The public's insatiable demand for Charlie Chaplin comedies could not (and would not) be met by Chaplin himself, who by 1917 was more interested in quality than quantity, and had slowed his working methods down to a walk. It is therefore hardly surprising that several Charlie Chaplin imitators appeared on the horizon to pacify those moviegoers who couldn't get enough of Charlie. The best of these ersatz Chaplins was Russian-born Billy West, whose impersonation of the Little Tramp was so uncannily accurate that many latter-day viewers have mistaken West's imitation for the genuine article. In the spring of 1917, West donned his Chaplin makeup and signed with King Bee productions to star in a series of two-reel comedies, many of which hold up quite well when seen today. The first of the Billy West comedies was Back Stage, released on May 15, 1917. Reminiscent of such earlier Chaplin films as The Property Man and Behind the Screen, Back Stage strove to avoid repeating any specific gags, and despite the parasitic nature of West's characterization was able to stand on its own merits as a very good little comedy. Supporting Billy West in all 33 of his King Bee releases was a brawny young character actor named Oliver Hardy (then billed under his nickname "Babe" Hardy), who played the same sort of comic villain for West that Mack Swain and Eric Campbell had played for Chaplin.
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