Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Little Bobby Larsen and the Larsen Laws

A forgotten figure in Hollywood history, Little Bobby Larsen played an important part in the establishment of work place safety rules for both human performers and their animal costars. At first, a marginal figure in the Hollywood community, Larsen began his short lived career in the silent film era, primarily as a background actor, with the occasional featured bit in two reel comedies. His life took a dramatic turn in 1924 when he auditioned for the part of The Kid in a two reeler titled Scraps and the Kid. Larsen was in fact several years too old for the part as written, but he was small for his age and, as one critic wrote, "He had an angelic face that reminded every American mother of her ideal son." Cast in the lead, it was only a matter of choosing the equally important performer, Scraps, a dog of the streets.

Like most two reel shorts of the time, the plot of Scraps and the Kid was simple and straight forward. The Kid, rescues Scraps from a dog fighting ring and they become best friends, living on the streets of an unnamed American city. Finding a dog that had the look of a fighter proved to be a difficult one. After a search of city pounds for an ideal candidate, director Fred Spardo chose a mutt that had taken to following around crew members at busy Red Eagle Studios. To make the new Scraps look the part, the poor animals ears were shredded with razor blades and his skin was scarred with lit matches. Scraps and the Kid was a hit. In a long established Hollywood tradition, plans were quickly launched for a series of two reel sequels, but with one important difference; Bobby Larsen was to be established as the star of the series, and each subsequent film would begin with the words, "Little Bobby."

Over the next two years, Little Bobby Larsen and Scraps the Dog would make eight more Little Bobby movies. The series might have gone on for several more years, since Larsen didn't seem to be growing any taller, but an ugly incident would end both the series and Larsen's career as a child movie star of the silent era. Larsen was in his early teens when the first movie in the series was made, and like most teen boys of that age, he was a somewhat surly young fellow. Scraps was, understandably, a mean and vicious dog. On the set of Little Bobby and the Sewer Rat Gang, a bored Bobby Larsen amused himself by teasing Scraps. And then the tragedy happened; Scraps turned on Little Bobby and in less than five seconds ripped most of the young actor's face off. Rushed to the hospital Bobby Larsen's life was saved, but he was also permanently disfigured. In reaction to the attack on Bobby Larsen, California state assemblyman Homer Kutler introduced a bill making it illegal to mutilate animals for the movies as well as requiring that all animals used in films be under the supervision of a certified animal trainer. It was too late for Scraps and Bobby, but in the future there would be, almost, no other such incident, thanks to what became known as the Larsen laws.

Bobby Larsen made a brief comeback in the mid 1950's in four science fiction horror movies. He was billed as the "Monster Without Makeup." All four films were made at famed B-movie studio, Terrific Pictures. None of the films made much more than their investment, ending Larsen's return to the silver screen. Bobby Larsen was an early experimenter with the drug, LSD. In 1962, at the age of 51, Little Bobby Larsen died of a massive heart attack. He was on an LSD "acid" trip at the time. Witnesses report that he looked in the mirror while under the influence, saw his own mutilated face, and died of fright.

The Little Bobby Larsen films were, 1. Scraps and the Kid, 2. Little Bobby and the Burglars, 3. Little Bobby Warns the Town, 4. Little Bobby and the Italian Anarchist, 5. Little Bobby and the Stolen Diamonds, 6. Little Bobby and the Runaway Circus Elephant, 7. Little Bobby and the Bolshevik Plot, 8. Little Bobby and the Sinking Ship, and the last in the series, finished with a photo double, 9. Little Bobby and the Sewer Rat Gang.

His last four films were, 1. Invasion of the Fluoride Monster, 2. The Atomic Brain Eater, 3. The A-Bomb Mutant, and 4. The Lung Snatcher

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