Chester Cooper Conklin was an American comedian and actor. He appeared in over 280 films, about half of them in the silent era.
Born in Oskaloosa, Iowa, Conklin was one of three children who grew up in a violent household. When he was eight, his mother was found burned to death in the family garden. Although first judged a suicide, his father, a devoutly religious man who hoped his son would be a minister, was eventually charged with murder, but found not guilty at trial.
Conklin won first prize when he gave a recitation at a community festival. A few years later, he ran away from home after vowing to a friend he would never return, a promise he kept. Heading to Des Moines he found employment as a hotel bellhop, but then moved to Omaha, Nebraska where his interest in theatre led to a career in comedic acting. In St. Louis, Missouri, he saw a performance by the vaudeville team of Joe Weber and Lew Fields, which prompted Conklin to develop a character based on his boss at the time, a man with a thick accent and a bushy walrus moustache. With this character, Conklin broke into vaudeville, and spent several years touring with various stock companies, doing vaudeville shows, minstrel shows, as well as clown work with a travelling circus.
After seeing several Mack Sennett comedies while in Venice, California during the 1913 winter break, the 27-year-old Conklin went to Keystone Studios, applied for a job and was hired as a Keystone Kop with a salary of $3 a day. Sennett directed him in his first film, a comedy short titled Hubby’s Job.