Edward Everett Horton (part of the 2013 “What a Character!” blogathon)

8 Nov

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(This post is part of this weekend’s What A Character! blogathon – click the link above for more details about the splendid hosts and participants.)

Edward_Everett_HortonIt is not easy to do what he does. To be able to play essentially the same character regardless of the situation or surroundings is seen by some as a lack of range. Which is in a way true – I don’t suppose anyone would expect a Macbeth or a Vanya out of Edward Everett Horton (though now that I say that, I’d pay to see both of those) – but range isn’t everything. There’s also depth to be considered.

Not the “depth” people gush about when discussing the Oscar-worthiness of a nice, bleak performance that features a lot of snotty weeping. But the depth of a Persona that one knows the back roads of so intimately that again, regardless of the situation or surroundings, one can find a place for it anywhere.

Edward Everett Horton, if each character actor of his ilk could be blithely renamed like a Deadly Sin or a Disney Dwarf, was Fussy.

top-hat-hortonIn modern comic terms, he’s often described as “effeminate,” but I’d argue more for “effete,” which is splitting verbal hairs a bit, but is important to getting this right. Effeminate in the sense of “man behaving in a manner that is what one associates with a woman,” which is a possibility here, I guess, but “effete” holds a sense of pampered, infertile, non-threatening that has less to do with being Woman-ed than with being Un-manned. The difference being between, say, a kind of flamboyance that one associates with a Franklin Pangborn, whose persona is undoubtedly more aggressively “effeminate” and a Horton, whose persona, to me is less about gender roles and expectation and more about being an officious stick-in-the-mud.

gangOne of my favorite of his performances – though I’m happy to see him wherever he turns up – is in Busby Berkeley’s The Gang’s All Here, one of my personal desert-island-five for reasons of comfort and association if not actual quality. Mr. Potter, the affluent and pinch-mouthed old prude, affable to individuals but disapproving of anything that isn’t aggressively normal, who orders lemonade at a nightclub and feels that if a ballroom dancing couple aren’t married “there ought to be a law” yet still falls into a lets-call-it-Near-Dalliance with Carmen Miranda is to me the…well, if you read that sentence, you’ve pretty much got a handle on the Horton persona.

(To reflect in adulthood that he’s often partnered in that particular film with a freewheeling, slang-slinging, party-throwing Eugene Pallette and then consider which of them was in real life a right-wing loony with an apocalypse fortress and which of them lived comfortably with a Longtime Companion, as they said back then, is at least mildly entertaining.)

Which reminds me, apropos of very little, but this is about my entertainment as much as yours after all, of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. I did an adaptation of it a few years ago and got to thinking about what a perfect WWII-era Fox musical it would’ve made. It never happened, and I doubt anyone will ever pay for the staging of a Shakespeare set in an imaginary Movie-Latin Illyria just for my personal shits/giggles, but nonetheless. So if you’re someone who revels in the fact that some scriptwriters are better than others, but that a good cast can do anything, let’s muse for a moment about a prospective Dramatis Personae*:

betty-grableViola – Betty Grable

Alice FayeOlivia – Alice Faye

don-ameche-inoldchicago-4Orsino – Don Ameche

payne-colbert_optSebastian – John Payne

Cesar-Romero-WC-9542350-1-402Antonio – Cesar Romero

palletteSir Toby Belch – Eugene Pallette

edward-everett-horton-001Edward Everett Horton – Sir Andrew Aguecheek

Greenwood, Charlotte_01Maria – Charlotte Greenwood

carmen miranda flower headpieceFeste – (here’s my stroke of genius) Carmen Miranda

sakall-kitchenFabian – S. Z. “Cuddles” Sakall

billy-gilbert-3-sizedA Sea Captain – Billy Gilbert

Leonid_KinskeyValentine – Leonid Kinskey

naishCurio – J. Carroll Naish (I panicked here)

Musical settings by Benny Goodman.

Tell me you wouldn’t be happy to sit through this.

*Gibberish to many scholars, no doubt, but readers of this blogathon will, I hope, appreciate the care that went into the above.

