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Larry Semon

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Larry Semon
BornFebruary 9, 1899
West Point, Mississippi
DiedOctober 8, 1928 (age 29)
Victorville, California
Resting placeCremated

Lawrence "Larry" Semon (1889-1928) was an American actor, director, producer, and screenwriter during the silent film era and son of a vaudeville magician, Zera the Great (1847-1901).


Born in West Point, Mississippi, Semon was the son of a vaudeville magician, Zera the Great (d.1900), while his mother worked as his assistant. Along with his older sister, Semon joined his parents' act until his father's death. After completing his education in Savannah, Georgia, Semon moved to New York City, where he worked for The New York Sun and later The New York Morning Telegraph as a cartoonist and graphic artist. While working as an artist, Semon appeared in monologues in vaudeville, where he attracted the attention of Vitagraph Studios.[1]

After his father's death, Larry (sometimes confused as the son of Baron Seeman) exposed some magic tricks in local papers while employed at a cigar store in Philadelphia in 1909.

In 1915, he was offered a contract with Vitagraph Studios. After signing with Vitagraph, Semon worked behind the scenes as a scenario writer, director, and film producer for actor Hughie Mack's films. He occasionally cast himself in bit parts in the films he worked on. When Mack left Vitagraph, Semon began playing the lead roles. He usually played a white-faced goof in derby hat and overalls who would enter any given setting (a bakery, a restaurant, a construction site, a prison camp, etc.) and cause chaos, with people being covered with debris and property being destroyed. His short slapstick comedies were made and released quickly and prolifically, making Semon very familiar to moviegoers.

As a former cartoonist, Semon staged cartoony sight gags, using elaborate special effects. No gag was too big for Semon. He loved chase sequences involving airplanes (sometimes using three in a film), exploding barns, falling water towers, auto wrecks and/or explosions, and liberal use of substances in which to douse people.

He produced and starred in a few feature films in the mid '20s, but by 1927 he was back in short subjects released through Educational Pictures. After filing for bankruptcy in 1928, Semon returned to vaudeville. While traveling on the vaudeville circuit, he suffered a nervous breakdown and went back to Los Angeles.

He became a close friend of Matt Martin, who was for many years a demonstrator for Thayer. He and Semon performed around the southern California area with a comedy act. In many of the films in which Semon worked, his cameraman was George Baxter, a magician for many years and a prominent member of the Los Angeles Society of Magicians[2]

Semon was eventually sent to a sanatorium in Victorville, California, where, on October 8, 1928, at the age of 39, he died of pneumonia and tuberculosis.

French audiences knew him as Zigoto, Italian ones as Ridolini, and Spanish ones as Jaimito ("Jimmy") in pre-war releases and Tomasín ("Tommy") in the 1940 rereleases by Manuel Rotellar.


  2. The Floyd Thayer Book, Volume 2: Keep the wheels turning… by Smith, Les; Smith, Gertrude (1992)
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