For the last few days I've been strangely fascinated by Fred Karno. I say strangely as I've known about Karno for some years. He was responsible for Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin going to America and for their early comedy education, both gave him credit for much of their early comedy knowledge.
Yet researching Max Miller, I saw Karno's name as having worked with Miller in the 1920s. The two men didn't particularly get along and Karno had an interesting take on how to keep dancing girls smiling when they were on stage. I have also read of Karno's casting couch, but he was a fair bit more than that too. By the time Max Miller came across him Karno had been one of the wealthiest men in the country, he'd bought an island, built an entertainment complex and casino on it (Karsino). He spent £20,000 in 1912 on a boat that is used today as a recording studio by Dave Gilmour!
In 1926 he was declared bankrupt and penniless he started again. Married with 8 children Karno had a mistress for 25 years who he also called his wife. He even crossed the Atlantic and Chaplin tried to find him work, which he eventually found with the help of Stan Laurel at The Hal Roach Studios. Karno wasn't happy with not having things done his way and ended up going back home and back in the theatre and eventually making some films there, which were again the ruin of him.
He ended up his days running an off-licence after a donation from Charlie Chaplin to fund the operation.
An amazing career that had started in the circus as an acrobat, he had runaway to join the circus after failing to become a plumber.
I'm sure I've got a more accurate post in this fascinating character. It seems odd that the last book about him was written 40 years ago and there doesn't seem to have been any great film portrayal other than in films about Chaplin (John Thaw played Karno in "Chaplin").