Charles E. "Charley" Mack and George Moran were The Two Black Crows blackface comedy team of radio and film.
Mack (1888-1934) built "Crowland" in Newhall starting in 1928 — a little compound of three French Norman or "gingerbread"-style houses on 8th Street — and
lived in one of them until his untimely death.
We don't know where this photo was shot, but it might be in New York. The newspaper Moran (1888-1949) is holding is William Randolph Hearst's New York American, which we know because we can barely make out its
unique motto across the top: "A Paper for People Who Think." Leading the comics page is George McManus' "Bringing Up Father" strip, which debuted in the American on Jan. 12, 1913.
As for the date, it's illegible except for March 4. It appears to say Saturday, March 4. If that is the case, then it's 1933, because 1933 is the only year in the early 1930s that March 4 fell on a
Saturday. (Considering the men's apparent ages, it's likely the 1930s.)
Charles Mack was born Charles E. Sellers in
White Cloud, Kansas, on Nov. 22, 1887, but he grew up in Tacoma, Wash. He was half of the "Two Black Crows" blackface
vaudeville team with George Moran, and he built a compound of three houses in Newhall where he lived in the 1920s and '30s.
By his own account, Mack played professional baseball as a young man in Olympia, Wash., where he was known as "the
man in the iron mask" (he was a catcher). "The street car company owned the ball club," he writes, "and in my spare time I was a conductor
on the cars. This so electrified me that I got a job as an electrician in a Tacoma theatre, my first experience in show business."
"Sometimes the actors ran out of juice," he continues, "and I supplied it to them in the shape of new acts. After a while I thought that
as long as the actors liked my stuff I might as well write an act for myself and be an actor. So I scraped some black off the kitchen stove and went on the
stage. I didn't have nerve enough to do it whiteface."
Mack — who signed his name "Charley Mack" — hired John Swor as his first partner and eventually hired Moran to replace him when Swor left.
"Since then I have called my act Moran & Mack — The Two Black Crows. Vaudeville audiences both here and in England seemed to like it," he writes.
Among their notable appearances were with W.C. Fields in vaudeville, and in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1920 and Earl Carroll's Vanities on Broadway.
"Phonograph records, based on my acts, made noises in about 7,000,000 homes," he writes. "I also got into a lot more million living rooms
through the radio."
"The Two Black Crows" became a weekly radio show in 1928 and centered around corny (and usually non-racial)
jokes and gags. Like their 1929 Paramount comedy of the same name, one of their catch phrases was "Why bring that up?"
It was Mack's retort when Moran would remind him of something better left forgotten. Another was, "Who wants a worm, anyhow?" —
Mack's retort when Moran would tell a parable ending in the admontion, "The early bird catches the worm."
Mack also wrote a novel in 1928, "The Two Black Crows in the A.E.F.," which Paramount turned into the 1930 Mack & Moran picture, "Anybody's War."
Meanwhile, Newhall was close enough to Hollywood yet remote enough to serve as a getaway. Mack built himself a unique gingerbread home
in the French Norman style on 8th Street, west of Market Street, around 1924, and added two smaller cottages at the end (top) of 8th Street. Collectively the compound
was known as Crowland. Mack entertained the likes of William S. Hart, Noah Beery, his partner Moran, and many other celebrities.
Moran and Mack's entry into movies at the height of their popularity caused a rupture. Moran reportedly sued Mack in a salary dispute over 1929's "Why
Bring That Up?"; the court ruled that
Mack owned the act and could set the salaries. Moran left and Mack replaced him with John Swor's brother, Bert Swor, who became the new "Moran."
George Moran sued in January 1930 to block the new duo from using "his" name, but court documents showed that Moran wasn't George Moran's real name;
it was George Searcy.
The turmoil in the partnership was short-lived. Charles Mack and George Moran appeared together in at least four more films from 1930 to 1933, and Moran
was in the car when Mack died in a crash in Mesa, Ariz., on Jan. 11, 1934.
Also in the car was film pioneer Mack Sennett, who had attempted a comeback in 1932
when he directed a Mack and Moran picture, "Hypnotized." The group, which included Mack's wife Myrtle and daughter Mary Jane,
was reportedly en route back from signing a contract with Columbia in New York. The others weren't seriously injured.
Following Mack's death, W.C. Fields lived in Mack's main 8th Street house for a short time (circa 1935-36). Moran tried to revive
the Two Black Crows with different partners, without success; he did appear in two later W.C. Fields films: "The Bank Dick" and "My Little Chickadee"
(both 1940); "Chickadee" is said to have filmed in a house at Monogram Ranch, later called Melody Ranch, in Placerita Canyon. That same year,
Monogram exec Ray Johnston purchased Mack's main house on 8th Street. He sold it in 1943.
"Our" Charles Mack should not be confused with 1920s actor Charles Emmett Mack,
who died in a 1927 car crash.
Further reading: 8th Street Home Popular with Vaudeville Greats.
LW3082: 9600 dpi jpeg from original photograph purchased 2017 by Leon Worden.