Larry Semon Biography
American silent film comedian whose hugely successful career disappeared virtually overnight, Larry Semon was the son of a traveling vaudeville magician, Zera the Great. He grew up in show business and was trained in stage comedy and acrobatics. A talent for drawing and cartooning led to art school and then work as a cartoonist for various New York City newspapers.
The humor evident in his published cartoons prompted executives at New York's Vitagraph Studios to hire him as a gag writer in 1916. He quickly proved himself and was promoted to director for the Hughie Mack series of comedies. His background in magic helped him create interesting new gags for the comedian. When Mack left the studio in 1917, Semon took over the starring role himself.
His one-reelers were quite successful, and Vitagraph sent him to California to participate in its new West Coast operation. He produced as well as wrote, starred in and directed his own films, at the same time also producing films for other comics. In the summer of 1928 Semon apparently fell ill with tuberculosis and simultaneously, it seems, suffered a nervous breakdown.
He entered a sanitarium near San Bernardino, CA, where he reportedly died on October 8. However, an air of mystery surrounds his death, since his wife (and former co-star) Dorothy Dwan was allowed almost no contact with him and never saw his body, which was ordered cremated after a tightly secured funeral, which was carried out per Semon's "previous instructions" and to which almost no attendees were allowed.
The whereabouts of Semon's cremated remains are to this day a mystery, and his widow professed until her death to be mystified by the circumstances of his passing. With enormous financial obligations facing him Larry Semon could easily have considered a dramatic escape of this sort from his creditors. Whether he did, or whether his death was the sad final chapter to a high-rising, briefly brilliant, but ultimately short-lived career may never be known for certain.