Famed Actor Edward Everett Horton Was Born & Bred In Brooklyn
If you’ve ever lived anywhere that has a long past, you’ve probably wondered who previously occupied the space before you. What were the people like who once lived there? What celebrations and heartbreaks happened there?
When passing by, no one would take a second look at the building at 316 Carlton Avenue in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. It’s just another tidy single family, four story brick home in a row of similar 19th century houses.
This quaint building was converted and divided into four apartments in 1998. Do any of its occupants present or past know its history?
The 1857 Italianate style house at 316 Carlton Avenue was stage and screen star Edward Everett Horton’s longtime home.
Horton’s father Edward Everett Horton Sr. married Isabella Diack on April 2, 1885. The Horton’s first settled on Willow Street and soon after purchased the townhouse at 316 Carlton Avenue to raise their family.
The four Horton children, Edward Everett Jr. (b. March 18, 1886), George D. (b. September 30, 1887) Hannabelle (b. August 13, 1890) and son, Winter Davis (b. June 3,1893) all grew up in this house.
Edward Everett Horton Sr. had a long career as a compositor / proofreader / writer for several newspapers including the Baltimore Sun, New York Herald and New York Times.
His son, Edward Everett Horton Jr. a self-described “diffident, shy kid” attended Brooklyn’s P.S. 11 and Boys High School. In this era boys went to college because they knew what they were going to be. After high school, not knowing what he wanted to do, Horton told his parents he wanted to be a teacher. Truthfully Horton had absolutely “no desire to be a teacher at all.” He then went to three colleges in quick succession, Oberlin College in Ohio, Brooklyn Polytechnic and Columbia University. Some life summaries claim Horton was graduated from Columbia.
Horton left Columbia, before he was due to graduate in 1910 abandoning his path to be a teacher.”I kept worrying about my parents,” Horton confessed, “paying for my education under false pretenses.” During his college stints, Horton developed a love of acting and gravitated to the stage, though not in a typical leading man manner.
In 1908, while at Brooklyn Polytechnic, Horton wrote an original play, Meridon and he played the part of Mrs. Gwendolyn Brooks. In the Columbia Varsity Show of 1909, which debuted in the Waldorf Astoria Ballroom, before going on tour, Horton’s performance was singled out by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
“His (Horton’s) makeup as the Newsstand Girl in the tightest of short skirts and the queerest of blouses was rich and rare. According to the play the Newsstand Girl is soon disguised as the Millionaire’s Daughter. Then Mr. Horton appeared in gowns that were simply extraordinary. Especially so was his Salome costume.
Horton had found his forte. Early in his acting career, Horton’s father suggested that his son utilize his middle name Everett. Dad figured there may be other Edward Horton’s in show business, but his son would be the only Edward Everett Horton.
From 1909 until 1912 Horton honed his craft with Louis Mann’s troupe. Today, Louis Mann (1865-1931) is completely forgotten, but for over 50 years he was one of the best known men in the dramatic world. Mann excelled not only as a comedian but as a playwright and director. During his stint with Mann, Horton appeared in three plays on Broadway, The Man Who Stood Still, Elevating a Husband and The Cheater. Horton learned comedy technique along the way with Mann as his mentor. In 1915 Horton worked his way up to leading man of Brooklyn’s Crescent Theatre stock company.
Unfortunately Edward Everett Horton Sr. didn’t live to see his son achieve worldwide fame. Horton’s father died suddenly on November 16, 1915 at age 56 while visiting son George at his home in Mountain Grove, MO.
In 1919 after stints in Philadelphia and Portland, ME. Horton relocated to Los Angeles to continue his stage pursuits. Though he left his Brooklyn home permanently, he owned and kept it until at least 1946 according to an interview with Roly Young of the Globe and Mail.
In 1919 Horton was named the head of Majestic Theatre stock company in Los Angeles and was lauded by reviewers for his acting in many productions.
A Movie Career and Then Some
Declaring his disdain for idolatry in the movies, Horton was finally lured into motion pictures in 1922. He then continually landed role after role. But his fame would explode with the coming of sound.
Edward Everett Horton would go on to become one of Hollywood’s greatest comedic character actors. He made his mark playing timid, self-effacing characters and was called one of the great “fussbudgets” of the screen. Describing the part he usually played as a mouse-man, Horton said in a 1942 interview, “It pays to be a mouse. Or At least it pays me and that is the chief problem in my case. And as long as it pays I’ll go right along with my mousing- and I’ll like it!” Horton’s befuddled double and triple takes, combined with his bumbling mannerisms, distinctive voice and trademark delivery of “oh dear,” quickly became recognized and loved by movie fans.
“I have played only six butlers in my 100 pictures,” Horton noted. “But I have been, on and off, 35 ‘best friends,’ 22 timid clerks, and 37 ‘frustrated leading men.'” Some of Horton’s co-stars include Hollywood legends, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Ronald Colman, James Stewart, Judy Garland and Lana Turner.
Over the course of his life, Horton toured and starred in the 1931 stage play Springtime For Henry over 2,600 times. In an acknowledgement to his mentor, Horton said, “When you see me in Springtime For Henry, you’re really seeing Louis Mann.”
For over 60 years Horton kept working in entertainment, never considering retirement. Besides films, he appeared regularly on stage, radio and dozens of television productions.
Horton tallied over 215 films and television shows. He went unseen in his most famous television work, voicing 85 episodes of Fractured Fairy Tales on the animated Bullwinkle Show.
Though he appeared in just six episodes, Horton also had a memorable recurring part as one of the Hekawe Indians playing “Roaring Chicken” in the 1965 comedy series F-Troop.
As far as his private life, Horton said in a 1921 Los Angeles Times interview, “I can’t see myself married. Not in this day and age. What girl would be satisfied to live with a man never at home at night and most of the daytime too?”
A 1940 Time magazine profile described how Horton’s film contracts were specifically drawn up. On film he could not be compelled to play a married man, kiss a woman or have any children.
Horton never married and kept his personal doings under wraps. Two authors claim he had a longtime male companion. Horton lived with his mother Isabella until her death at age 101 on August 28, 1961.
Edward Everett Horton died form cancer on September 29, 1970 at age 84. At the time he was living on his estate purchased in 1928 in Encino, CA with sister Hannabelle Horton Grant. Incidentally Hannabelle also lived to be 101-years-old, dying in 1992.
Fortunately Horton’s films and his Brooklyn home live on.