Edward Everett Horton (March 18, 1886 – September 29, 1970) was an American character actor. He had a long career in film, theater, radio, television and voice work for animated cartoons. He is remembered for his work in the films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Horton was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Isabella S. Diack and Edward Everett Horton. His mother was born in Matanzas, Cuba to Mary Orr and George Diack, immigrants from Scotland. Horton attended the Boys' High School, Brooklyn, and Baltimore City College high school in Baltimore, Maryland, where he was inducted into that school's Hall of Fame. He began his college career at Oberlin College, Ohio. He was asked to leave after an incident where he climbed to the top of the Service Building, and after collecting an audience, threw off a dummy, causing the viewers to think he had jumped. Later, he attended college at Brooklyn Polytechnic and Columbia University, where he was a member of Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity.
Stage and film career
Horton started his stage career in 1906, singing and dancing and playing small parts in Vaudeville and in Broadway productions. In 1919, he moved to Los Angeles, California, and began acting in Hollywood films. His first starring role was in the comedy Too Much Business (1922), and he portrayed the lead role of an idealistic young classical composer in Beggar on Horseback (1925). In the late 1920s he starred in two-reel silent comedies for Educational Pictures, and made the transition to talking pictures with Educational in 1929. As a stage trained performer, he found more film work easily, and appeared in some of Warner Bros.' early talkies, including The Hottentot and Sonny Boy (1929). Horton originally went under his given name, Edward Horton. His father persuaded him to adopt his full name professionally, reasoning that there might be other actors named Edward Horton, but only one named Edward Everett Horton. Horton's screen character was instantly defined from his earliest talkies: pleasant and dignified, but politely hesitant when faced with a potentially embarrassing situation. Horton soon cultivated his own special variation of the time-honored double take (an actor's reaction to something, followed by a delayed, more extreme reaction). In Horton's version, he would smile ingratiatingly and nod in agreement with what just happened; then, when realization set in, his facial features collapsed entirely into a sober, troubled mask. Horton starred in many comedy features in the 1930s, usually playing a mousy fellow who put up with domestic or professional problems to a certain point, and then finally asserted himself for a happy ending. He is best known, however, for his work as a character actor in supporting roles. These include The Front Page (1931), Trouble in Paradise (1932), Alice in Wonderland (1933), The Gay Divorcee (1934), Top Hat (1935, one of several Astaire/Rogers films in which Horton appeared), Danger - Love at Work (1937), Lost Horizon (1937), Holiday (1938), Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), Pocketful of Miracles (1961), It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and Sex and the Single Girl (1964). He last appeared in a non-speaking role in Cold Turkey (1971). Horton continued to appear in stage productions, often in summer stock. His performance in the play Springtime for Henry became a perennial in summer theaters.
Radio and Television
From 1945 to 47, Horton hosted radio's Kraft Music Hall. During the 1950s, Horton worked in television. One of his most famous appearances is on an episode of CBS's I Love Lucy, in which he is cast against type as a frisky, amorous suitor. (Horton, a last-minute replacement for another actor, received a special, appreciative credit in this episode.) In 1960, he guest starred on ABC's sitcom, The Real McCoys, as J. Luther Medwick, grandfather of the boyfriend of series character Hassie McCoy (Lydia Reed). In the story line, Medwick clashes with the equally outspoken Grandpa Amos McCoy (Walter Brennan). He remains, however, best known to the Baby Boomer Generation as the venerable narrator of "Fractured Fairy Tales" in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, an American animated television series that originally aired from November 19, 1959, to June 27, 1964, on the ABC and NBC television networks. In 1962, he portrayed the character 'Uncle Ned' in three episodes of the CBS television series Dennis the Menace. In 1965, he played the medicine man, Roaring Chicken, in the ABC sitcom F Troop. He parodied this role, portraying "Chief Screaming Chicken" on ABC's Batman as a pawn to Vincent Price's Egghead in the villain's attempt to take control of Gotham City.
Death and Influence
Horton died of cancer at age 84 in Encino, California. He is buried in Glendale's Whispering Pines section of Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery. In 1925, Horton purchased several acres in the district of Encino and lived on the property at 5521 Amestoy Avenue until his death. He named the estate, which contained Horton's own house and houses for his brother, his sister and their respective families, Belleigh Acres. In the 1950s, the state of California forced Horton to sell a portion of his property for construction of the Ventura Freeway. The freeway construction left a short stump of Amestoy Avenue south of Burbank Boulevard and shortly after his death, the city of Los Angeles renamed that portion Edward Everett Horton Lane. For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Horton has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6427 Hollywood Boulevard. In a scene in Friz Freleng's cartoon Hare Trigger, Yosemite Sam (in his debut) calls himself "the meanest, toughest, rip-roarin'-est, Edward Everett Horton-est hombre what ever packed a six-shooter!"