Ezra Kendall

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Ezra Kendall
Ezra Kendall 01.JPG
Players Blue Book, 1901
Born Ezra Freemont Kendall
(1861-02-15)February 15, 1861
near Centerville, New York
Died January 23, 1910(1910-01-23) (aged 48)
Martinsville, Indiana
Occupation Actor-Comedian, Humorist, Playwright and Author

Ezra Kendall (February 15, 1861 – January 23, 1910) was an American actor-comedian, humorist, playwright and author who was known for his depiction of typical New England Yankees.[1] During his time in vaudeville Kendall was said to have been among the highest paid monologist in America.[2]

Early life[edit]

Ezra Freemont Kendall was born on a farm near Centerville, New York, to Ezra W. and Eliza R. (née Pratt) Kendall. The September following his birth, Kendall's father enlisted as a sergeant with Company D, 64th Infantry Regiment, New York and soon rose to lieutenant before losing his life during the Battle of Seven Pines.[3][4][5]

Kendall left school at fourteen to work as a printer’s assistant. At seventeen he traveled to New York City where he became a cub reporter on several newspapers and the youngest member of the New York Press Club. By nineteen or twenty he was touring with a theatre company playing walk-on rôles for free board and laundry service. Later Kendall replaced the troupe’s property man at $4 a-week before making his professional stage debut as an English butler in Elliott Barnes’ melodrama, Only a Farmer's Daughter. [3][4][5]


Kendall in character
NYPL Digital Gallery

He later toured in Lillian Cleves' Grump, Elliott Barnes' Dr. Clyde, Wallack and Hinds' Criterion -Comedy Company and Edward ("Teddy") Byron's, Summer Boarders. Around 1882 Kendall organized a minstrel company with Horace Johnson, which lasted a short period, and next partnered with comedian Alfred Klein, in an act that collapsed after one week. Kendall later starred in the original Muggs' Landing and in early 1884 scored a hit in Wanted, a Partner with a run that lasted until late spring. Over the summer of 1884 he worked as an advance agent for a minstrel show before beginning the 1884-1885 season performing with William A. Mestayer’s company in A Box of Matches.[3][4][5]

On September 19, 1884 Kendall opened in We, Us & Company, a musical farce he wrote that would bring him to national attention. After a successful yearlong tour Kendall sold the rights to We, Us & Company to Mestayer and then proceeded to organize his own company. His most successful production during this period was probably A Pair of Kids, that toured for at least six seasons over the late 1880s and early 1890s. Around 1894 he wrote and then toured in The Substitute with the diminutive comedian Arthur Dunn and his sister, soubrette Jennie Dunn, and appeared in David Henderson’s extravaganza Ali Baba, during its run of one hundred nights at the Chicago Opera House. Kendall would find success beginning in 1896 as a monologist on the vaudeville circuit before returning the legitimate stage in 1902 with his play The Vinegar Buyer and later, Edward E. Kidder’s Weather-beaten Benson and road adaptations of George Ade's Bad Samaritan and Land of Dollars.[3][4][5]

The Vinegar Buyer, Kendall’s most successful play over the last decade of his career, was also released as a book. Kendall would author late in his career a number of humorous books that included Spots or Wit and Humor (1901), Good Gravy (1902), Tell It to Me (1903), Hot Ashes (1908) and Top Soil (1909).[3][4][5]

The Cleveland News Company, Cleveland, O. published a hard cover book with all of the following on the cover: "Ezra Kendall's Books / Spots / Good Gravy / Tell it to Me / All 3 Books in One / Lettering & Embellishments Created & Executed by J. Morgan & Co. / Published by The Cleveland News Company, Cleveland, O.".[6] Inside there are two photos of Ezra Kendall. One photo Ezra is wearing a tall hat. The second photo Ezra is sitting with his left side facing the camera, right arm across his body, left arm bent, left hand pointing to the left side of photo. The caption reads "Do you see that point?". (Note: the sleeve of his suit appears to be ripped six inches or more along the seam.) The 'Lettering' of the book looks like it is printed by hand. The 'Embellishments' are wonderful line drawings of people and objects that help relate the stories being told. Mr Kendall's comic timing and play on words are clearly evident, and clearly portray the rhythm and the entertainment of the vaudeville players.

The following is an example of wit displayed throughout the book: "Coming from my home to the city one day on a local train a lady came into th' car where I was. - She was followed by six children. Th' conductor says: - "Excuse me, Madam, is this your family or a picnic."- She says: - "This is my family and it's no picnic." - Then she stacked them all up on th' seat in front of me. She put th' larger one on th' bottom of th' bunch.- And when th' conductor came back she told him that the oldest one was under five." [7]

Green Book Magazine[edit]

Kendall was almost in a class by himself as a comedian, in that his unceasing flow of wit and humor—his stock in trade as a vaudeville star monologist a decade ago and in farce-comedy for many years before that time—was the product of his own fertile brain. He was a humorist and playwright, in addition to being a comedian of rare talents, for he wrote his own monologues and parodies that brought him an $800 per week salary in vaudeville as long as he chose to accept it.

"Quaint" is the adjective most frequently used to describe the style of this gentle funmaker, and it probably answers better than most others would. There was an unusual turn to his wit, which made it distinctive and, off the stage, he was never so felicitous as when narrating the struggles of his earlier career which, softened by the passing of the years, appealed to him only in their humorous aspect. George F. Green[2]


Kendall suffered a stroke in mid-December, 1909 while touring in Los Angeles with The Vinegar Buyer. He was forced to cancel his remaining tour dates and return to his home in Cleveland, Ohio. A month or so later he traveled to Indiana for a stay at the Martinsville Mineral Springs Hotel (also known as Martinsville Sanitarium) in the hope their mineral baths could help alleviate his condition. He died there a few days later. Kendall was survived by his wife of twenty-two years, the aforementioned Jennie Dunn, and six children. That December Kendall’s widow was sued by his former management firm, Liebler and Co., who were attempting to recoup money lost after he became ill and failed to complete his tour. It is not known here whether or not this lawsuit was settled before Liebler fell into bankruptcy four years later.[4][8][9]


  1. ^ The summary - Volume 33, 1905, p. 2 accessed November 21, 2012
  2. ^ a b The Green book Magazine - Volume 3, p. 541 accessed November 20, 2012
  3. ^ a b c d e Leonard, John William - Marquis, Albert Nelson - Who's Who in America, Volume 4, 1906-1907 p. 986 accessed November 20, 2012
  4. ^ a b c d e f Ezra Kendall Dead. New York Times , January 24, 1910, p. 9
  5. ^ a b c d e Storms, A. D.- The Player Blue Book,1901, pp. 210-211 accessed November 20, 2012
  6. ^ Ezra Kendall's Books / Spots / Good Gravy / Tell it to Me / All 3 Books in One / Lettering & Embellishments Created & Executed by J. Morgan & Co. / Published by The Cleveland News Company, Cleveland, O.
  7. ^ (First entry on Page 1 of the second part of the book, Good Gravy Ezra Kendall's Books / Spots / Good Gravy / Tell it to Me / All 3 Books in One / Lettering & Embellishments Created & Executed by J. Morgan & Co. / Published by The Cleveland News Company, Cleveland, O.)
  8. ^ Lieblers Sue Mrs. Kendall. New York Times, December 17, 1910, p. 13
  9. ^ Liebler Co. Fails, Owing $325,000 New York Times, December 5, 1914, p. 7