What’s in a name? The case of Tweedledum Studies Mathematics

ROBINET STUDIA MATEMATICA Italian due foglio (100×140 cm) 1913

Some time ago I posted about the movie posters in the Davidson collection we acquired. A few of them are so old that it is very hard to identify them as they don’t carry few if any text markings on them. A few days ago I had a brain wave and sent an email to the beautiful Italian Filmmuseum in the equally beautiful Mole Antonelliana in Turin I visited a few years ago.

On one of the unidentified posters was a logo with text Societa Ambrosia Torino, so I thought the museum in Turin was a good bet. And indeed it was. With lightning speed I got word from the people of the museum (thanks Nicoletta and Tamara!) that they identified the Societa Ambrosia.

The poster is from the comedy short ROBINET STUDIA MATEMATICA released on January 17th 1913.

Marcelo Fernández Peréz aka Marcel Fabre

Robinet is Marcelo Fernández Peréz, better known as Marcel Fabre. He was a Spanish ex-circus clown, born in 1885, who began appearing in French films in 1900, and was hired by the Societa Ambrosio Company of Turin in 1910 to star in his own series. He made hundreds of shorts for the company both directing and starring. His ROBINET was translated to TWEEDLEDUM in English and NAUKE in German. In the poster he is the character with the green suit and the eyeglass. The woman to his left is his co-star Nilde Baracchi, his real-life wife at the time. Beautiful and statuesque, the French-born Baracchi had appeared on stage in Italian music hall and dramas, and made a great screen foil for her husband with her charm and good humor as ROBINETTE (TWEEDLE DEE). The actor at the right was another regular in the ROBINET-series, Ernesto Vaser. Vaser was in his time a popular clown. Coming from a theatrical family – his father was stage actor Pietro Vasar and brothers Vittorio and Ercole also ended up in the movies – he entered films in 1905 for Ambrosio. He became known as Fricot in the films with Fabre. After a few years he moved to other production company Italia. Here he continued his screen persona as Fringuelli. Also directing many of his shorts, his career lasted until 1920.
Fabre and Baracchi made in 1915 the jump to the United States and made more robinettes over there for companies like Jester and Eagle. Fabre in these was either TWEEDLEDUM, TWEEDY or TWEDE-DAN, whilst Baracchi adopted the stage names Babette Perez and Nilde Babette. The couple separated in 1919 and Baracchi returned to Italy where she made a handful more movies. Fabre remarried to American actress Dorothy Earle (born Esther Lucille Elmendorf) who took over the TWEEDLE DEE role. A set accident in 1923 ended with Fabre losing his leg and his career as an actor, but he stayed in pictures. He wrote and directed several shorts up to his death in the late twenties ending with HIS-INLAWS for Universal. Fabre and Earle had a son Marcel (Marty) Peréz Jr. After Fabres death in 1927 aged 41, Earle remarried in 1936 to the aptly named Harry Burton Comber de Mattos.


Usually I don’t get into the plot of the movies of posters, but this time I thought it was interesting to do. It’s extraordinary to think that a poster like this measuring a cool 100×140 centimetres was actually made. As I remarked earlier, Fabre turned out hundreds of these shorts in a 5-year period. Assuming that this was the rule, that makes an awful lot of posters. And then ROBINET STUDIA MATEMATICA is a short, a very short, short. Measuring only 138 meters, it’s less than half of the usual one-reeler (a one-reeler usually is around 300 meters) which means about 5 minutes long. Movies must have been very popular to warrant such extravagance on the poster front.

In any case the poster catches the essence of  the plot. Robinet is in love with the daughter of a professor of mathematics and wants his blessing. The professor however is preoccupied with the grave mathematical problem of  “What is the sum of one plus one?” Robinet, trying to ingratiate himself with the professor, looks hard at the problem at the blackboard and offers the solution three. The professor disagrees vehemently and walks away outside, muttering heavily. He tries to find the solution by using every object he encounters. Every door, every wall, the black coat of a passer-by is viewed by the professor as a blackboard, even the canvas on a pick-up truck that passes. The professor pursues, chalk in hand, the pick-up furiously until it has to stop at a traffic light. Finally and joyously the professor is able to write “two”. He is joined in the joy by Robinet and the professor’s daughter who were hidden in the pick-up truck.

For a taster of Fabre’s Robinet comedy watch ROBINET BOXEUR below. It has a few nice gags with one in the middle that made me more than chuckle with ROBINET in a doorway hitting another innocent passer-by. All made possible by the wonderful site of Europa Film Treasures. [wpvideo Z9msgKvm]


Nicoletta Pacini and Tamara Sillo from the Posters and Movie Memorabilia Collections – Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Turin Italy

Steve Massa and Ben Model


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