Edmund Breese at 150

150 years ago: the birth of stage and screen character actor Edmund Breese (1871-1936).

Before you protest that you neither know nor care who he was, allow me to point out that Breese was in the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup (1933); Joe E. Brown’s Hold Everything, Top Speed, and Bright Lights (all 1930); Edward Everett Horton’s Sonny Boy and The Hottentot (both 1929), International House (1933); Frank Capra’s Broadway Bill (1934), and other pre-code classics like All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Platinum Blonde (1931), Mata Hari (1931), The Cabin in the Cotton (1932), and The Match King (1932). He often played stereotyped ethnic character parts; frequently he played Asian characters.

Originally from Brooklyn, Breese played in vaudeville and regional stock theatre before making it to Broadway around the turn of the century with James O’Neill’s famous adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo. His nearly two dozen other Broadway vehicles also included Why Marry? (1917) with Nat C. Goodwin and Estelle Winwood, and the original production of Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1921), later turned into a movie by Lubitsch. Breese began appearing in films for Edison in 1914. Some of Breese’s interesting silents included Burn ‘Em Up Barnes (1921) with Johnny Hines, and The Haunted House (1928) with Chester Conklin and Thelma Todd. The last of his 130 films was the low-budget The Marriage Bargain (1935) with Lila Lee and Lon Chaney Jr (then still billed as Creighton Chaney).

Breese’s final professional credit was the original Broadway production of Ayn Rand’s 1935 Broadway stage success The Night of January 16th. Breese was 64 years old when he died of peritonitis just before the play ended in its seven-month run.

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