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'Larry Semon - How Many Times Did He Die?'

An investigation into the possibility of a faked death

© Claudia Sassen  

14 December, 1999

Published in Steve Rydzewski's Slapstick! magazine #2, July 2000.

Contact: Steve Rydzewski

This article reports inconsistencies with the biography of silent film comedian Lawrence "Larry" Semon - the result of many years of researchgif. Frequently, Larry has been subject of more or less credible stories such as his outright hostility towards Stan Laurel [37, 38] which was believed to emerge from Larry´s inability to share the screen with another talented artist [35]. Conjectures about Larry Semon´s death are of quite a different calibre. They have produced much gossip, enough to supply legions of script writers with new ideas.

Cover design: Steve Rydzewski, Philadelphia

Recently, it has been discussed whether Larry Semon did in fact prematurely die from tubercular pneumonia or whether his end had been what became one of the prevailing features of his films: fakery, or a neatly-planned construct. Both variants are backed by information from documents, interviews and newspaper clippings. It is clearly too late to reconstruct exactly what happened, but a critical commentary based on this information limits the possiblities. For Larry Semon, there would have been reason enough to disappear: In March 1928, he feels obliged to file bankruptcy. A high-flying life-style and financial flops have left him with debts amounting to 500, 000 dollars [5, 22]. Since his reserves are nil he agrees with his debtors that he undertake another vaudeville tour to pay them back [7]. The tour comes to an abrupt end when Semon suffers a nervous breakdown in early August 1928 [29].

In 1996, the talking starts: Larry Semon probably did not die on 8 October, 1928 but instead faked his death. Rumours lead back to American illustrator Steve Rydzewski, who conducts a search for Larry Semon´s death certificate via the Los Angeles Board of Vital Statistics. Despite refined search criteria including an extended search interval up to 1931 and accounting for various spellings of Larry´s names the situation does not improvegif It seems Larry Semon´s death certificate does not exist. In January 1999 the certificate unexpectedly turns up. Robert Dickson of Los Angeles starts a search in San Bernardino, the county where Larry died, and is immediately successful. Apparently, Steve picked the wrong office for his search. This is not to say that he based his hypothesis only on a death certificate he believed to be missing. Conclusions he draws from news reports on Larry´s funeral services and interment may maintain suspicions of a death that was perhaps not genuine [36]. Steve´s findings are discussed and extended by my own results of research. Remarks which seem improbable are as well brought forward in order to provide food for thought.

This is all I can state about what has to do with Larry Semon´s death. I am not in the position to take a clear decision whether Larry did die as early as 1928 or if there was indeed a plot and Larry lived on for many years. My research is far from being complete. Maybe as soon as tomorrow somebody will be able to prove or silence all suspicions.

Click here if you want to learn what Larry Semon and Elvis have in common.


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Claudia Sassen, Tue Dec 14 20:23:41 CET 1999

claudia.sassen@uni-dortmund.de

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