Edgar Kennedy: Master of the Slow Burn – By James L. Neibaur

 Edgar Kennedy entered films in 1913. He was one of the original Keystone Cops at the old Mack Sennett studios. During the 1920s he was at the Hal Roach studios supporting Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang. During the 1930s and 1940s he had his own very popular starring series of short comedies for RKO studios. He also freelanced during this period with everyone from The Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields to John Wayne and Doris Day. Comedy fans perhaps best remember him as the lemonade vendor next to Chico and Harpo’s peanut stand in the Marx Brothers classic Duck Soup.

Bill Cassara has penned a definitive biography of this fascinating comedian, and it has been published by Bear Manor Media. For anyone with even a marginal interest in comedy film history, it is an absolute must.

Kennedy’s career ran the gamut from character roles, supporting roles, extra work, star of his own series, and even directing. Edgar helmed, among others, the Laurel and Hardy silent classic You’re Darn Tootin.’

But what seems to be most central to Edgar Kennedy’s success is his sixteen year short subject series at RKO, in which he starred in over 100 comedies. Dubbed Mr. Average Man, most of the films carried a consistent theme with Edgar as the harried family man beset by a daffy wife, lazy live-in brother-in-law, and meddlesome mother-in-law. It was a true portent to similar TV sitcoms, and had Edgar not died suddenly of a heart attack in 1948 at the age of 58, he could well have transferred this series onto the television screen.

Cassara spent years carefully researching the life and career of Edgar Kennedy, and the book is filled with rare photos, fascinating anecdotes, and enlightening historical documents on Hollywood’s evolutionary process. In an era where utter newness is championed as being the end-all of entertainment, it is wonderful that Cassara has taken the time to pen a quintessential book about an old timer who left quite an impact on the early days of cinema through Hollywood’s golden age, right up to the post-war pre-television period.

Edgar Kennedy: Master of the Slow Burn has earned a most definite recommendation.