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15 Responses to “Edward Everett Horton (part of the 2013 “What a Character!” blogathon)”

  1. silverscreenings November 9, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    I’m a big fan of Edward Everett Horton and am so glad you included him in the blogathon.

    You’re right, it would be hard to play the same character all the time — yet he seems to keep it fresh. How on earth does he do that?

    • baldmanwithacowlick November 10, 2013 at 3:58 am #

      I think most of the folks in this blogathon do it – I’ve done a lot of theatrical clown work, and that’s a big part of it, being able to just behave as that same character regardless of where it’s put.

  2. Marsha Collock November 9, 2013 at 11:27 pm #

    Awesome post! I loved the fussy EEH and loved your side trip into a recast 12th Night!

  3. kellee November 10, 2013 at 2:58 am #

    Gregory~ what a delightful description of EE Horton. He’s always been one of my favorites, too! Thanks again for contributing to our WAC blogathon!

    • baldmanwithacowlick November 10, 2013 at 4:00 am #

      Thanks for having me! (I’m still feeling new to this whole world of bloggery six months in.)

  4. Paula November 10, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

    If it’s any consolation, I’d totally pay to see that version of TWELFTH NIGHT. One of my favorite Shakespeare plays plus EEH, Cuddles, & Eugene Pallette….sold. All we need is a little time travel and some money. Haha. Thank you!

  5. Patricia Nolan-Hall (@CaftanWoman) November 10, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    I would be more than happy to sit through your “Twelfth Night”.

    A while back I attended a screening of 1926s “La boheme” and, achingly lovely as it was, it was painful to watch EEH and not hear his voice. As we left the theatre I declared him the man for whom soundies were invented. Of course, that harkens back to my first encounter with the great Mr. Horton on “Fractured Fairy Tales”. I will never get over my awe when my father told me that that same man was Roaring Chicken on “F Troop”. My dad was a great fan of EEH and passed it on to his four daughters.

    In my adventures in community theatre I have often had reason to recall Edward/Peyton Potter’s line from “The Gang’s All Here” about the spectre of actors settling in his home and eating everything in sight.

    Your look at the actor and his characterizations, which stole and enlivened so many movies, was a pure treat to read.

  6. vp19 November 10, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

    And let’s not forget EEH’s splendid turn in Lubitsch’s “Design For Living.” Bravo entry!

  7. jennifromrollamo November 10, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

    Enjoyed your post on Horton, as I blogged about Eric Blore, often the two of them trading barbs in several Fred and Ginger movies. I had fun rewatching their repartee via Youtube this week.

  8. Aurora November 12, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    Fantastic! Just love this guy and can’t get enough of him. He’s another who puts a smile on my face just by thinking of him – you do him great justice. One of the unforgettables. Thanks so much for submitting this entry to the blogathon!

    Aurora

  9. Le November 12, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

    This was very good. Yet I don’t know the Shekespeare play you based your imaginary film in, I’d love to watch it!
    Edward’s characters awkwardness with women, to me, gets stronger when he is paired to Fred Astaire. And this reminds me of Let’s k-nock k-ness, a musical number iwth Edward and a very young Betty Grable in The Gay Divorcee.
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂
    Greetings!

  10. mercurie80 November 13, 2013 at 5:53 am #

    I always loved Edward Everett Horton. What always stood out for me was his voice. It was so distinctive you could recognise him without even seeing his face! Even as a kid I knew he was the narrator of Fractured Fairy Tales on Rocky and Bullwinkle. No one else sounded like him.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. WHAT A CHARACTER! blogathon Schedule « Once upon a screen… - November 9, 2013

    […] Edward Everett Horton – I Humbly Suggest […]

  2. Carmen Miranda & the Subversive Parts of Springtime in the Rockies. | I Humbly Suggest... - February 25, 2014

    […] a little pushy. Doesn’t even get a girl at the end – Miranda ends up with the usually asexual Edward Everett Horton, who is instead a magnet to Brazilian romance, even before she finds out he’s spilling over with […]

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