Wry grin mastered by comic from city Star: Edward Everett Horton, who worked on stage and in films, graduated from City College in '02.


November 24, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Edward Everett Horton, an actor who was known as the master of the wry grin and whose portrayal of fussbudgets, butlers, busybodies and henpecked husbands endeared him for more than 50 years to stage and screen audiences, spent several years on Gorsuch Avenue in Waverly, and graduated from City College in 1902.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Horton moved to Baltimore at the turn of the century when his father, Edward Everett Horton Sr., a printer, went to work in the composing room of The Sun.

His uncle, George Washington Horton, was one of Baltimore's most famous fire chiefs, a post he occupied during the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. In turn, while visiting Baltimore, Edward Everett was made an honorary fire chief in 1951 by Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro Jr.

A tall man, Horton was described as being "big-beaked and slightly stooped, lively of voice, with a wrinkled, pink face, compressed mouth and a thin silvery eruption of hair."

In 1951, he related to City College students the secret of his success. He said it was to be as funny on the stage as he had been on the athletic field at City College during his high school days.

Drawing room

"He was known as a master of drawing room comedy, but played almost any role that called for a display of confusion, panic or disintegration," said The Sun at his death in 1970.

Horton, who attended Columbia University but was expelled for cutting classes to be in a show, began his career in 1908 as a walk-on in "The Man Who Stood Still" at New York's Circle Theater.

He appeared in silent films and such stage classics as "Beggar on Horseback," "Never Say Die," "Lilac Time" and "Smiling Through."

He eventually made more than 100 movies -- and appeared in such hits as "Top Hat," "Here Comes Mr. Jordan," "Ruggles of Red Gap," "Ziegfeld Girl," "Arsenic and Old Lace" and "Lady on a Train."

Walter Kerr, longtime drama critic of the Herald Tribune and later the New York Times, wrote of his work: "He was a chap who seemed like a lemony mother-hen, high in the pecking order but everlastingly fearful of what might be coming over his shoulder ,, (Which shoulder? Right? Left? Swivel and twitch, swivel and twitch).

"A man of infinite hauteur but limited understanding, he looked with contempt upon the double-take as though it amounted to no more than one push-up before breakfast, multiplied it six or seven times to show what a responsive reflex could really do, if it put its shoulder to the wheel, uttered commands with imperious authority only to break down utterly if required to repeat them, approached a stammer or an unfinished sentence as though his staying power had been challenged, and he was honor-bound to get half a reel of film out of no syntax at all. Horton was a master farceur, and Horton was funny."

However, it wasn't until 1939 that Horton made his first Baltimore stage appearance at Ford's Theater in "Springtime for Henry," a play in which, during the course of his career, he would appear more than 2,600 times.

"Although he is most celebrated for restraint that verges on timidity, for shyness that causes stuttering and flustering about, Horton, it must not be forgotten, also habitually manages to convey the impression that he secretly believes himself to be quite a devil beneath the surface of exaggerated propriety -- quite a devil with the ladies in particular," said The Sun of his 1951 performance as the play's Henry Dewlip.

Horton, who also appeared on television, told The Sun that the stage remained his first love. "I never considered myself a movie actor. I'm a stage actor, happiest when I'm on the stage with a nice audience."

A lifelong bachelor who lived in a 17-room house in Encino, Calif., he explained why he never married. "You become so mesmerized by work that the idea of socializing, you rather resent."

In a 1965 interview with The Sun, he summed up his career:

"I never tire of acting. I've never wished to do anything else. If you have your own moment on the stage, and when the show is over, you step forward and take your bows, you can go back to the loneliest, dreariest hotel room, and you still feel the day has been worth something."

Pub Date: 11/24/96

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