James Hargis Connelly, “Edward Everett Horton Jr, circa 1930s, Publicity Photo, Gelatin Silver Print
Born in Brooklyn, New York in March of 1886, Edward Everett Horton Jr. was an American character actor. A veteran of the stage, he was one of the actors who made the transition to Hollywood at the advent of the sound era. The pretentiously mannered dictation and pompous disposition of Horton’s film character enabled him to succeed in the theatrical, dialogue-driven comedies and musicals of the 1930s. Slightly coded queer characters in these early films, played by such talented actors as Clifton Webb, Franklin Pangborn and Horton, acted as a juxtaposition to the romantic-male stereotypes of that era.
Edward Everett Horton attended Boys’ High School in Brooklyn and Baltimore’s City College, a liberal arts college-preparatory school in Maryland. He was a student at Oberlin College in Ohio until his expulsion for pretending to jump off one of the college’s buildings; he threw a dummy from the roof. Horton attended the art courses at Brooklyn’s Polytechnic Institute for one year and changed to courses at Columbia University. After his performance at the university’s “The Varsity Show of 1909”, Horton and Columbia University parted ways amicably.
Horton’s stage career began in 1906 during his college years. He sang, danced and played small roles in college productions, vaudeville and Broadway productions. Horton, as manager and lead actor, played shows with actor Franklin Pangborn at New York City’s Majestic Theater on Broadway. In 1908, he joined noted actor Louis Mann’s theater troupe and learned all the basics: props, sound effects, acting and stage management. In 1909, Horton played the hysterical husband in actress Theda Bara’s Broadway production of “A Fool There Was” to great reviews. This play later became the 1915 silent film of the same name with Belgian actor Edward José as the husband.
Edward Horton moved to Los Angeles, California in 1919 and joined the Thomas Wilkes theatrical company at Los Angeles’s Majestic Theater. He also received a contract for three films at Vitagraph Studios, one of the most prolific film producers at that time. Horton’s first starring film role was in the 1922 comedy “Too Much Business”. Lent to Paramount, he achieved his biggest success in silent film with the role of the very proper English butler in the 1923 “Ruggles of Red Gap”. Horton followed this success with the leading role of a young classical composer in the 1925 “Beggar on Horseback”. Between 1927 and 1929, he starred in eight two-reel silent comedies that were produced by Harold Lloyd for Paramount Pictures.
In 1925, Horton purchased the Encino neighborhood property in the San Fernando Valley that would be his residence until his death. The twenty-one acre property named Belleigh Acres contained his own house as well as houses for his brother and sister with their respective families. Desiring to produce his own theatrical plays, Horton leased the Vine Street Theater, later known as the Huntington Hartford, in February of 1928. Among the plays he performed at the theater was “The Nervous Wreck” which co-starred silent film actress Lois Wilson; Horton had played in the original 1923 production with the Thomas Wilkes company. Although he ceased his stage production in early 1930, Horton would appear in many local productions in his later years.
Edward Horton, through his silent-comedy work with Educational Pictures in the late 1920s, made an smooth transition to sound films. Stage-trained, he found film work easily and appeared in two films for Warner Brothers: director Roy Del Ruth’s 1928 horror film “Terror” and Archie Mayo’s live-action 1929 “Sonny Boy”. Horton appeared in many 1930s’ comedy features and became well known for his supporting-role characters. Among these film roles were the reporter in the 1931 “Front Page’; the husband in Ernest Lubitsch’s 1933 “Design for Living”; Fred Astaire’s friend Egbert in the 1934 “Gay Divorcee”; Horace Hardwick in the 1935 musical comedy “Top Hat” starring Astaire and Ginger Rogers; and the paleontologist Alexander Lovett in Frank Capra’s 1937 adventure-fantasy film “Lost Horizon”.
In the 1940s, Horton appeared in several notable films including the 1941 “Here Comes Mr. Jordan’, the 1944 “Arsenic and Old Lace” with Cary Grant and Raymond Massey, and the 1961 “Pocket Full of Miracles”, among others. He continued to appear in stage productions and, beginning in 1945, became the host for radio’s “Kraft Music Hall”. With a starting appearance on television’s “The Chevrolet Tele-Theater in December of 1948, Horton began a notable television career as a guest star on such shows as “I Love Lucy”, “Dennis the Menace” and “The Real McCoys”. However for many television viewers, he remains best known for his voice role as the wise narrator of Fractured Fairy Tales in the animated series “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” which aired from 1959 to 1964.
Edward Horton’s long-term companion was the actor Gavin Gordon, who had been an actor with Horton’s theater company. They had both appeared in the 1931 Broadway production of Noël Coward’s “Private Lives” and in the 1961 film “Pocket Full of Miracles”. Fifteen years younger than Horton, Gordon starred as Greta Garbo’s leading man in the 1930 “Romance” and later played the role of Lord Byron in James Whale’s 1935 “The Bride of Frankenstein”. His distinctive voice enabled him to also appear in numerous radio dramas. Gavin Gordon died on his eighty-second birthday, the seventh of April in 1983.
Holding over one-hundred eighty acting credits, Edward Everett Horton was an actor with solid and professional performances throughout his career as a character actor. He passed away, at the age of eighty-four, in Los Angeles on the twenty-ninth of September in 1970. Horton’s remains are interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. For his contributions to the motion picture industry, he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6427 Hollywood Boulevard.
Notes: For those interested in more information on Edward Everett Horton, I recommend two sites which have biographical information as well as film clips of Horton’s work:
Dare Daniel- Podcast and Movie Reviews found at: https://daredaniel.com/2014/04/30/great-character-actors-edward-everett-horton/
The WOW Report article by writer and actor Stephen Rutledge located at: https://worldofwonder.net/bornthisday-beloved-character-actor-edward-everett-horton/
Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Edward Everett Horton Jr”, circa 1930s, Publicity Photo, Gelatin Silver Print
Second Insert Image: Cinematographer David Abel, “Fred Astaire and Edward Everett Horton Jr”, 1935, Film Shot from “Top Hat”, Director Mark Sandrich, RKO, Rko/Kobal/Shutterstock (5883758s)
Third Insert Image: Cinematographers David Abel and Joseph F Biroc, “Edward Everett Horton Jr and Eric Blore”, 1937, Film Shot from “Shall We Dance”, Director Mark Sandrich
Fourth Insert Image: Cinematographer Sol Polito, “Cary Grant, Josephine Hull, Edward Everett Horton Jr, Jean Adair and Peter Lorre”, 1944, Film Shot from “Arsenic and Old Lace”, Director Frank Capra
Bottom Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Edward Everett Horton Jr and Carmen Miranda”, 1937, Publicity Shot for “Springtime in the Rockies”, Director Irving Cummings, Cinematographer Ernest Palmer