“But comedy likes him:” Week of December 6th, 1919

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“Oh yes and he’s just as handsome off as on!”

One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley introduced a newly-minted theater star to her readers:

So many matinee girls from 15 to 50 years of age are asking me about Edward Everett Horton, the new matinee idol now enshrined at the Majestic, that I just had to end the awful suspense. Here’s all about him.

He likes serious drama, but comedy likes him.

If there’s anything he does love it’s an argument, which proves something which isn’t so. For instance, he’s perfectly fascinated by that learned somebody who proved in a volume five inches thick that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare.

She mentioned that after graduating from Columbia University, he’d taught school, and “for five years he kept wondering how long it would be before the public got onto him and sent him back to learn some more about school-teachering,” but he’d had lots of success in Los Angeles so he was beginning to suspect he wouldn’t have to.

He liked riding his motorcycle, but “he says he has had eight accidents, three of which were fatal. Anyhow, he thought they were at the time.”

The surprise for classic film fans is that Horton once was a motorcycling matinee idol–he didn’t always look like the fretful characters that he played in so many talkies in the 1930’s-40’s. He really was hot stuff: on October 23rd, Edwin Schallert reported “Tuesday evening they hung a set of Edward Everett Horton’s pictures in the Majestic lobby, and yesterday afternoon as a sequel the actor had already received seventeen requests for autographed photographs—and this before he has even made his first appearance on the stage.”

Horton was born in 1886 in Brooklyn, and began his stage career in 1906. He came to Los Angeles in 1919 as part of the Wilkes stock company to star in Never Say Die, a farce, and Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. He was such a hit that he joined the company at the Majestic and stayed in Los Angeles. In 1922 he made his film debut in Too Much Business. Now he’s mainly remembered as Fred Astaire’s foil in five Astaire/Rogers musicals, and for his narration of Fractured Fairy Tales in the Bullwinkle show, but he played his fussy support role in everything from Trouble in Paradise (1932) to Arsenic and Old Lace (1944). He also continued his successful career in legitimate theater.

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Horton, 1923

The part of Kingsley’s article that makes modern readers groan a bit is this:

As for his taste in girls. He likes blondes. Also brunettes. He like thin girls. Also fat ones. He likes intellectual girls. Also simps. In fact, to be frank with you, he likes girls…But most of all, he says, he likes a girl who can ask intelligent questions about his work, because, oh, how an actor loves to talk about himself. He isn’t married nor even thinking of marriage now.

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Gavin Gordon

Mr. Horton couldn’t discuss his personal life in the newspaper without ending his career, but his longtime companion was actor Gavin Gordon. However, he was very good at deflecting that question. When he was 79 years old, Hedda Hopper asked him why he’d never married and:

“He shrugged. ‘I have a nice disposition. I have lovely furniture. I thought last leap year I’d a least have an offer, but nobody proposed.’”

He stayed active until just a month before his death from cancer in 1970.

Kingsley’s favorite film this week was another “brilliant comedy” featuring Bryant Washburn, It Pays to Advertise. Based on a popular play, it was screening at Clune’s Broadway:

where crowds looked and laughed at it all yesterday: and if you want to register more chuckles to the square inch than you’ve chuckled in a year, be sure and see it. “Thirteen Soap—Unlucky for Dirt” has brought more luck to actors and managers of the stage than almost any comedy of the past ten years. Now it’s bringing equal luck to Washburn, who, if any doubt existed before as to the fact that he is one of the foremost comedians of the screen, is thoroughly established in that happy niche.

Papa, you remember, turned his son out when he finished college and refused to work. Enter the girl, papa’s secretary, who was asked to make son go to work. She did, but not until papa had turned them both out, on finding they were engaged. It’s then, on suggestion of the son’s friend, the press agent, that a campaign of advertising of soap is entered upon. Papa falls for it, is made nearly insane by the unique ads of Thirteen Soap, which greet him at every turn. This is all done with the snappiest action, the smoothest flow of the story, and the most original subtitles.

Unfortunately it’s a lost film.

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Eugene and Emma Zukor, 1923 passport

This week, a studio mogul’s son was behaving in such an atypical way, it needed reporting: Eugene Zukor (Adolph’s son) was engaged to marry Emma Dorothy Roth, a schoolteacher. Kingsley wrote:

Yes, passing all the dangers of chorus girls, not to mention the fascination of picture bathing girls, young Zukor apparently has made up his mind to marry as far out of the profession as possible. Papa Zukor admits he has long known the father and mother of his son’s fiancée, and that he thoroughly approves of the match. The romance had its beginnings so long ago as the San Francisco World’s Fair [1915], when the two young people met for the first time.

Zukor and Roth got married in Chicago on May 6th, 1920. There’s something to be said for marrying someone with a normal job: they were together for 73 years, until Emma Zuckor died in 1994.