This article needs additional citations for verification. (September 2010)
Isaiah Edwin Leopold
November 9, 1886
|Died||June 19, 1966 (aged 79)|
|Resting place||Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California, U.S.|
Isaiah Edwin Leopold (November 9, 1886 – June 19, 1966), better known as Ed Wynn, was an American actor and comedian. He was noted for his Perfect Fool comedy character, his pioneering radio show of the 1930s, and his later career as a dramatic actor.
Wynn was born Isaiah Edwin Leopold in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to a Jewish family. His father, Joseph, a milliner, was born in Bohemia. His mother, Minnie Greenberg, of Romanian and Turkish ancestry, came from Istanbul. Wynn attended Central High School in Philadelphia until age 15. He ran away from home in his teens, worked as a hat salesman and as a utility boy, and eventually adapted his middle name "Edwin" into his new stage name, "Ed Wynn", to save his family the embarrassment of having a lowly comedian as a relative.
Wynn began his career in vaudeville in 1903 and was a star of the Ziegfeld Follies starting in 1914. During The Follies of 1915, W. C. Fields allegedly caught Wynn mugging for the audience under the table during Fields's Pool Room routine and knocked Wynn unconscious with his cue. Wynn wrote, directed, and produced many Broadway shows in the subsequent decades, and was known for his silly costumes and props as well as for the giggly, wavering voice he developed for the 1921 musical revue The Perfect Fool. Wynn became a very active member of The Lambs Club in 1919.
In the early 1930s, Wynn hosted the popular radio show The Fire Chief, heard in North America on Tuesday nights, sponsored by Texaco gasoline. Like many former vaudeville performers who turned to radio in the same decade, the stage-trained Wynn insisted on playing for a live studio audience, doing each program as an actual stage show, using visual bits to augment his written material, and in his case, wearing a colorful costume with a red fireman's helmet. He usually bounced his gags off announcer/straight man Graham McNamee; Wynn's customary opening, "Tonight, Graham, the show's gonna be different," became one of the most familiar tag-lines of its time; a sample joke: "Graham, my uncle just bought a new second-handed car... he calls it Baby! I don't know, it won't go anyplace without a rattle!"
Wynn reprised his Fire Chief radio character in two movies, Follow the Leader (1930) and The Chief (1933). Near the height of his radio fame (1933) he founded his own short-lived radio network the Amalgamated Broadcasting System, which lasted only five weeks, nearly destroying the comedian. According to radio historian Elizabeth McLeod, the failed venture left Wynn deep in debt, divorced and finally, suffering a nervous breakdown.
Ed Wynn first appeared on television on July 7, 1936, in a brief, ad-libbed spot with Graham McNamee during an NBC experimental television broadcast. In the 1949–50 season, Wynn hosted one of the first network, comedy-variety television shows, on CBS, and won both a Peabody Award and an Emmy Award in 1949. Buster Keaton, Carmen Miranda, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Hattie McDaniel and The Three Stooges all made guest appearances with Wynn. This was the first CBS variety television show to originate from Los Angeles, which was seen live on the west coast, but filmed via kinescope for distribution in the Midwest and East, as the national coaxial cable had yet to be completed. Wynn was also a rotating host of NBC's Four Star Revue from 1950 through 1952.
After the end of Wynn's third television series, The Ed Wynn Show (a short-lived situation comedy on NBC's 1958–59 schedule), his son, actor Keenan Wynn, encouraged him to make a career change rather than retire. The comedian reluctantly began a career as a dramatic actor in television and movies. Father and son appeared in three productions, the first of which was the 1956 Playhouse 90 broadcast of Rod Serling's play Requiem for a Heavyweight. Ed was terrified of straight acting and kept goofing his lines in rehearsal. When the producers wanted to fire him, star Jack Palance said he would quit if they fired Ed. (However, unbeknownst to Wynn, supporting player Ned Glass was his secret understudy in case something did happen before air time.) On live broadcast night, Wynn surprised everyone with his pitch-perfect performance, and his quick ad libs to cover his mistakes. A dramatization of what happened during the production was later staged as an April 1960 Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse episode, The Man in the Funny Suit, starring both senior and junior Wynns, with key figures involved in the original production also portraying themselves (including Rod Serling and director Ralph Nelson). Ed and his son also worked together in the Jose Ferrer film The Great Man, with Ed again proving his unexpected skills in drama.
Requiem established Wynn as a serious dramatic actor who could easily hold his own with the best. His performance in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Also in 1959, Wynn appeared on Serling's TV series The Twilight Zone in "One for the Angels". Serling, a longtime admirer, had written that episode especially for him, and Wynn later in 1963 starred in the episode "Ninety Years Without Slumbering". For the rest of his life, Wynn skillfully moved between comic and dramatic roles. He appeared in feature films and anthology television, endearing himself to new generations of fans.
Wynn was caricatured in the Merrie Melodies cartoon shorts Shuffle Off to Buffalo (1933), I've Got to Sing a Torch Song (1933), and as a pot of jam in the Betty Boop short Betty in Blunderland (1934).
