Ed Lee Wrothe was one third of the burlesque comedy trio that also included Harry Watson, Jr. and George Bickel. If his cohorts have become hugely obscure, Wrothe has become tenfold so, for unlike the other two he was never in any films. And yet he was much beloved in his time. Here are the few things we could dig up on him.
His name is often rendered with a period, thusly: Ed. Lee Wrothe.
He appeared with Bickel and Watson in two Broadway revues: Me, Him and I (1904-05), and Tom, Dick and Harry (1905-06). The first show was developed in burlesque and had been called the most successful show ever contrived in that milieu. It had originally been called On the Yukon. Wrothe played an Irishman named Con Conn. Bickel was a German named U-Kahn, And Watson was a tramp named Dusty Dawson. These shows later toured nationally.
Whereas Bickel and Watson appeared in many more Broadway shows, as well as films, Wrothe appears to have preferred burlesque, where he was a comedy kingpin.
A 1910 issue of the Dramatic Mirror tell us he is appearing in a Hurtig and Seamon revue at the Gayety, and mentions his association with Bickel and Watson.
A 1915 issue of the New York Clipper mentions him appearing at the Columbia Theatre (a burlesque house) in sketches with Sliding Billy Watson and killing it in his usual role of “Janitor Higgins”. Both men appeared in many shows produced by Joe Hurtig and Hurtig and Seamon that year.
A 1918 issue of the Music News has him appearing in a vaudeville bill at the Majestic with Trixie Friganza, Pat Rooney and others and calls him “rankly smutty”, saying that such burlesque acts don’t belong in vaudeville.
A 1920 issue of the Independent says that he is appearing as his character Janitor Higgins at the Gayety Theatre and that he has probably sold out more theatres than any other comedian in burlesque.
The latest reference to him I can find is a 1921 New York Clipper which mentions his popular racetrack sketch “Now”, which some feel may have influenced Abbott and Costello.
After this he vanishes. His stage partners Watson and Bickel had been born in the 1860s and ’70s. Assuming Wrothe was around the same age, this would put him in his 50s or 60s by the 1920s, ages at which death or health issues associated with old age were not then uncommon. At any rate, whatever the cause, this appears to be around the time he ended his professional career.
For more on vaudeville and burlesque comedy teams consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous