Edgar Kennedy

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Edgar Kennedy


From Pratfall, Issue Number 2


One of the most beloved foils of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy was old "Slow Burn", Edgar Kennedy. A man whose face rarely showed a trace of a smile on Screen, Kennedy was jovial and friendly in real life, talking to the man on the street as though they were best friends. Who will be able to forget the sidesplitting laughter they endured when Laurel and Hardy proceeded with their unintentional vendetta against Edgar's gouty foot in "The Perfect Day"? Among the best and most frequently seen characters in the Laurel and Hardy films, Edgar Kennedy was responsible for a good deal of the merriment and hilarity that runs rampant through the Laurel and Hardy films.

Born on April 26, 1890, near Monterey, California, Edgar Kennedy was a spirited lad who spent a good deal of his time traveling around the country from one odd job to another. Blessed with a good voice as a youth, his first contact with show business came when he did some singing in mid-western musical shows. The attractive young man who sang songs was not to be trifled with in the boxing ring, however, where he spent a number of years professionally. In his later years one of Kennedy's favorite stories revolved around his having fought fourteen rounds with Jack Dempsey.

Eventually the boxer-singer-wanderer arrived in Los Angeles and after some difficulty managed to find employment at the Mack Sennett Studios on what is now busy Glendale Boulevard. Acclimating himself to Sennett's comedy factory, Kennedy found he was appearing in many of the Keystone Comedies, including the classic "Tillie's Punctured Romance", with Charlie Chaplin. Edgar was also prominent in a number of Chaplin's other films, including, "Twenty Minutes of Love", "The Knockout", "The Star Boarder", "Caught in a Cabaret", and "Getting Acquainted". When his original contract expired in 1921, he freelanced with other studios around town, but often returned to the Sennett lot to appear in films with Ben Turpin, Gloria Swanson, and Charlie Murray.

Kennedy developed to perfection his portrayal of the stereotyped American Cop after he left Sennett and began working for the Comedy King's archrival, Hal Roach, in the late twenties. While Al Capone and bathtub gin rocked the country and staggered the people with the gravity of law abuse, Kennedy carried on, making the country and the people reel and stagger with the anti-gravity of the abused lawman. His appearances in the Laurel and Hardy films were more often than not characterizations of harassed policemen, unable to cope with the absurdities he encountered from the daffy duo. He performed in the Laurel and Hardy films; "Leave 'Em Laughing", "The Finishing Touch", "Angora Love", "The Bacon Grabbers", "Two Tars", (with a moustache yet!) "The Perfect Day", "Unaccustomed As We Are", "Habeas Corpus", and "Night Owls". Not resting on his laurels as a more-than-competent actor, Kennedy turned his hand to directing, performing admirably in this function for two of the Laurel and Hardy films, "From Soup To Nuts" and "You're Darn Tootin'".

As the years went by, actors came and went. Many found themselves out of work and some, like Edgar Kennedy, were always busy. RKO featured him in a lengthy series of family situation comedies called, "The Average Man". One such comedy would often be filmed in as little as three days, much like the television shows of today. Some were very good, others just average-but-adequate entertainment. None of them, however, were ever bad comedies. Rarely did the filmgoer see Edgar Kennedy give anything but his best in whatever he did.

In the course of his film career, Kennedy made over 200 short subjects and more than 100 feature length films. It remains a testimony to his seldom paralleled ability that the quality of his work was consistently high.

November 9, 1948, thirty-six hours prior to a large testimonial dinner planned in his honor by his fellow actors wishing to toast never-say-die, always-on-the-go Edgar Kennedy, the man succumbed to cancer. His legacy is and will remain the abundant laughter that fills any room where his films are shown.


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Kennedy graphic by Tony Hawes.

Past issues of Pratfall are available from the Way Out West Tent.