Today is the birthday of Neely Edwards (Cornelius Limbach, 1883-1965).
A quick thanks to Ben Model and Steve Massa for making me aware of this interesting and (in his day) significant stage and screen comedian. The 1927 Neely Edwards short The Little Pest is included in Model’s Accidentally Preserved DVD series. And Massa talks about Edwards in his terrific and necessary book Lame Brains and Lunatics. These guys do the work of the angels. By rights, I should thank them daily, but that would irritate even them, so I restrict myself to doing so periodically.
Originally from Ohio, Edwards started out in vaudeville, where by 1910 he had a nationally popular comedy duo with partner Edward Flanagan. Their act, which played for years, was called “On and Off”. He got his toe wet in a bit part in the early Hal Roach short The Hungry Actors (1915) with Harold Lloyd, but his film career was properly launched in 1919 when he and Flanagan were hired to play the popular comic strip characters Ferdy and Percy, a.k.a. “The Hallroom Boys” in a series of shorts (the newspaper strip, penned by Harold MacGill, ran from 1906 to 1923). The series was produced by C.B.C. Film Sales, which would morph into Columbia Pictures in 1924. (Thus one way to look at it is that these Hallroom Boys pictures were among the earliest products of the legendary Columbia comedy shorts department, though that’s stretching it a little). Flanagan departed the series and was replaced by Hugh Fay. Edwards himself left the series in 1920, although it continued for another three years with a wide variety of comedians playing the two characters.
In 1920, there followed a series of Flanagan and Edwards shorts for First National, and some roles for Edwards in features, such as the original 1921 version of Brewster’s Millions. In 1922 he was paired with comedian Bert Roach in a series of comedies for Universal. The pair played a couple of gentleman tramps (a convention much in vogue at the time); Edwards’ character was “Nervy Ned”. This series ran through 1924. He continued to star in comedy shorts (often opposite Alice Howell) and act in features into the early days of sound. Some notable early talkies in which he had roles included the original screen adaptation of Show Boat and Gold Diggers of Broadway, both in 1929. As with so many though, by 1933 his career took a serious dive. He was essentially a bit player and extra through 1959.
To learn more about comedy film history don’t miss 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 etc. For still more on show biz history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.