Edgar Kennedy: Master of the Slow Burn


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.

With Chaplin in “A Film Johnnie”

From 1914 he worked with Mack Sennett at Keystone, working with the likes of Chaplin and Arbuckle. In the 20s he was at Hal Roach, where he worked with Laurel and Hardy and Charley Chase.

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 including important comedy stars like Edgar Kennedy, please check out my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.