A CENTURY OF KEYSTONE KOPS

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Throughout the silent era (celebrated by the Academy this month with A Century Ago: The Films of 1913), sheet music for movie-inspired songs brought together the public’s fascination with the silver screen and love of popular music. Written by Tin Pan Alley songwriter Charles McCarron in 1915, “Those Keystone Comedy Cops” capitalized on the popularity of the bumbling policemen who had been introduced on screen by Mack Sennett just a few years earlier but had already become audience favorites. Today, a century later, the term “Keystone Kops” describes incompetence in any context, from sports to politics.

Illustrated by Hungarian-born artist André De Takacs, this beautiful sheet music cover makes subtle reference to the world of moving pictures. The focal point is a photograph from the film “In the Clutches of the Gang,” featuring Ford Sterling and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. The tinted image mimics a movie screen, while the Keystone company logo glows behind dramatic silhouettes of stylized policemen. The silhouettes are also depicted on the two oversized billy clubs adorned with tassels that frame the image like theater curtains, evoking the elegant movie palaces of the era.

This item is one of hundreds of pieces of silent-era sheet music donated to the Margaret Herrick Library by Robert Cushman and archived in Special Collections. Other examples of silent-era sheet music may be viewed in Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collections. The library is also home to the Mack Sennett papers featuring scenarios, production materials and photographs relating to the career of this prolific producer. Silent film enthusiasts may be interested to know that while “In the Clutches of the Gang” is believed lost, the Academy Film Archive preserved a fragment of the film recently discovered at the New Zealand Film Archive, as part of the New Zealand Project.

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