Ezra Kendall (1861-1910) was a popular comic actor, playwright, impresario, humor author, and vaudeville monologist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Kendall was the son of a Centreville, New York farmer who died in the Civil War when Kendall was less than a year old. He began working as a printer’s devil when still a boy, then moved to New York City where he worked for a time as a newspaper reporter. From here he got his feet wet in the theatre, first as a supernumerary and propmaster, then as an actor. Through the early 1880s he worked with various minstrel shows** and by the middle of the decade he was beginning to come into his own. As part of William A Mestayer’s company, he starred in A Box of Matches and then his own musical farce We, Us and Company, which ran for a year.
The success of the latter show allowed him to form his own theatre company, with which he presented his own original comedies for over a decade. A Pair of Kids sustained the company from circa 1886 through 1892. In 1894, he launched a new show The Substitute which also featured his wife Nellie Dunn in the soubrette role.
From 1896 through 1902, Kendall enjoyed great success on the vaudeville stage as a Yankee monologist, and was said to be the highest paid one in this line. After this he toured with a new original play The Vinegar Buyer through the end of his life. He also appeared in Ali Baba, a David Henderson extravaganza at the Chicago Opera House, as well as several George Ade comedies.
During these years he also penned several popular humor books, written in the same comical voice that had made him popular in vaudeville: Spots or Wit and Humor (1901), Good Gravy (1902), Tell it to Me (1903), Hot Ashes (1908), and Top Soil (1909).
Kendall died of a stroke in 1910 while touring with The Vinegar Buyer.
**Obligatory Disclaimer: It is the official position of this blog that Caucasians-in-Blackface is NEVER okay. It was bad then, and it’s bad now. We occasionally show images depicting the practice, or refer to it in our writing, because it is necessary to tell the story of American show business, which like the history of humanity, is a mix of good and bad.
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