He appeared as the Fairy Godfather in Jerry Lewis's Cinderfella. His performance as Paul Beaseley in the 1958 film The Great Man earned him nominations for a Golden Globe Award for "Best Supporting Actor" and a BAFTA Award for "Best Foreign Actor". The following year he received his first (and only) nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Mr. Dussell in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). Six years later he appeared in the Bible epic The Greatest Story Ever Told.
Wynn provided the voice of the Mad Hatter in Walt Disney's film Alice in Wonderland (1951) and played The Toymaker alongside Annette Funicello and Tommy Sands in the Christmas operetta film Babes in Toyland released in 1961.
Re-teaming with the Disney team the following year—in That Darn Cat! (1965), featuring Dean Jones and Hayley Mills—Wynn filled out the character of Mr. Hofstedder, the watch jeweler with his bumbling charm. He also had brief roles in The Absent Minded Professor (as the fire chief, in a scene alongside his son Keenan Wynn, who played the film's antagonist) and Son of Flubber (as county agricultural agent A.J. Allen). His final performance, as Rufus in Walt Disney's The Gnome-Mobile, was released a few months after his death.
In addition to Disney films, Wynn was also an actor in the Disneyland production The Golden Horseshoe Revue.
Wynn was married three times: He first married actress Hilda Keenan on September 5, 1914 they eventually divorced on May 13, 1937, after twenty-three years of marriage. Together, they had a son, actor Keenan Wynn. He later married his second wife Frieda Mierse a month later on June 25, 1937, but would later divorce her only two years later on December 12, 1939. He married his third and final wife Dorothy Elizabeth Nesbitt on July 31, 1946, she later filed for divorced from Wynn on February 1, 1955 and was finalized on March 1, 1955.
His bronze grave marker reads:
Dear God: Thanks... Ed Wynn
Wynn's distinctive voice continues to be emulated by countless actors and comedians. It was deliberately emulated by Alan Tudyk for character Turbo/King Candy in Disney's animated film Wreck-It Ralph, by Daws Butler for the character of Wally Gator, by Paul Frees for the characters of Captain Peter "Wrongway" Peachfuzz on Rocky and Bullwinkle and Fred the lion from the Super Chicken segment of George of the Jungle, by Howard Morris for the character of Mayor McCheese in the McDonaldland ad commercials, by Cam Clarke for character Multo in The Zula Patrol, by Joey D'Auria for the character Mr. Scatterbrain on The Mr. Men Show, by Meshach Taylor for the character Cecil in The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue, by Mark Hamill for the character Fergle O'Reilly in Dexter's Laboratory, by Kevin Michael Richardson for the character Uncle Pockets in Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, by Dallas McKennon as Professor Kapp in the Gumby franchise, by Jeff Bennett for characters Choose Goose in Adventure Time and Ranger Jinx in Mixels, by Mark Silverman for the plush doll Herbie in Malcolm in the Middle, and by Walker Edmiston for the character Dr. Blinky in H.R. Pufnstuf.
Broadway and films
- The Deacon and the Lady (1910) – musical – actor/performer
- Ziegfeld Follies of 1914 (1914) – revue – actor/performer
- Ziegfeld Follies of 1915 (1915) – revue – actor/performer
- The Passing Show of 1916 (1916) – revue – actor/performer
- Sometime (1918) – play – actor
- Ed Wynn's Carnival (1920) – revue – composer, lyricist, book-writer and performer/actor
- The All-Star Idlers of 1921 (1921) – revue – actor/performer
- The Perfect Fool (1921) – revue – composer, lyricist, book-writer, director and actor/performer
- The Grab Bag (1924) – revue – producer, composer, lyricist, book-writer and actor/performer
- Manhattan Mary (1927) – musical – actor in the role of "Crickets"
- Rubber Heels (1927) – actor (as Homer Thrush)
- Simple Simon (1930) – musical – co-book-writer and actor
- Revived in 1931 (was also producer in addition to above roles)
- Follow the Leader (1930) – actor (as Crickets)
- The Laugh Parade (1931) – revue – producer, co-book-writer, director, originator and star actor/performer
- Turn Back the Clock (1933) – actor (as Cigar Store Customer), uncredited
- The Chief (1933) – actor (as Henry Summers)
- Alice Takat (1936) – play – producer
- Hooray for What! (1937) – musical – actor in the role of "Chuckles"
- Boys and Girls Together (1940) – revue – producer, co-book-writer, originator, director and actor/performer
- Morose Thoughts (1941) – revue – producer, book co-author, and actor
