Monday, June 24, 2013

Edgar Kennedy & Bill Cassara

Progress continues in developing a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first season of the Matinee at the Bijou sequel series.

Meanwhile, the Bijou and Festival Films teams are finding strong interest among classic film fans and affinity groups in support of The Edgar Kennedy Restoration Project currently planned for an August Kickstarter campaign that will set the stage for the more complex Matinee at the Bijou Kickstarter campaign that will follow.
The Edgar Kennedy Show is planned as a fresh concept for introducing contemporary audiences to the wonderful world of classic star-driven comedy short subjects produced during the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

The idea is to create a continuing series of half-hour shows programmed for non-commercial broadcast and streaming video that consist of selected short subjects presented in their entirety along with mini-bios to inform audiences  of the specific star or comedy team's place in film history.
Among primary candidates for this "edu-tainment" treatment are comedy legends like Charley Chase, Laurel & Hardy, Our Gang, Harry Langdon, Thelma Todd, Patsy Kelly, ZaSu Pitts, Leon Errol, Andy Clyde, Clark & McCullough, Joe McDoakes and many more.  

The Edgar Kennedy Show will be the first in the series and will serve as a template for encouraging this value-added approach to perpetuating classic film history in a novel way.

The idea was inspired by the rich history compiled by Edgar Kennedy biographer Bill Cassara for his book “Edgar Kennedy, Master of the Slow Burn" (available from Bear Manor Media).

Bill has joined The Edgar Kennedy Restoration Project as an executive producer and will host/narrate the 7-8 minute segments in each episode that reflect Edgar's prominent role in film history. We asked Bill to talk about how he came to admire Edgar and write the book.

Do you recall when you first noticed Edgar Kennedy?

I was born three years after Edgar’s death, so I never got to see him at the cinemas in his prime. Being a typical Baby-Boomer, I watched all the old comedies on television. Edgar came into my consciousness from those Hal Roach comedy shorts, especially as “Kennedy the Cop” in various Little Rascals, Laurel & Hardy and the “Boyfriend” series.

When did you get hooked on Edgar?

I was working as a Deputy Sheriff for Monterey County, CA. when I learned that Edgar was born somewhere in the county. From then on I studied every Edgar appearance I came across and wondered about his family history. Where was he born? No one knew. There were no birth records to clarify.

In 1984 two other cops and a couple of Dixieland Jazz musicians and I started a new “tent” as part of the “Sons of the Desert” Laurel and Hardy appreciation club. 24 years later we are still going strong. We named the tent “Midnight Patrol,” in honor of L&H portrayal of uniform cops. Edgar was our special project. Middle-aged, bald and an inept public servant, we identified with him in “Night Owls,” and “Leave ‘Em Laughing.” As a former Keystone Kop, he fit right in.

How did you contact his family?

Started as a gag...we had “updates” about the history of Edgar Kennedy at our annual banquets. Tony Hawes (Stan Laurel’s step-son) was enthralled, and solicited the help of Bill Cappello, who was able to confirm Edgar had a daughter named Colleen Deach. Tony arranged a meeting with Colleen and me. Turns out she was a wealth of information; she just had to be asked the right questions.

And then you held an Edgar convention….

Our Tent hosted the one and only Edgar Kennedy Celebration in Monterey during July of 1997. It was actually Tony Hawes that pitched the idea of an Edgar Kennedy/Deach family reunion. Unfortunately, Tony died just 5 months before the event. I didn’t think we’d be able to pull it off without him. Stan Laurel’s daughter, Lois, and Colleen stepped up to make sure it was a success. We hosted 200 people from 5 different countries over 3 days.

It started with a special outdoor viewing of “In Old California” and “The Perfect Day.” Stan Laurel’s and Edgar’s daughters followed with a question and answer period on stage. Wow! We marched along with the City’s 4th of July parade, 200 strong, followed by fireworks launched over the Pacific Ocean. That night, the attendees were treated with a special “Midnighty Patrol” film festival back at the host hotel. To enter, you had to be in night clothes. What a scene; hair curlers, nightgowns, Finlayson night caps.

We had a “Perfect Day” picnic, followed by a softball game “Laurels vs. Hardys” (Skinniest vs. Portliest). There was a vaudeville night at the California First Theatre (built 1850). Another event was “A Pair of Tights” ice cream drop. Our members had to catch a falling scoop of ice cream from a 2nd story overhang. Boy was it messy! The last evening was a “Cops and Robbers night,” a tribute to the Keystone Kops. Everyone got the biggest kick out of Edgar’s two grandson’s Mark and Glenn Kennedy, who got right into the spirit throughout the festivities.

How did you come to write your book?

In 2000 Colleen invited me over and convinced me to write a book about her dad. I took it on as a responsibility. She showed me a cardboard box full of old stills that really jump-started my investigation. I read anything that was written, which was not much. I became very skeptical of anything written by studios because of the nature of the created public image. My real success came from old newspaper accounts. I went through microfilm of the sports pages of the San Francisco Chronicle to trace Edgar’s amateur and professional boxing career. I found some references in old Oakland newspapers as well, went through old RKO scripts that were stored off campus at UCLA, and poured through material at the Margaret Herrick Library. I read every review of old film releases in movie journals of the day. I also got lucky in finding a photo of Edgar and an essay from a 1905 high school yearbook in San Rafael, CA.

It took me 5 years to research and write the book. The last year was especially hectic after learning Colleen had terminal cancer. When the book finally rolled off the presses, my wife and I immediately drove to Colleen’s house to give her the first copy. She was so gracious and gratified. Colleen died only 3 days later.

What are your favorite Edgar films?

If I was putting together a film festival they would be:

1. The Knockout (1914) -- Edgar in his boxing prime with Fatty Arbuckle and Chaplin.

2. Mabel’s Willful Way (1915) -– Edgar, Fatty and Mabel romping in Oakland’s Idora Park.

3. A Pair of Tights (1929) -- One of the all time funniest silent films ever shot.

4. Rough on Rents (1942) -– A good one from his RKO series, w/ Charlie Hall.

5. The Perfect Day (1929) -– Laurel & Hardy step all over grouchy Uncle Edgar’s foot.

6. In Old California (1942) -– Edgar as John Wayne’s side-kick and he steals every scene.

7. Hitler’s Madman (1943) -– very unusual feature. Is Edgar the good guy or bad guy?

8. Unfaithfully Yours (1948) -- as a classic music aficionado. “Nobody handles Handel the way you guys handle Handel.”

9. Lemon Meringue (1931) –- The first official release of the Average Man series.

10. Across the Pacific (1926) –- A lost feature film. Edgar had great reviews for his death scene.

Great thanks Bill for your continuing commitment to the legacy of Edgar Kennedy and your passion in helping assure his proper place in film history.

The Bijou Blog will be posting updates here every Monday as preparations continue for the August Kickstarter campaign. Be sure to visit Ron Hall's Cafe Roxy Blog, where Ron is writing a weekly feature about Edgar's prominence in film history including his many contributions as actor and director during the silent film era and beyond.   

You can help bring back Edgar Kennedy by visiting The Edgar Kennedy Restoration Project on Facebook, "Like" Edgar, leave comments and invite your Facebook Friends to join us!

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