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Flora Finch

1869 - 1940

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03 Life Stories

Flora Finch
1869 - 1940

It is often said that opposites attract. That being noted, the funniest comedy teams, it seems, are those who present contrasts in appearance and demeanor – witness Abbott and Costello and Laurel and Hardy as good examples of this. Well, before those duos ever united, there was a man-woman team wowing them in the earliest silent comedies: the team of John Bunny and Flora Finch. Her fabulous performances opposite cinema’s first real comedy star, to this day, clinch her stature as one of the pioneer comediennes in film history.

Flora Finch was born in Sussex, England, on June 17, 1869. She began her histrionic career on the British stage, eventually migrating to the United States in 1908. Her first definitive sighting in American films was with Biograph, in two of the historic “Jones” series of comedies: Mrs. Jones Entertains (1909, opposite Florence Lawrence), and Jones and the Lady Book Agent (1909). However, she soon transferred to the Vitagraph Company, and it was there that she gained worldwide fame.

At Vitagraph, she was teamed with another actor, John Bunny, and this pairing would revolutionize comedy. Bunny, arguably the first major comedy star, played off of his looks (ample girth, wide face, grotesque features, and ironic jolly nature) to relay mirth. Finch played perfectly against Bunny – she was skinny, almost scrawny, with an extremely slender build, thin bony face, and expressive eyes – and the two, often portraying married combatants, kept audiences rolling in the aisles. Bunny and Finch were among the first film performers to be billed by name (it is important to remember that, in the early days of cinema, actors were not identified in either advertisements or on-screen; it was reasoned that the only persons worthy of billing were the director and the writer of a story). Thus, their series of short one-reel (approximately 10-minutes in length) comedies were highly attended chiefly because of the draw of the name – alternately known as “Bunnyfinches” or “Bunnygraphs,” this was the first successful team in cinema, by far.

On April 26, 1915, John Bunny died. Millions, throughout the globe, mourned his passing: Flora Finch, particularly, was hit hard by the loss of her partner. Bunny’s death changed her career in subtle, yet definite, ways. Soon afterwards, she became a member of “Vitagraph’s Big Comedy Four”: filming began in July 1915 for A Night Out (which was released in 1916). This funny film co-starred Finch with three Vitagraph comrades who, like Bunny, were (to put it mildly) overweight. Opposite Hughie Mack, Kate Price, and William Shea, Finch was “…the lightweight of the quartette who refuses to weigh more than 110 pounds.” It seemed to be a trend that Finch’s skinny appearance was always to be exploited opposite equally chubby costars, and this would be the common thread for the rest of her career.

She formed her own troupe, the Flora Finch Film Company, in December 1916, and was later headlined under the Film Frolics Pictures banner, appearing in six two-reel films yearly. In May 1921, she wrote a two part article titled “Old Days in the Movies,” for the famed Movie Weekly magazine, in which she reminisced about her fun-loving career, and talked about her marriage to Harold March. She would go on to appear in some of the most famed films of the silent and sound eras, including Monsieur Beaucaire (1924, costarring Bebe Daniels and Rudolph Valentino), The Cat and the Canary (1927), Show Boat (1936), and The Women (1939). The latter would prove her final film appearance.

Flora Finch died, on January 4, 1940, at the age of 71, from the effects of a streptococcus infection. She was laid to rest in Section 1 of Hollywood Memorial Park (now Hollywood Forever Cemetery). Her notable career accomplishments were recognized with a star along Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, at 6673 Hollywood Boulevard.

Without question, Flora Finch is a true film pioneer. True, her highest stardom came with her pairing with John Bunny, and her skinny frame was her claim to fame. However, each successful team takes two to thrive, thus the “Bunnyfinches” would lack their luster, and their memorable scope, without the contribution, and dynamic talent, housed in the 110-pound woman who was Flora Finch.