- Laugh, Town, Laugh! (1942) – revue – producer, book-writer and director
- Stage Door Canteen (1943) – himself (Ed Wynn)
- Alice in Wonderland (1951) – voice actor (as Mad Hatter)
- Playhouse 90 episode "Requiem for a Heavyweight" (1956) – actor (as Army)
- The Great Man (1956) – actor (as Paul Beaseley)
- Marjorie Morningstar (1958) – actor (as Uncle Samson)
- The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) – actor (as Fritz Pfeffer)
- Wagon Train episode "The Cappy Darrin Story" (1959) – actor (as Cappy Darrin)
- Peabody's Improbable History episode "King Arthur" (1959) – voice actor (as Frantic Man)
- The Twilight Zone episode "One for the Angels" (1959) – actor (as Lou Bookman)
- Miracle on 34th Street (1959) – actor (as Kris Kringle)
- Startime episode "The Greatest Man Alive" (1960) – actor (as Amos Benedict)
- Cinderfella (1960) – actor (as the fairy godfather)
- The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) – actor (as Fire Chief)
- Babes in Toyland (1961) – actor (as The Toy Maker)
- Rawhide episode "Twenty-Five Santa Clauses" (1961) – actor (as Bateman)
- The Sound of Laughter (1962) – actor (as host and narrator)
- Son of Flubber (1963) – actor (as Dept. of Agriculture agent)
- 77 Sunset Strip episode "5: Part 1" (1963) – actor (as Feigenstein)
- The Twilight Zone episode "Ninety Years Without Slumbering" (1963) – actor (as Sam Forstmann)
- Burke's Law episode "Who Killed Avery Lord?" (1964) – actor (as Zachary Belden)
- For the Love of Willadean (1964) – actor (as Alfred)
- The Patsy (1964) – actor (as Ed Wynn)
- Mary Poppins (1964) – actor (as Uncle Albert)
- Slattery's People episode "Question: What Ever Happened to Ezra?" (1964) – actor (as Ezra Tallicott)
- Dear Brigitte (1965) – actor (as The Captain and Narrator)
- Those Calloways (1965) – actor (as Ed Parker)
- Bonanza episode "The Ponderosa Birdman" (1965) – actor (as Professor Phineas T. Klump)
- The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) – actor (as Old Aram)
- That Darn Cat! (1965) – actor (as Mr. Hofstedder)
- The Daydreamer (1966) – voice actor (as The Emperor)
- Combat! episode "The Flying Machine" (1966) – actor (as Lt. Brannigan)
- Vacation Playhouse episode "You're Only Young Twice" (1967) – actor (as Professor Hubert Abernathy)
- The Gnome-Mobile (1967) – actor (as Rufus) – released after his death (final film role)
Awards and nominations
|1950||Emmy Award for Best Live Show||The Ed Wynn Show||Won|
- "Ed Wynn Biography". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on March 31, 2019.
- Obituary Variety, June 22, 1966, page 71.
- Neill, Wilfred T. (January 2, 1979). "Famed comedian Ed Wynn once owned theater in New Port Richey". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved September 19, 2008.
- "New York Hoorays for Ed Wynn". Life. December 20, 1937. pp. 44–46. Retrieved February 24, 2022.
- "August Clown". Life. July 26, 1948. pp. 70–74. Retrieved May 31, 2011.
- Hardee, Lewis J. Jr. (2010) [1st pub. 2006]. The Lambs Theatre Club (2nd ed.). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7864-6095-3.
Wynn, Ed: 135, 139, 143, 145, 153, 159, 172, 174, 193.
- "Member Roster". The Lambs. November 6, 2015. (Member Roster 'W'). Retrieved December 3, 2021.
- "Ed Wynn The Fire Chief". Radio Echoes. Retrieved February 24, 2022.
- McLeod, Elizabeth. "Tonight The Program's Gonna Be Different!The Life and Times of Ed Wynn, The Fire Chief". Old Time Radio Researchers Group. Retrieved June 2, 2015.
- "The Ed Wynn Show, 1950". Internet Archive – Moving Image Archive. Retrieved December 8, 2014.
- "ED WINN WEDS HERE; Comedian, Divorced a Month Ago, Marries Frieda Mierse". latimes.com. June 16, 1937. Retrieved October 14, 2022.
- "Wife Of Comedian Ed Wynn Files Suit To End Marriage". February 1, 1955. Retrieved October 14, 2022.
- "Comedians: The First Time He Made Anyone Sad". Time. July 1, 1966. Retrieved February 24, 2022.
- Cerabona, Ron (April 29, 2013). "Giving Voice to an Old-Timer". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved August 7, 2016.
- Brigante, Ricky (July 13, 2013). "Steve Jobs, Dick Clark, Billy Crystal, John Goodman among Disney Legends Awards recipients announced for 2013 D23 Expo". Inside the Magic. Retrieved February 24, 2022.
- Ed Wynn at IMDb
- Ed Wynn at the Internet Broadway Database
- The Ed Wynn Show at Classic TV Info.
- Four Star Revue/All Star Revue at Classic TV Info.
- Biography of Ed Wynn at Ed-Wynn.info
- Ed Wynn papers at the Free Library of Philadelphia Theatre Collection
- Radio Journeys: Texaco Fire Chief (July 26, 1932)