Wally Vernon: A Hilarious Hoofer

Wally Vernon (1905-1970) was second generation show biz, joining his parents onstage as early as age three, growing up in vaudeville and acting with stock companies based out of New York City. A highly skilled eccentric dancer and physical comedian, he began appearing in B movies in the late ’30s, specializing in musical comedies, westerns, and slapstick shorts.

His dance specialty in Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938) is one of his best known turns in features. With the Ritz Brothers, he appeared in You Can’t Have Everything (1937), Kentucky Moonshine (1938) and The Gorilla (1939). His debut film, Mountain Music (1937) had him supporting Bob Burns and Martha Raye. Other musicals included This Way Please (1937), Happy Landing (1938), Meet the Girls (1938), Broadway Serenade (1939), Reveille with Beverly (1943), Hit Parade of 1943, Holiday Rhythm (1950), and Bloodhounds of Broadway (1952).

From 1943 through 1950 Vernon was the mysteriously Brooklynese sidekick to Red Barry in a series of B movie westerns, exchanging hoofing for hoofbeats. He can also be seen in Charlie Chan on Treasure Island (1939), a couple of the Joe Palooka films, the Milton Berle feature Always Leave Them Laughing (1949), and the 1952 remake of What Price Glory (1952).

Most notably for our purposes, Vernon became one of the last stars of comedy shorts, co-starring with Eddie Quillen in 16 films for Columbia Pictures between 1948 and 1956, almost all of them directed by Jules White. At this writing clips from a couple of them are available on youtube, and well worth checking out.

After Columbia closed its shorts division, Vernon worked for another decade in television, including a half dozen appearances on Damon Runyon Theatre (1955-56), an excellent bt of casting. His last screen credit, our of nearly 100, was a bit part on a 1965 episode of Dr. KIldare. What a Way to Go (1964), directed by fellow movie dancer Gene Kelly, was his last film for the big screen.

In 1970, Wally Vernon was killed by a hit and run driver while crossing a busy street.

To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy film shorts, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.