One of the most beloved character actors in movie history, Edward Everett Horton, like many a contemporary, stated that he was, "happiest when I'm on the stage in a good play with a nice audience." All I can say, having been born a year after Mr. Horton's death, is thank goodness for the immortality of film!
This page contains a brief biography of Edward Everett Horton cobbled together from the lengthy obituaries remembering him in both The New York Times and Variety as well as more recent biographical entries about him from film historians Anthony Slide and Eve Golden. But beyond the words the highlight of this page are the images.
You'll find a full gallery towards the bottom of this page along with the images interspersed throughout this article. In short over the Summer I acquired a small but varied collection of vintage Edward Everett Horton still photos covering his entire career from the 1920's through the 1960's. They illustrate this text.
Edward Everett Horton, Jr. was born in Brooklyn, NY, March 18, 1886. Raised in Brooklyn he attended the Boys' High School there before going on to various colleges. He wouldn't graduate any of those, but it was at Columbia that he would make his acting debut and by 1907 he joined the Dempsey Light Opera Company and performed Gilbert & Sullivan on Staten Island.
In 1908 he would join Broadway actor Louis Mann's acting troupe where he would remain for between 3 and 5 years according to the various sources. Stock companies were thriving at this time and Horton loved the work. He kept busy in the 1910's for a number of companies including, as noted by Golden, "The Orpheum Players and Beaulah Jay's company in Philadelphia; The Baker Stock Company in Oregon; Harry Davis' in Pittsburgh; the Crescent Theater in Brooklyn; Thomas Wilke's in Los Angeles" (179).
Los Angeles is where Horton would settle. He leased the Majestic Theater with his brother and business manager, George, in the 1920's. He both managed and acted at the Majestic appearing in comedies over several seasons there. According to Variety, Horton would later take over the Hollywood Playhouse on Vine for another season.
Local to the movies as he now was, Edward Everett Horton would make his film debut in 1922 at age 36 and score success a year later in the silent version of Ruggles of Red Gap (1923). He played the butler, a part better remembered now for Charles Laughton's portrayal in the later talkie version.
Though Horton appeared in 19 silent films it is probably no surprise that he craved the opportunity for his distinctive voice to be heard and so his film career became busier when talking pictures came along.
This is the Horton we best remember today beginning with his part as a reporter in The Front Page (1931); then in a run of Lubitsch films beginning as co-suitor of Kay Francis along with Charles Ruggles in Trouble in Paradise (1932); unsuccessfully courting Miriam Hopkins in Design for Living (1933); the Ambassador in The Merry Widow (1934); after which he appears as Fred Astaire's pal in The Gay Divorcee (1934), the first of three Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals he'd appear in during his very active 1930's; he found himself in Frank Capra's vision of Shangri-La in Lost Horizon (1937); reprising his role from 1930's Holiday in the better remembered George Cukor version from 1938 starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn.
It was an especially strong decade.
Horton remained a freelancer throughout his long career, never tying himself down with a long-term contract to any single studio.
As busy as his screen career was Horton never stayed off the stage for long either. He first appeared in Springtime for Henry in 1932 at the Hollywood Playhouse and repeated his role of Henry Dewlip around 3,000 times in revivals over the next few decades. The longevity of this role for Horton is shown by virtue of the still image of him with Henry co-star Muriel Hutchison on this page. It is date stamped 1951 from a performance on Broadway at that time.
Horton continued regularly appearing in films throughout the 1940's including classics such as Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), and Down to Earth (1947), before busying himself with television appearances throughout the next decade. On TV he'd be best remembered for voicing the "Fractured Fairy Tales" segment of the Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends Prime Time animated series in the late 1950's.
When Bullwinkle voice (and much more) Bill Scott one day asked Horton how a man of his age remained so active, Horton replied, "Well, Bill, do you know where I'm going after this recording? I'm going to my mother's birthday party!" And he wasn't kidding either, Horton's mother would live to be over 100.
He continued acting across all formats throughout the 1960's as well, appearing in films such as Pocketful of Miracles (1961), It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) and Sex and the Single Girl (1964); on television most memorably as in a half dozen episodes of F-Troop and on a two-part episode of the Batman TV series which also featured Vincent Price; on Broadway he appeared in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and he was in a 1965 revival of Carousel at the New York State Theater.
"I have my own little kingdom. I do the scavenger parts no one else wants, and I get well paid for it," Horton had said. "It's not that I really need the money, it's simply that I like money--lots of it. I must admit I'm sometimes over-frugal."
According to his New York Times obituary Horton's frugality was fondly remembered by friends at the time of his passing. Shortly before his death he was spotted at Sardi's hunched over his ledger entering expenses for items as small as carfare and postage stamps.
Watching those pennies would add up for Horton who along with brother George owned 22 acres of land in the San Fernando Valley. His estate was a complex of several white buildings that served as homes for family members including brothers George and Winter, sister Hannabelle, and, of course, his elderly mother, Isabella.
Horton would also buy an Adirondack home on Lake George in Glens Falls, New York. He'd take ill while on the East Coast and be hospitalized in Glens Falls several weeks prior to his death. Horton recovered enough to return West to his Encino home where he died September 29, 1970 at age 84. Siblings George, Winter and Hannabelle survived him.
Edward Everett Horton never married and both Eve Golden and Anthony Slide wrote that his longtime companion was the actor Gavin Gordon. According to Golden "documentary evidence of their relationship is hard to come by" (182).
Obituaries spoke of Horton's antique collection, valued at over a half a million dollars, as well as his coming final television appearance. He'd show up in living rooms one final time that October 14 as a crusty physician on the series The Governor and J.J.
Fussbudget seems to be the most popular single word to sum up the performances of Edward Everett Horton, and it's a good one. He's the nervous sidekick or mama's boy on the scene for us to laugh at, though all the while we know we're really laughing with him and his portrayal of these fidgety sidekicks and suitors.
Just looking at all of the photos again I'm struck by the fact that Edward Everett Horton looks just as he should look based upon his screen output. Of course, that's a credit to Horton, whose unique characterizations force us to match his characters to that one of a kind face.
- "Edward Everett Horton Is Dead; Comic Character Actor was 83." The New York Times. 1 October 1970.
- Golden, Eve. Bride of Golden Images. Albany, GA: BearManor Media, 2009.
- "Obituaries." Variety. 7 October 1970.
- Scott, Keith. The Moose That Roared. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.
- Slide, Anthony. Eccentrics of Comedy. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1998.
Edward Everett Horton Gallery
Just click on any image to open to full size and from there you can scroll through them all.