Have you had enough yet? Have you had enough disasters? Have you had enough of Hurricane Sandy? Had enough of the television pictures of flooded streets and homes and people without power? And have you had enough of the presidential election? Have you had enough of Obama’s attempted cover up of U.S. Ambassador Stevens’ murder by Islamist terrorists? I have. That’s why this week I’m taking a break from the heavy and heading to the Horton. Edward Everett, that is.
Edward Everett Horton is maybe my all time favorite comedy character actor. Mostly in light comedies and musicals of the ‘30s, his signature double-take was a classic. It consisted of listening to someone, nodding his head and smiling in agreement, then after a beat or two, when realization set in, his facial features collapsed entirely into a sober, troubled expression. In addition to his wonderfully expressive face, Horton had a unique voice – refined sounding while at the same time taking on an unsure, confused quality. His screen persona was always pleasant and non-confrontational. He usually portrayed a dignified gentleman, always polite and well mannered, albeit a bit worried and a tad bewildered.
He was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Isabella S. Diack and Edward Everett Horton on March 18, 1886. He studied business at both Polytechnic Institute and at Columbia. At Columbia, however, he began acting in collegiate plays and that changed the direction of his life. Horton started his stage career in 1906, singing and dancing and playing small parts in Vaudeville and in Broadway productions.
Horton joined a Gilbert and Sullivan stock company in 1907 on Staten Island and performed in several shows, including “The Mikado.” He went on to join several theatre companies in the 1910s, including the Orpheum Players in Philadelphia, The Baker Stock Company in Oregon, and the Crescent Theatre in Brooklyn.
In 1919, he moved to Los Angeles, California, and started getting roles in movies. His first starring role was in the 1922 comedy film Too Much Business, and he portrayed the lead role of an idealistic young classical composer in Beggar on Horseback in 1925. In the late 1920s he transitioned into talking pictures.
Horton starred in many comedy features in the 1930s but he is best known today as a wonderful character actor in so many classics such as The Front Page (1931), Trouble in Paradise (1932), Alice in Wonderland (1933), three Astaire/Rogers films including The Gay Divorcee (1934), Top Hat (1935), and Shall We Dance (1937), Lost Horizon (1937), Holiday (1938), Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), Pocketful of Miracles (1961), and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).
Additionally he did a ton of television shows throughout the fifties and sixties. But most baby boomers would undoubtedly recognize him from his voice work in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, as the narrator for the “Fractured Fairy Tales” segment of that great Jay Ward animated cartoon show. Horton’s voice was perfect for that segment. He also did various other character voices on the show from 1959 through 1964.
For my money (or anybody else’s money), Edward Everett Horton made any movie he was in worth watching. And when paired with fellow character actor extraordinaire, Eric Blore, well, it doesn’t get any better (or any funnier) than that. Horton was the perfect counterpart to the great gentlemen and protagonists on the screen like Fred Astaire and Cary Grant. He worked often with director Ernst Lubitsch, and later with Frank Capra. Horton played the same role in two movies, Holiday in 1930 and again in the George Cukor remake in 1938.
Horton appeared in more than 120 films and probably hundreds of TV shows. If you happen to catch his name in the credits of a movie, that’s the picture to watch or DVR. He died at the age of 84 in 1970 in Encino, California. As a side note, Edward Everett Horton’s parents were Scottish immigrants. He was the eldest of four children – George, Winter Davis, and Hannahbelle were his other siblings. The family remained close throughout their lives. Edward’s mother lived with him until she died at the age of 101. His brothers and sister also spent their later years residing at his Encino estate.
Edward Everett Horton, a wonderful character actor, and a real gentleman. They just don’t make ‘em like him anymore.