Biography Comedy Film Hollywood Silent Film

Doing the Larbert Walk

It is a rather wet Friday afternoon in Stenhousemuir in July 1924.  At the back of the Picture Palace cinema, a small clean-shaven bespectacled man puffs on a cigarette.  Although only in his mid-thirties, he is balding and looks much older.  He is somewhat tanned and dressed immaculately in what some would describe as “the American way” down to his tortoise-shell shoes.  A sign at the front of the building reads “TODAY: ‘A Day in the Life of a Cinema Artiste’, an illustrated lecture by James Finlayson”.

Whilst the talk had covered his days at Mack Sennett with his friend Ben Turpin and then being hired by Hal Roach to work opposite Stan Laurel, most of the presentation had been spent viewing the several thousand feet of film James had brought with him from Hollywood.  This had featured scenes from some of his latest films including ‘Rupert of Hee-Haw’, a lampoon of the sequel to ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’.  The audience having long since filed out, James decides to go for a short walk back to his old family home.  After first having been tempted to cross the street to the Plough Hotel for a small libation, he makes his way out west along Main Street.

Within a couple of minutes he passes the Dobbie Hall and, making a dramatic pause, recalls his first tentative appearances on the stage inside with the Stenhousemuir Amateur Dramatic and Musical Association.  He also remembers the large parade in 1900 celebrating the laying of the foundation stone with full Masonic honours.  Some two thousand marchers, led by the Carters on horseback and including representatives of the Foresters, Rechabites, Free Gardeners, Shepherds and Ironmoulders as well as the Boys’ Brigade, stretched for nearly a mile all the way from Pretoria Road to Larbert Railway Station.

James continues on his stroll along Main Street, past the station and Foundry Loan which leads to the ironworks.  Twenty-three years ago, James had been a young tinsmith at the Torwood Foundry.  He smiles as he thinks how fitting that he appeared in a film called ‘The Village Smithy’.  Suddenly, he hears heavy footsteps behind him, then turns around and does a double-take – it’s a large, fat man wearing a bowler hat.  D’ooooooh!  

After passing the Village School where he learned to read and write, he turns right down Victoria Road, mimicking the parade route.  There he stands outside his parents’ old home.  He thinks of how much he loved them and weeps.  The tears of a clown are shed as he recollects the painful shocks of the sudden losses of first his mother, then his older sister, and finally his father.  He hopes that they would have been proud of his cinematic achievements and reflects that he has done not too bad for a wee orphan boy from Larbert.

Route from the Plough Hotel, Stenhousemuir to Victoria Road, Larbert
Source: Google Maps

The short story above was submitted as an entry to the ‘500 Words for Falkirk’ short stories competition held by Great Place Falkirk in 2021. It depicts an imagined stroll by James Finlayson from a cinema in Stenhousemuir to his family’s house in Larbert and was inspired by a couple of newspaper articles: the first described the parade marking the start of construction on the Dobbie Hall in June 1900,1 and the second James’ film lecture at the Stenhousemuir Picture Palace in July 1924:

Local picture-goers had the opportunity on Friday last of acquiring first-hand knowledge about the famous film centre – Hollywood. Mr Jim Finlayson, of whom reference has already been made in this corner, appeared in person at Mr Faulkner’s establishment and gave a sort of illustrated lecture.

Mr Finlayson brought with him from Los Angeles several thousand feet of film depicting a day in the life of a cinema artiste, with himself as the character study in this instance. His remarks, together with the picture, were interesting to a degree.

Source: ’JOTTINGS OF THE WEEK – LARBERT AND STENHOUSEMUIR’, Falkirk Herald, 19 July 1924, p. 4.
Detail from Ordnance Survey map Stirlingshire nXXIV.14 (Revised: 1943, Published: 1947) showing the Picture Palace cinema and the Plough Hotel in Stenhousemuir with the Dobbie Hall to the west
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

James had sailed from New York to Glasgow on the S.S. Tuscania, travelling First Class and arriving in Scotland on 9 Jun 1924.2 The ship’s manifest gives his occupation as Actor & Film Director, which opens up speculation that perhaps he had shot a behind-the-scenes Hollywood documentary? He arrived in his native Larbert on the same day, impressing the local youth with his stateside garb:

After chronicling from time to time items of interest regarding Jim Finlayson, the film star, who, amongst other distinctions, can say he is a Larbert chiel, this week we are able to report his arrival in the “dear auld hame”.

