Well-known as a comedian, dramatic actor and director, Slim Summerville made his entrance into motion pictures in silent films shot on the Mack Sennett lot. Later he earned acclaim for his role as Tjaden in Lewis Milestone's "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1930).
As one of the early Keystone Kops, all Summerville did for years was tumble and fall.
"First I tried a little acting and then I thought I wanted to be a director. So I directed for a while; I liked directing," he said. "But then I got tired of that and went back to acting. And then the talkies came."
And with the talkies came doom. By 1929, Summerville couldn't get a job, and hundreds of others were in the same position.
"They wouldn't even give us a test," he remarked with no resentment. "Because we hadn't been on the stage, they didn't believe we could talk."
But Milestone's unerring judgment in choosing Summerville for Tjaden changed the whole world and gave him the break he waited 17 years for. Although at first Summerville could not see how he would matter very much in the gigantic undertaking, the week after the film opened, he had to turn down three offers.
He knew then that he had arrived, and when Universal offered him a five-year contract for his performance, he knew that for those years he would be safe.