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Chic Sale

Biography: 

(1885-1936)

A vaudeville headliner of the first tier, comedian Chic Sale toured for years presenting "Rural Characters taken from Life," using only wigs and clothes as props, trusting in his virtuosic control of facial expression to make a dozen different types and ages live. His hands, too, played a carefully gauged counterpoint with his facial expressions. Numbers of performers could mimic several faces; giving hands distinctive characters was a much more arcane accomplishment.

After a lively stage career, Sale became a movie performer in a minor masterpiece, "His Nibs" (1922), in which Sale played seven different roles in a parody of early cinema plots about a rural hero who goes to the city and contends with corruption. Opening with the shot of the interior of a rural movie house, and containing a film within a film, it was a surprisingly complex modernist reflection on cinematic mimesis.

Sales's film career remained piecemeal until he published his masterwork, The Specialist, the autobiographical reflections of Lem Putt, outhouse builder. The book's appearance in 1929 was something of a sensation, marking the "outhouse" moment in American culture; henceforward the outhouse would seem a humorously cherished feature of an America rural past while indoor plumbing became the perceived present reality. During the 1930s Sale appeared in many cinematic shorts, often for Fox Films until his death by pneumonia in 1936. For a period in the mid-20th century his memory was kept alive in parts of America by euphemistically calling an outhouse a Chic Sale. David S. Shields/ALS