Mr Finlayson got here on Monday, to the delight of the younger generation, who seemed greatly taken on with his decided American appearance. With his “tortoiseshells”, the lad o’ pairts does not seem to have altered much during his thirteen years’ absence.

To a friend, Mr Finlayson confided that he saw no difference in the townlet, except that it was wetter than it used to be. Just to show that he hasn’t lost his skill in the tinsmithing line, Jim visited Torwood Foundry on Tuesday and produced a dustpan.

Source: ’JOTTINGS OF THE WEEK – LARBERT AND STENHOUSEMUIR’, Falkirk Herald, 14 Jun 1924, p. 6.
Detail from Ordnance Survey map Stirlingshire nXXIV.13 (Revised: 1943, Published: 1947) showing Larbert Village School and Victoria Road in Larbert with the Torwood Foundry to the north
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

After his visit to Larbert, he went to London and then on to Europe:

Jim Finlayson, the “film punster” (as he was designated by a Los Angeles contemporary) is not going back to the States without seeing a big slice of Europe.

Mr Finlayson left for the South on Sunday night, and after a brief stay in London he means to visit most of the Continental capitals, not by common or garden rail transport, if you please, but by the more up-to-date air service.

Source: ’JOTTINGS OF THE WEEK – LARBERT AND STENHOUSEMUIR’, Falkirk Herald, 5 July 1924, p. 4.
The Dobbie Hall around the time of James’ visit
Photo: Falkirk Herald Photographic Collection, Falkirk Council Archives

He returned to New York from Le Havre, France aboard the S.S. Paris on 16 Aug 1924.3 He had been staying at the Hotel Rochambeau in Paris. His subsequent return to work being reported in the movie press:

Jim Finlayson, Roach comedian, has returned to New York en route to the Coast from Scotland to begin work on Labor Day.

Source: ’Finlayson Returns’, The Film Daily, 27 Aug 1924, p. 1.
S.S. Paris
Photo: Freshwater and Marine Image Bank, University of Washington

He would return again to Scotland the following year,4 when he stayed at the Plough Hotel mentioned in the short story above.

The Plough Hotel around the time of James’ stay
Photo: Kemp Postcard Collection, Falkirk Council Archives

Finlayson would repeat these transatlantic crossings a number of times in his lifetime, with at least four voyages on the S.S. Paris. If only they had sail miles in those days instead of air miles – d’oh!

With apologies to Lupino Lane for the title of the short story.


  1. ‘MAJOR DOBBIE’S GIFT TO LARBERT & STENHOUSEMUIR’, Falkirk Herald, 27 June 1900, pp. 4-5.
  2. 1924 Incoming Passenger Lists for the port of Glasgow,, The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 755.
  3. “New York Passenger Arrival Lists (Ellis Island), 1892-1924”, database with images, FamilySearch ( : 30 January 2018), James Finlayson, 1924.
  4. 1925 Incoming Passenger Lists for the port of Liverpool,, The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 792; Item: 6.
Biography Comedy Film Hollywood Silent Film

Tell It To A Policeman

Tell It To A Policeman - A Knock 'Em Dead Comedy
Excerpt from May 1925 cinema listing for the Majestic Theatre, Madison, WI

James Finlayson, comedian at the Hal Roach studio, reported to the police yesterday an attack on him by a robber, who he beat off. Finlayson said he left the apartment of a friend at Forty-sixth street and Western avenue about 1 a.m. As he was getting into his car, a man with a hat pulled down over his eyes approached and said he was an officer. Finlayson said he asked to see the man’s badge and the man struck him with a blackjack, but the actor dodged and the blow fell on his shoulder. Then he shoved his knee into the man’s stomach and ran, he said.

‘FILM COMEDIAN TELLS OF FIGHTING OFF THIEF’, Los Angeles Times, 9 Jan 1925, p. 27.

Somewhat ironically, just a few months after this incident, the film TELL IT TO A POLICEMAN was released on 24 May 1925. This Roach-Pathé comedy two-reeler, directed by Fred Guiol, features James with Glenn Tryon and Blanche Mehaffey. It’s the first in a series of films where Finlayson supports Tryon, the others being THUNDERING LANDLORDS, MADAME SANS JANE, CUCKOO LOVE and FLAMING FLAPPERS. The review in Motion Picture News described it as “fair entertainment”,1 whilst Exhibitor’s Trade Review thought it “chock-full of laughs and thrills”.2 Make up your own mind by viewing it on the Internet Archive here.

