Mack Swain

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Mack Swain
Photograph by Albert Witzel, 1920
Moroni Swain

(1876-02-16)February 16, 1876
DiedAugust 25, 1935(1935-08-25) (aged 59)
Occupation(s)Actor, vaudevillian
Years active1913-1935
Cora Claire King
(m. 1899)

Mack Swain (born Moroni Swain;[1] February 16, 1876 – August 25, 1935) was a prolific early American film actor, who appeared in many of Mack Sennett’s comedies at Keystone Studios, including the Keystone Cops series. He also appeared in major features by Charlie Chaplin and starred in both the world's first feature length comedy and first film to feature a "movie-within-a-movie" premise.

Early years[edit]

A Movie Star (1916)

Swain was born on February 16, 1876, to Robert Henry Swain and Mary Ingeborg Jensen in Salt Lake City, Utah, and was educated in Salt Lake City's public schools. At age 6 he put on his first act called "Mack Swain's Mammoth Minstrels" in the family barn. At age 8 he stole all of his mother's sheets and linens to build his own circus tent. He ran away from home at age 15, joining a minstrel show. His mother took him home after one performance, but he persuaded her to let him continue in entertainment.[2]


In the early 1900s, Swain had his own stock theater company, the Mack Swain Co., which performed in the western[3] and midwestern United States.[4] His most notable residency, was in Santa Cruz, California, where at one point he was bringing in 6,000 patrons a week to see his performances; over two-thirds the population of the city at the time.[5] On June 24, 1907, the Mack Swain Co. had its 61st show in 50 days, breaking the record by any theater company ever appearing in Santa Cruz. That same year Swain bought the Alisky Theatre, and changed its name to Swain’s Theatre.[5] By 1913, audience attendance had begun to dry up and with it Swain's theatrical career. Mack was initially hesitant to work in the film industry, viewing it as an "inferior art form to theater," but eventually gave in after many of his fellow actors and peers had done the same.

His first foray into silent film began at Keystone Studios under Mack Sennett. His first dressing room was shared with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.[1] Shortly after arriving at Keystone, Charlie Chaplin too joined the studio and the two quickly teamed up. Swain would later recall that Sennett initially saw him and Chaplin as a burden, and encouraged the two to work together. These early films such as: Laughing Gas (1914) and Mabel's Married Life (1914) would forge a friendship between the two that would endure until Swain's death. Chaplin would later state that his idea for his infamous character, The Tramp, came from him rummaging through Swain's and Arbuckle's dressing room; the baggy clothes from Arbuckle and the iconic mustache from one of Swain's own fake mustaches.[5] Swain and Chaplin would eventually star in the world's first feature length comedy, Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914). Chaplin soon left Keystone and Swain paired up with Chester Conklin to make a series of comedy films. With Swain as "Ambrose" and Conklin as the grand mustachioed "Walrus", they performed these roles in several films including The Battle of Ambrose and Walrus and Love, Speed and Thrills, both made in 1915. Another of Swain's early comedies made a cinematic first; his A Movie Star (1916) was the first film to feature a movie within a movie premise.

Advertisement for comedy films starring Swain in Frohman Amusement Corp productions

Besides these comedies, the two appeared together in a variety of other films, 26 all told, and they also appeared separately and/or together in films starring Mabel Normand, Charles Chaplin, Roscoe Arbuckle and most of the rest of the roster of Keystone players.

Swain later took his Ambrose character with him to the L-KO Kompany. Having already worked with Charles Chaplin at Keystone, Swain began working with Chaplin again at First National in 1921, appearing in The Idle Class, Pay Day, and The Pilgrim. He is also remembered for his large supporting role as Big Jim McKay in the 1925 film The Gold Rush,[1] for United Artists, written by and starring Chaplin.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Swain was married to actress Cora King.[7]


Swain died on a train bound from Chicago to Hollywood in August 25, 1935, following an illness that only lasted a few hours. He was buried in Tacoma, Washington.[6]

It is rumored that an accident sustained in an early Keystone Cops skit involving Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle kicking him in the stomach eventually led to his death.[citation needed]


Lost – A Cook promotion in Motion Picture News, 1917

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Swain received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 1500 Vine Street.[8]

