Vaudevillian and radio and television entertainer Ed Wynn (Isaiah Edwin Leopold) died at 79 in Beverly Hills on this date in 1966. He ran away from home in his teens and changed his name to spare his parents the embarrassment of having a vaudevillian son. Wynn starred in the Ziegfield Follies beginning in 1914, and became well-known for his character, “The Perfect Fool,” who spoke in a wavering, jerky voice and dressed in silly outfits. He directed several Broadway shows and musical revues in the 1920s, and broke into radio by importing his vaudeville routines live onto The Fire Chief, a very popular weekly show sponsored by Texaco. Wynn tried to launch his own broadcast network, the Amalgamated Broadcasting System, in 1933, but it bankrupted him within five weeks. In 1949, he hosted one of the first comedy-variety television shows, on CBS, with guest appearances by Buster Keaton, Lucille Ball, and The Three Stooges. After hosting three different comedy shows on television, Wynn then managed to transform himself into a dramatic actor with roles in Rod Serling’s Requiem for a Heavyweight and on several Twilight Zone episodes. He was soon doing voice-overs for cartoons as well, and extended his career right up to Walt Disney’s Babes in Toyland (1961) and Mary Poppins (1964). To see him hamming it up with Buster Keaton, look below.
“His death is the first time he ever made anyone sad.” —Red Skelton (who was discovered by Wynn)