Blackjack: a small, flat, blunt, usually leather-covered weapon loaded with heavy material such as lead or ball-bearings, intended to inflict a blow to the head that renders the victim unconscious with diminished risk of lasting cranial trauma.


Six years later, James was once again assaulted by a blackjack-wielding robber, but this time did not make good his escape:

Struck with a blackjack in the hands of a highwayman, James Finlayson of 6141 Afton place was knocked unconscious today when his assailant found he had no money.

‘SHOOTING THUGS FLEE WITH $45’, Los Angeles Evening Express, 20 Nov 1931, p. 3.

6141 Afton Place was the address of the Afton Arms, where Finlayson had been staying for at least 4 years.3,4

Afton Arms Apartments, 6141 Afton Place, in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #463.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons, taken by user Downtowngal.

The idea of a movie star not having any money seems far-fetched, however in March 1932 James was sued by the accommodation for $620 rental (the equivalent of about $11,000 today).5

The intimation of his death in The Falkirk Herald – which was no doubt based on information from his younger brother Bob who was an occasional correspondent – mentions that Finlayson “lost a large part of his capital in the California bank crash”.6 This could refer to one of the many bank failures which occurred in America in the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

So, maybe James Finlayson was broke in November 1931 and had no d’oh after all!

  1. ‘Tell It To A Policeman’, Motion Picture News, vol. 31, no. 21, 23 May 1925,
  2. ‘Tell It to a Policeman’, Exhibitor’s Trade Review, vol. 17, no. 26, 23 May 1925, p. 58,
  3. 1927 Ship’s Manifest of Alien Passengers for the United States on S.S. Paris sailing from Le Havre, France on 27 Jul and arriving in New York on 3 Aug, FamilySearch,
  4. 1930 United States Census of Household of James Henderson FINLAYSON, Los Angeles, California, USA, FamilySearch
  5. ‘NEWS FROM THE DAILIES’, Variety, 1 Mar 1932, p. 42.
  6. ‘Larbert and Stenhousemuir’, The Falkirk Herald, 17 Oct 1953, p. 6.

Comedy Film Hollywood Silent Film

A Man About Town

Store detective James Finlayson hides from suspected shoplifter Stan Laurel
Scene from A MAN ABOUT TOWN (1923)
1923 silent film comedy with James Finlayson as Hunko, a store detective.

With Stan Laurel and Katherine Grant. Hal Roach comedy one-reeler. Directed by George Jeske. Distributed by Pathé. Released 16 Sep 1923.

A conductor tells Stan Laurel to follow a girl to be sure of transferring to the right car. Stan follows the wrong lady, who leads him into a lot of trouble. He is taken for a shoplifter but manages to evade the police. When he imagines he has at last caught the right car, he finds himself on the police wagon. This single-reeler is satisfactory entertainment.

Source: Exhibitor’s Trade Review, 15 Sep 1923, p. 716.

Comedy Film Hollywood Silent Film

Near Dublin

James Finlayson smashes a chair on Stan Laurel's head
Scene from NEAR DUBLIN (1924)
1924 silent film comedy where James Finlayson plays the part of Sean O’Hare [a pun on shorn of hair], brick merchant.

With Stan Laurel and Ena Gregory. Hal Roach comedy two-reeler. Directed by Ralph Ceder. Distributed by Pathé. Released 11 May 1924.

Sources: Motion Picture News Vol. XXX No. 17 Booking Guide Section, 25 Oct 1924, p. 69; The Film Daily, 4 May 1924, p. 12; Moving Picture World, 10 May 1924, p. 226.

Comedy Film Hollywood Silent Film

Pick and Shovel

Katherine Grant, Stan Laurel and James Finlayson in a publicity shot for PICK AND SHOVEL (1923)
Source: Exhibitors Trade Review, 16 Jun 1923, p. 102

1923 silent film comedy with James Finlayson as the foreman in a coal mine.

With Stan Laurel and Katherine Grant. All three main characters essentially reprise their roles from THE NOON WHISTLE. Hal Roach one-reeler. Directed by George Jeske. Distributed by Pathé. Released 17 Jun 1923.