Partial filmography[edit]

Lobby card for Finnegan's Ball (1927)
Year Title Role Notes
1914 A False Beauty The Policeman
1914 Caught in the Rain Husband Short
1914 His Musical Career Mike aka Ambrose - Tom's Partner Short
1914 Tillie's Punctured Romance John Banks
1914 Getting Acquainted Ambrose Short
1915 Love, Speed and Thrills Short
1916 A Movie Star Handsome Jack Short
1917 Lost- A Cook Cook
1921 The Idle Class Edna's Father Short, Uncredited
1922 Pay Day Foreman Short
1923 The Pilgrim Deacon Jones
1925 The Gold Rush Big Jim McKay
1925 The Eagle Innkeeper Uncredited
1926 Hands Up! Silas Woodstock
1926 Torrent Don Matías
1926 Sea Horses Bimbo-Bomba
1926 The Cohens and Kellys Minor Role Uncredited
1926 Kiki Pastryman
1926 Footloose Widows Ludwig, Marian's husband-in-retrospect
1926 Honesty – The Best Policy Bendy Joe
1926 The Nervous Wreck Jerome Underwood
1926 Her Big Night Myers
1926 Whispering Wires McCarthy
1927 The Beloved Rogue Nicholas
1927 See You in Jail Slossom
1927 The Shamrock and the Rose Mr. Kelly
1927 The Tired Business Man Mike Murphy
1927 Mockery Vladimir Gaidaroff
1927 Finnegan's Ball Patrick Flannigan
1927 My Best Girl The Judge
1927 Becky Irving Spiegelberg
1927 A Texas Steer Bragg
1927 The Girl from Everywhere Wilfred Ashcraft - Director
1928 Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Sir Francis Beekman
1928 Tillie's Punctured Romance Tillie's Father
1928 Caught in the Fog Detective Ryan
1928 The Last Warning Robert Bunce
1929 The Cohens and the Kellys in Atlantic City Mr. Tom Kelly
1929 The Locked Door Hotel Proprietor
1929 Marianne General
1930 Redemption Magistrate
1930 The Sea Bat Dutchy
1930 Soup to Nuts First Fat Diner Uncredited
1931 Finn and Hattie Le Bottin
1932 The Midnight Patrol
1935 Bad Boy Man on Rowing Machine Uncredited (final film role)



  1. ^ a b Hunter, James Michael (2013). Mormons and Popular Culture: The Global Influence of an American Phenomenon. ABC-CLIO. pp. 250–251. ISBN 9780313391675. Retrieved May 15, 2018.
  2. ^ "Mack Swain, Colorful Film Comedian and Pioneer, Dies". The Salt Lake Tribune. Utah, Salt Lake City. Associated Press. August 27, 1935. p. 18. Retrieved May 14, 2018 – via Open access icon
  3. ^ "'The Little Minister'". Petaluma Daily Morning Courier. California, Petaluma. Napa Journal. February 18, 1907. p. 1. Retrieved May 14, 2018 – via Open access icon
  4. ^ "At the Opera House". The Alliance Herald. Nebraska, Alliance. October 14, 1904. p. 4. Retrieved May 14, 2018 – via Open access icon
  5. ^ a b c "The Keystone comics of Santa Cruz | Ross Eric Gibson, Local History". Santa Cruz Sentinel. January 8, 2023. Retrieved March 3, 2023.
  6. ^ a b "Mack Swain Dead. Pioneer Film Actor. Appeared With Charlie Chaplin in Keystone Comedies Before Days of 'Stars'". New York Times. Associated Press. Retrieved March 9, 2015. Mack Swain, stage and screen actor, died here late last night after a few hours' illness. He had suffered an internal hemorrhage in the afternoon. ...
  7. ^ "Death Calls Mack Swain". The Los Angeles Times. California, Los Angeles. Associated Press. August 27, 1935. p. 3. Retrieved May 14, 2018 – via Open access icon
  8. ^ "Mack Swain". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Archived from the original on May 15, 2018. Retrieved May 15, 2018.

External links[edit]

Media related to Mack Swain at Wikimedia Commons