Grave Spotlight

In a way, cemeteries are like libraries. They contain the final resting places of thousands of people, each with their own separate and unique story. Some of these people are famous, and their stories are well known. Most are not, but that doesn't make their life any less interesting or their stories any less worthy of being told and remembered.

Periodically, we'll spotlight a different Los Angeles-area grave. Every person has a story, and we will use this space to tell their story, through their final resting place.


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Mae Busch

(June 19, 1901 - April 19, 1946)

Jan. 23, 2011 -- Mae Busch appeared in more than 120 films, almost equally divided between silent and sound, and including a wide range of styles, from dark melodrama to slapstick comedy. On the dramatic side, she co-starred with Erich Von Stroheim, Lon Chaney and Harry Houdini. On the comedy side, she was a regular performer at the Mack Sennett and Hal Roach studios, and is probably best known for playing the stereotypically shrewish wife in a series of comedies starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

Annie May Busch was born June 19, 1901 (some sources claim 1891), in Melbourne, Australia, the daughter of Frederick William Busch, a symphony conductor, and Elizabeth Maria Lay Busch, an opera singer. When she was 9 years old, the family moved to the United States, and Busch was sent to be educated and live at St. Elizabeth Convent in New Jersey.

Busch made her film debut in "The Agitator" (1912), a Western short starring J. Warren Kerrigan and produced by the American Film Manufacturing Co. in New York City. Busch was friends with a budding star named Mabel Normand, who was appearing in comedy shorts produced by the Vitagraph Company. When Normand headed to Hollywood to work for the Keystone Film Company, Busch went with her.

Busch appeared in supporting and starring roles in more than 20 comedy shorts for Keystone in 1915 and 1916, appearing with Charley Chase, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Mack Swain, Edgar Kennedy and Chester Conklin. Busch's career at Keystone ended, however, when Normand caught her with Mack Sennett, Normand's fiancé. (According to some reports, Busch threw a vase at Normand and opened up a bloody gash on her head -– a precursor to the treatment she often unleashed on her screen husband, Oliver Hardy, in later years.)

After leaving Keystone, Busch appeared in comedy shorts for a variety of studios, and a few dramatic roles. She appeared with Harry Houdini in "The Grim Game" (1919), the first in a handful of silent films starring the legendary escape artist. She was cast as the temptress "La Belle Odera" in "The Devil’s Passkey" (1920), directed by Erich von Stroheim. In 1922, Busch played a Russian princess in "Foolish Wives," co-starring with von Stroheim, who also directed the film.

Busch received excellent reviews for her performances, and gave up comedy for dramatic roles. She signed a five-year contract with Goldwyn studios in 1923, and appeared in "Souls for Sale" (1923), "The Christian" (1923), "A Woman Who Sinned" (1924), "The Triflers" (1924) and "The Unholy Three" (1925), co-starring with Lon Chaney in the same year he starred in the silent classic "The Phantom of the Opera."

Busch became a favorite of film critics and fans. She was nicknamed "The Versatile Vamp," and she regularly appeared on magazine covers and in newspaper articles featuring her latest fashions, hairstyle, boyfriend, the type of car she drives ("Power, speed and get-away characterize Mae Busch’s motor"), and even who she planned to vote for in the presidential election.

Unlike many performers in silent films, Busch focused on realism and didn't try to over-express her emotions on screen. "I find that misery is written unmistakenly on my countenance, but that I do nothing," she said. "That is, I do not bite my nails, tear my hair or make violent gestures. In acting for the screen, I do not try to mimic any of the standardized methods of expressing emotions. I try to do exacty as I have done in living through similar experiences, for there are few emotions which I have not actually known."

In 1926, after a dispute with MGM, Busch signed with Hal Roach Studios, where it was expected that she would add a powerful dramatic presence to the comedies the studios produced. Instead, she became one of the busiest and most popular comedians on the Roach lot.

Her first film at the Roach studios was "Love ’Em and Weep" (1927), which starred Stan Laurel and James Finlayson, and Oliver Hardy in a supporting role. The film isn't considered an official "Laurel and Hardy" film, however, since they had not yet developed their familiar screen characters, and had few scenes together.

