1923 – Claudo the Mechanical Man –
information sourced from http://monsterkidclassichorrorforum.yuku.com/topic/25847
But thanks to a recent eBay purchase and some additional research of my own, I now know the still to be precisely what it claims to be… an MGM publicity still, circa 1928, when LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT was enjoying its initial run in theatres.
The 'mystery man' in the photo is a performer who worked almost exclusively in Pennsylvania, under the name of 'Claudo, the Mechanical Man'. He'd been doing his 'mechanical man' routine… standing on the street perfectly motionless, like an automaton… as an advertizing gimmick for stores in various local towns from around 1923.
However, Claudo also had a prominent sideline, dressing up as figures from motion pictures in order to advertize these outside movie theatres; and his tastes seem to have been very much those of a monster kid.
Indeed, he's something of a pioneer in that regard, a kind of 'horror host before the fact' in terms of his home-made make-up and street performances, which took in everything from Lon Chaney's Quasimodo and would-be LAM vampire, via Lugosi's Dracula and Fredric March's Mr. Hyde, to Karloff's rendition of the Frankenstein monster (photos of all these included below). Truly, I've been astounded to find him doing the kind of specifically horror-themed ballyhoo that he was at such an early point in time.
Claudo even had a Chaney-inspired nickname of his own. To quote from the Chester Times (PA) of 23rd March 1928: 'Hundreds literally jammed the street in front of the Hopkins Music Store on Market Street to view the mechanical man 'Claudo,' also known as the 'Man With The Thousand Faces'.'
The LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT still above, which lacks the quality of a typical MGM still of the period, indeed seems to have been the work of a local Philadelphia photographer. The MGM publicity code was simply added after the fact by the studio, who presumably had come to hear of Claudo's antics, and thought they could derive some publicity from a news item about him. I haven't found the still employed to that end anywhere, though… not even in the local Pennsylvania press… perhaps because the end result looks as tacky as it does.
Claudo's act endured for DECADES. He could still be found performing at local fairs and carnivals into the 1960s, and his motion picture promotional antics were mentioned in the trade journal Boxoffice as late as 7th September 1957: 'Stanley Warner's Stanton [Theatre in Philadelphia] had Claudo the Mechanical Man on the street, exploiting the science-fiction twin bill THE GIANT CLAW and THE NIGHT THE WORLD EXPLODED.'
Of course, I wish I had a still of him dressed as a giant turkey… just as I wish I knew the identity of the man behind 'Claudo'… but what I do now have are a series of images charting at least some of this long-term 'mystery man's' incredible horror-focused career…
I let Adobe Acrobat's character recognition software do the sifting (Google News Archive uses something similar, as does newspaperarchive.com). It can find any name or phrase entered in a scanned document, so long as it's in a font the software can recognize… meaning that it finds most things, but certainly isn't infallible, since it can't for example read the hand-drawn or angled fonts of many movie ad mats, and so on.
Like you, I wondered whether Claudo might have been the first 'mechanical man,' but it seems we've all underestimated just how far back this particular type of attraction goes. As early as 1910, a New York-based performer of this type was calling himself Eudoxus, the Original Mechanical Man, indicating that he was in competition against other 'mechanical men.'
Clinton E. Marquis of Wisconsin, a self-described 'hypnotist and expert in mental phenomena,' was appearing billed as a 'mechanical man' in shop windows at least as early as 1907, during which year an M. E. Kahn appeared billed in the same way at fairs and stores in and around Washington, D.C.
Prior to that, I've also found a couple of other 'mechanical men' appearing in store windows in Colorado and Kansas during 1905 and 1906… and I doubt either of them was the 'original,' either.
November 1905 ad for an unnamed 'Mechanical Man' (possibly Norba the Mechanical Man, active until ca. 1914) in Colorado Springs: