To be more effective at silencing, it can be knotted in the front to fill the mouth more efficiently, or can be used to hold in stuffing.
The first known instance of a cleave gag in mainstream entertainment is in the 1915 film "Birth of A Nation," with Lillian Gish being the recipient. The cleave gag was not common in the early days of cinema, with a few appearances here and there. It all but disappeared by the 1930's, possibly due to the Hayes Code in Hollywood. They finally returned in the 1950's, and have been around ever since.
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