Busch’s next film for Roach was "Unaccustomed as We Are" (1929), a true Laurel and Hardy short, and their first talkie -– a fact which inspired the title. The film was also Busch's first performance as "Mrs. Hardy," Ollie's strident, shrewish and often violent wife. The film also featured Thelma Todd and Edgar Kennedy as the Hardys' neighbors.

In the film, Hardy brings Laurel home for dinner, promising a delicious meal cooked by his wife. When Busch shouts at Hardy that she's tired of cooking meals for "all the bums that you happen to bring up here for dinner," and launches into a tirade, Hardy puts on a phonograph record of a patriotic march to drown her out. Busch continues her rant, but she slowly gets caught up in the music and continues to shout and gesture in time with the music. When she realizes what's happened, she breaks the phonograph record over Hardy's head, and storms out -– but not before kicking Laurel in the pants.

In "Chicken’s Come Home" (1931), Busch plays Hardy's former girlfriend who attempts to blackmail him with an old photo, with Todd playing Mrs. Hardy. The same year, Busch co-starred with Laurel and Hardy in "Come Clean," this time as a woman who is attempting suicide by jumping off a bridge. When Laurel and Hardy save her, she informs them that they now have to take care of her, and the boys spend most of the film trying to get away from her, and trying to keep their wives from finding out about her.

Busch was back playing Mrs. Hardy again in "Their First Mistake" (1932), a role she also played in "The Bohemian Girl" (1935).

Busch's classic and definitive Mrs. Hardy role -- this time as a blonde -- was in the feature-length "Sons of the Desert" (1933), in which Laurel and Hardy want to go to Chicago for a lodge meeting, but their wives want them to take them on a vacation. The boys figure out a way to sneak away under the pretext of taking Hardy on an ocean voyage for his health, but their wives find out when the ship they were supposed to be on sinks. When Laurel confesses to his wife, she rewards him. When Hardy continues with the cruise story, Busch unleashes a flying barrage of ever bit of cutlery and crockery in the house.

In "Oliver the Eighth" (1934), Busch played a wealthy woman who was once jilted by a man named Oliver, and she vows to kill every man she can find named Oliver, with Oliver Hardy lined up as her eighth victim. Busch also appeared with Laurel and Hardy in "Going Bye-Bye!" (1934), "Them Thar Hills" (1934), "The Live Ghost" (1934), "Tit for Tat" (1935) and "The Fixer-Uppers" (1936).

While working for Roach, Busch also appeared in several of the studio's "Our Gang" comedies, including "Fly My Kite" (1931).

During this time, Busch also appeared in supporting roles in dramas produced by other studios, including "The Purchase Price" (1931), starring Barbara Stanwyck and George Brent; "Doctor X" (1932), starring Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray; "Scarlett Dawn" (1932), starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr.; "Blondie Johnson" (1933), starring Joan Blondell and Chester Morris; and "Beloved" (1934), starring John Boles and Gloria Stuart.

By the late 1930s, Busch was appearing again in supporting roles, mainly in dramas, and also in the theater. In 1936, Busch married for the third time, to civil engineer Thomas Tate, and her screen roles became even more infrequent.

Busch died of cancer on April 19, 1946, at the Motion Picture and Television Country Home and Hospital in Encino, Calif. She was 44 years old.

Busch was cremated and her ashes remained mysteriously unclaimed in a cardboard box at the hospital until the mid-1970s, when members of the "Way Out West" tent, the Los Angeles chapter of the international "Sons of the Desert" Laurel and Hardy appreciation society, arranged for her burial in a niche at the Chapel of the Pines columbarium in Los Angeles. Her marker identifies her as Mae Busch Tate.

Busch is remembered with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 7021 Hollywood Blvd., which was placed on Feb. 8, 1960. She is also regularly remembered by the "Sons of the Desert." The group, which was named after the 1933 film and has chapters, or "tents," in cities around the world, was organized in 1965 in New York City. According to the "Sons of the Desert" constitution, which was based on the wishes of Stan Laurel, every group meeting must include toasts to Stan and Ollie, and also to the three most memorable supporting actors in their films -– James Finlayson, Charlie Hall and Mae Busch.


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