Scenes from PICK AND SHOVEL (1923)
Source: Motion Picture News, 7 Jul 1923, p. 76

Comedy Film Hollywood Silent Film

The Noon Whistle

James Finlayson and Stan Laurel in THE NOON WHISTLE (1923)
Source: Exhibitors Trade Review, 5 May 1923

1923 silent film comedy with James Finlayson as T. O’Hallahan, the foreman in a sawmill.

With Stan Laurel and Katherine Grant. Hal Roach comedy one-reeler. Directed by George Jeske. Distributed by Pathé. Released 29 Apr 1923.

Notable as the first Hal Roach film to feature Stan Laurel as a star.

Stan Laurel starts as star in Hal Roach one-reel comedy, NOON WHISTLE
Source: Motion Picture News, 28 Apr 1923

Biography Comedy Film Hollywood Silent Film

The Village Smithy

This 1919 silent film comedy features James Finlayson as a blacksmith.

With Louise Fazenda, Chester Conklin and Phyllis Haver (also a small cameo from Ben Turpin). Mack Sennett two-reeler. Directed by F. Richard Jones. Distributed by Paramount. Released 9 Mar 1919.
Sources: ‘For Art’s Sake – BEN TURPIN’, Ben Turpin Filmography – Sennett 1917-1927; Sherk, Warren M., The Films of Mack Sennett: Credit Documentation from the Mack Sennett Collection at the Margaret Herrick Library, Scarecrow Press, 1998, p. 215; ‘How To Advertise THE VILLAGE SMITHY’, Paramount Comedy Releases Press Books (Sep 1918-Sep 1919).

James Finlayson, Chester Conklin and Louise Fazenda on promotional material for THE VILLAGE SMITHY (1919)
James Finlayson, Chester Conklin and Louise Fazenda on promotional material for THE VILLAGE SMITHY (1919)

As noted previously, in real life James had in fact been a tinsmith, as was his older brother Alex. Their father Alexander was a blacksmith and their paternal grandfather Robert was an iron grinder.

James Finlayson in 1901 Census
Excerpt from 1901 Census of the household of Alexander Finlayson in Larbert
(ScotlandsPeople: Census 1901 485/0A 001/00 043)

The excerpt below from The Falkirk Herald confirms that James worked at Jones and Campbell’s Torwood Foundry which was located at 55-59 Foundry Loan just a short walk from the Finlayson family home on Victoria Road, Larbert.

The Falkirk Herald, 27 Jul 1927, p. 16
The Falkirk Herald, 27 Jul 1927, p. 16

Comedy Film Hollywood Silent Film

A Tough Winter

1923 silent film comedy where James Finlayson plays the part of the hard-hearted landlord. Watch James fall through the ice at the end of the YouTube clip below.

Starring Snub Pollard with Marie Mosquini. A Hal Roach comedy two-reeler, the film parodied the 1922 documentary NANOOK OF THE NORTH. Directed by Charley Chase. Distributed by Pathé. Released 4 Feb 1923.

Sources: Motion Picture News, 3 Feb 1923; The Film Daily, 23 Jan 1923; The Charley Chase Filmography, The World of Charley Chase.

Comedy Film Hollywood Silent Film

Roughest Africa

James Finlayson in ROUGHEST AFRICA (1923)1923 silent film comedy with James Finlayson as ‘Lieut. Hans Downe’.
Starring Stan Laurel as ‘Prof. Stanislaus Laurello’ and also briefly featuring Katherine Grant as ‘Mrs. Laurello’. Directed by Ralph Ceder. Produced by Hal Roach. Released 30 Sep 1923.

James Finlayson in ROUGHEST AFRICA (1923)The film was a burlesque of the jungle adventure documentaries by Martin and Osa Johnson (e.g. 1921’s TRAILING AFRICAN WILD ANIMALS) and H.A. Snow (e.g. 1922’s HUNTING BIG GAME IN AFRICA WITH GUN AND CAMERA). It was the first in a series of such spoofs partnering James with Stan, the second being FROZEN HEARTS and the third being THE SOILERS.

Source: Tullar's Weekly, 5 May 1924, p. 3
Source: Tullar’s Weekly, 5 May 1924, p. 3

Film Hollywood

The Dawn Patrol

james finlayson in dawn patrol

James had a small role (as ‘Field Sergeant’) to provide some light relief in this 1930 World War One fighter ace drama directed by Howard Hawks and starring Richard Barthelmess and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

The film was later renamed as Flight Commander and can be viewed here at the Internet Archive.