Hollywood comedy character actor Edgar Kennedy (born this day in 1890) is most famous for his so-called “slow burn” reaction, although for the life of me, I can’t see what’s so “slow” about it. When frustrated as a comic foil he seems to catapult into total rage, seething with hypertension, so worked up he wrings his hat and violently rubs his face and bald head. The only thing that’s slow in coming is the inevitable total explosion, the fit of actual violence. By that time the volcano has been threatening to erupt for what seems like a century.
Born in the greater San Francisco area, Kennedy began his career as a pugilist (once claiming to have fought Jack Dempsey). From here, he worked as a singer in vaudeville, musical comedy and light opera. Thence, to Los Angeles and the pictures, and he arrived early, beginning his career in 1911.
He remained in demand as an ensemble comedian in the sound era, working with the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup and Wheeler and Woolsey in Diplomaniacs, and many others. Later he even had his own series of comedy shorts, which is what he is probably best known for among comedy fans. Here he is with Florence Lake, who often played Mrs. Kennedy:
He passed away in 1948.
Now here’s the apoplectic Kennedy in the 1943 RKO short Hold Your Temper. Do you think he’ll be able to? (As an added bonus, this clip contains Irene Ryan, “Granny” from The Beverly Hillbillies, looking much younger!)
For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etcTo find out about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.