Celebrating the great Jewish comedians: Ed Wynn


Ed Wynn from the film Stage Door (Public Domain)

Ed Wynn had one of those faces, one of those voices that made it impossible for people not to laugh at his actions and antics.

Wynn’s comedic career stretched for 60 years and he was known as “The Perfect Fool.”

Born Isaiah Edwin Leopold on November 9, 1886, in Philadelphia of an immigrant family from Prague. His early appearances on Broadway included The Deacon and the Lady (1910); Ziegfeld Follies of 1914; Ziegfeld Follies of 1915; The Passing Show of 1916; and Sometime (1918).

In 1919, he joined a choristers’ strike and was blacklisted by many agents and theater owners. Using his savings, Wynn wrote, staged, composed the music, and performed in the Ed Wynn Carnival (1919–21); The Perfect Fool (1921–22); and The Grab Bag (1925) on Broadway.

During the 1930s he became one of the first radio comedy stars, creating the role of the Texaco Fire Chief.

His films roles include Follow the Leader (1930); The Chief (1933); the voice of the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland (1951); The Great Man (1956); Marjorie Morningstar (1958); The Diary of Anne Frank (Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, 1959); Cinderfella (1960); The Absent-Minded Professor (1961); Babes in Toyland (1961); Son of Flubber (1963); The Patsy (1964); Mary Poppins (1964); Those Calloways (1965); The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965); The Daydreamer (1966); and The Gnome-Mobile (1967).

Wynn had many forays into television as well. He hosted the Camel Comedy Caravan variety show (1950), starred in The Ed Wynn Show sitcom (1958–59), and was a guest on dozens of panel, variety, and drama series.

He appeared in the TV drama Requiem for a Heavyweight (1956) and the TV movies Meet Me in St. Louis (1959), Miracle on 34th Street (1959), The Golden Horseshoe Revue (1962), and For the Love of Willadean (1964). In 1950 he was awarded an Emmy for Most Outstanding Live Personality, and The Ed Wynn Show won an Emmy for Best Live Show. He earned Emmy nominations for three of his drama series performances (1957, 1958, and 1961).

Wynn died on June 19, 1966, in Beverly Hills California, of throat cancer at age 79.

Today’s Chuckle

In this clip from The Ed Wynn Show Wynn accompanies Dinah Shore on one of his inventions, the piano bicycle, as she sings Shine On, Harvest Moon and Tea for Two.