Edgar Kennedy

Active - 1913 - 1967  |   Born - Apr 26, 1890   |   Died - Nov 9, 1948   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama

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Biography by Hal Erickson

American comic actor Edgar Kennedy left home in his teens, smitten with the urge to see the world. He worked a number of manual labor jobs and sang in touring musical shows before returning to his native California in 1912 to break into the infant movie industry. Hired by Mack Sennett in 1914, Kennedy played innumerable roles in the Keystone comedies. He would later claim to be one of the original Keystone Kops, but his specialty during this period was portraying mustache-twirling villains. By the early 1920s, Kennedys screen image had mellowed; now he most often played detectives or middle-aged husbands. He joined Hal Roach Studios in 1928, where he did some of his best early work: co-starring with Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chase and Our Gang; directing two-reelers under the stage name E. Livingston Kennedy; and receiving top billing in one of Roach's most enduring comedies, A Pair of Tights (1928). Kennedy was dropped from the Roach payroll in a 1930 economy drive, but he'd already made a satisfactory talkie debut -- even though he'd had to lower his voice to his more familiar gravelly growl after it was discovered that his natural voice sounded high-pitched and effeminate. During his Roach stay, Kennedy developed his stock-in-trade "slow burn," wherein he'd confront a bad situation or personal humiliation by glowering at the camera, pausing, then slowly rubbing his hand over his face. In 1931, Kennedy was hired by RKO studios to star in a series of two-reelers, unofficially titled "Mr. Average Man." These films, precursors to the many TV sitcoms of the 1950s, cast Kennedy as head of a maddening household consisting of his dizzy wife (usually Florence Lake, sister of Arthur "Dagwood" Lake), nagging mother-in-law and lazy brother-in-law. Kennedy made six of these shorts per year for the next 17 years, taking time out to contribute memorable supporting roles in such film classics as Duck Soup (1933), San Francisco (1936), A Star Is Born (1937) and Anchors Aweigh (1944). Some of Kennedy's most rewarding movie assignments came late in his career: the "hidden killer" in one of the Falcon B mysteries, the poetic bartender in Harold Lloyd's Sin of Harold Diddlebock (1946), and the classical music-loving private detective in Unfaithfully Yours (1948), which like Diddlebock was directed by Preston Sturges. On November 9, 1948, shortly after completing his 103rd "Average Man" two-reeler and 36 hours before a Hollywood testimonial dinner was to be held in his honor, Kennedy died of throat cancer; his last film appearance as Doris Day's Uncle Charlie in My Dream is Yours (1949) was released posthumously.

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