Thursday, 3 November 2016

Gilbert Saroni

Gilbert Saroni (or 'Sarony') was a well known vaudeville performer who specialised as a female impersonator. This was a popular act at the time, and he recreated his character a number of times in film - including one of the first to feature a male/male kiss (albeit with one man in drag!) in 1904. He died December 15th 1910, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Check out Saroni's filmography...

The Old Maid Having Her Picture Taken, 1st March 1901. Directed by Edwin S. Porter and George S. Fleming, you can see it on YouTube HERE. The Library of Congress page for the film is HERE.

The Old Maid Having Her Picture Taken

"An old maid is walking about the studio while the photographer is getting his camera ready. She first looks at a hanger, which immediately falls from the wall, not being able to stand her gaze. Then she looks at the clock, and her face causes it to fall to the floor with a crash. She then walks over to the mirror, which suddenly cracks in several places. The photographer then poses her. Just as he is to press the button the camera explodes with a great puff of smoke, completely destroying the camera and demolishing the studio. The picture finishes up with the old maid tipping back in her chair and losing her balance, displaying a large quantity of fancy lace goods. A sure winner." - Edison Catalog

The Old Maid in the Drawing Room, 1901. Another Edison film, you can see it on YouTube HERE (starting at 2:47).

The Old Maid in the Drawing Room

The Old Maid's Lament, January 1903. Produced by Siegmund Lubin - the Lubin catalogue related: "Nothing is seen on the screen but the large head of an antiquated female, the expression of whom will cause the tears to flow in laughter." So, basically, a remake of the earlier Edison film, The Old Maid in the Drawing Room.

Old Maid's First Visit to a Theatre, January 1903. Produced by Siegmund Lubin, IMDb tells us that: "Saroni dressed as an old maid, is seated in a box at a popular theater where she is evidently enjoying the play. She nods to her numerous acquaintances in the audience and frequently applauds the show."

Gilbert Saroni Preparing for his Act, January 1903. Produced by Siegmund Lubin. The Lubin catalogue stated: "This picture shows Saroni making up for his famous Old Maid act. This will prove doubly interesting for those who have seen him on the stage, and it shows at a glance what is necessary for these performers to do before they are ready to address their audience."

Goo Goo Eyes, January 1903. Directed by Edwin S. Porter for the Edison Manufacturing Company. "Posed by Gilbert Sarony, made up as an old maid. Taken close so that the head covers the picture. Facial and eye expressions."

The Lost Child, 1904. Produced by Siegmund Lubin. "A mother is frantic about her missing child, who is found hiding in the doghouse."

Meet Me at the Fountain, 1904. Directed by Siegmund Lubin. "Frenchman Count Hardup advertises for a wife. He gets more than he bargained for when women start chasing him. He's caught by an old maid." This is a spoof of the Biograph film Personal (1904) which had also been remade as How the French Nobleman got a Wife through the New York Herald Personal Columns for Edison.

Count Hardup advertises for a wife

A case of mistaken identity

The potential brides give chase

The old maid gets her man!

Alternatively, you can watch the whole thing on YouTube:

Some analysis from people who are good at that kind of thing:

" It [cross-dressing] was all in fun, an extension of what audiences had seen in vaudeville houses, and most hints of sexual suggestiveness come only retroactively. Nevertheless, putting drag in front of a close-up camera made for a different dimension, heightening the ambigutiy as it weakened the illusion. In the very early 1900s, a skinny comedian named Gilbert Saroni appeared in a series of short Old Maid films that now seem like utter low campfests. The Old Maid in the Drawing Room (1901) is a good example: Saroni (with perhaps three teeth in his head) carries on in prissy affront, and the spectacle seems less suited to a drawing room than it does a Greenwich Village bar minutes before closing time. "

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