", edited by William D. Rubinstein, Michael Jolles, Hilary L. Rubinstein - Google Books Palgrave Macmillan, 15 Mar 2011, ISBN 9781403939104
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