|ddie Quillan (Mar 31. 1907 - Jul 19. 1990)|
Weight: 140 pounds
|Above right: The young man on the right is Eddie Quillan at the age of seven when he was appearing with two of his brothers, John and Buster, in a well-known vaudeville act.|
Edward "Eddie" Francis Quillan was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on March 31, 1907 (Easter Sunday). Born on Hollywood Street somewhere in Philadelphia Eddie seems destined for the movies from the start. His Catholic parents, Joseph Francis Quillan (1884-1952) and Sarah Owens (1885-1969) had a theatrical career as troupers in their native Scotland. As old-time vaudeville headliner, Joe married Sarah and broke up the successful sister act in which she starred. A motto of theirs was that "all happens for the best". One might wonder if that was the case when Eddie's father, a wealthy man, manufacturer, and producer of plays in Scotland, lost his money. After marrying and going to the U.S., they continued to be actively involved on the stage. Mr. and Mrs. Quillan were highly regarded performers and were contracted players in the most prestigious of the "big time" vaudeville franchises.
Eddie made his debut at the age of seven and by 1917, he was heading up a troupe under the name "Buster Quillan and (His) Pals," with his brothers Thomas (aka Buster), John and Joe and sister Marie (later joined by four more sisters Helen, Margaret "Peggy", Isabell(a) and Roseanne "Rosebud" for a total of nine Quillan children).
Joseph Edward (Sep 21. 1903 - May 31. 1913)
John Joseph "Johnny" (Jun 25. 1905 or 1906 - Aug 27. 1985)
Thomas James "Buster" (Jul 13. 1911 - Feb 8. 1989)
Joseph Francis "Joe" (Aug 31. 1916 - Apr 6. 1961)
Mary Ann , "Marie" (Mar 17. 1909 - April 16. 1998)
Margaret , "Peggy" (1916 - alive in 1990)
Helen (Feb 1918 or 1919 - )
Isabella (1921 - )
Roseanne A. , "Rose Ann", "Rosebud", "Rose" (May 18. 1924 - Oct 15. 2019)
Eddie (right) did a very good juvenile impersonation of Harry Lauder that almost headlined the act and would probably have brought the "Big Time" if the law had not interfered, with compulsory schooling. The folks returned to Philadelphia and Eddie received his education at Saint Gabriel's School in South Philadelphia, later finishing at Mount Carmel. With his school completed Eddie joined the road act again.
During World War I, in 1917, Joseph wrote a vaudeville skit
called The Rising Generation with the Quillans as part of this act,
singing, dancing, telling jokes, and playing musical instruments. Their father
travelled with the boys, usually during the summer months, and managed the act,
their mother served as guide.
When the Quillan children were in American vaudeville working hard, they adhered to their watchword that "work was play." They never "went to work," said Eddie. It was always "We're playing tonight."
Above: Rare photo of a Quillan clan gathering. Eddie can be seen standing left in the picture.
Edward toured together with his eight siblings throughout the U.S. In an interview with Michael Ankerich in 1988, Eddie described his early life on the road: "We played most of the places we were allowed to play as children. Because of the authorities, we couldn't play everywhere. We could never get into New York because the Gerry Society, founded to protect minors from exploitation, was so strict."
Eddie also described a typical vaudeville day: "I would get up around 11:00 a.m., and we would do the show at 2:00 p.m. The we had another evening show, usually two, so that made three performances a day. We would finish about 11:00 p.m., and then, after we got our makeup off, would go to a restaurant to eat. So it was 1:00 a.m. or so before we went to bed."
Occasionally the family was on the road while school was in session. During this times the Quillan children received their education through the New York Professional Children's School, which was by correspondence.
Above: Joseph Quillan (1884-1952) and Sarah (1885-1969) with their nine children (Eddie is the fourth from the left)
By the time he was in his teens, Quillan was a consummate performer, adept at singing, dancing, and acting. In addition he played saxophone and appeared as a stand-up comic.
Growing up Eddie was a fan of motion pictures but nothing more. His mother is actually credited with planting the idea in his head. When performing in Chicago the children had their individual portraits taken. When his mother, Sarah, looked at the publicity photos, she expressed the idea that he ought to be in pictures, which made him consider the possibility.
While watching the film tests, Eddie and his brothers were horrified and thinking the result terrible walked out. However, when Sennett watched the screen test, he was so impressed with Eddie that he went so far as hiring a private detective to find him. At the time the family was touring throughout California as part of the Orpheum Circuit. Sennett signed him to a contract in 1922 and his first film, Up and At 'Em.
The vibrant scene of the Charleston, jazz, knee-high skirts, and Oxford bag trousers became widely recognized in feature films of the mid to late 1920s. These films typically showcased the lively atmosphere on college campuses or within glamorous Art Deco mansions. However, this cultural phenomenon also found expression on a smaller scale, featuring fashionable "vamps" and lively dance contests in comedy shorts. An example worth noting is the 1926-27 series produced by Mack Sennett, starring the energetic duo of Alice Day and Eddie Quillan. Unfortunately, this set of films has largely faded into obscurity. (8)
Above: Mack Sennett on the set with Eddie Quillan (1926) reportedly during the shooting of his first movie.
In the early twenties, Sennett reverted to the familiar slapstick two-reeler format. Recognizing the growing fascination with the "flaming youth" (with flapper culture gaining prominence around 1922), Sennett decided to venture into youth-oriented shorts. Playing a pivotal role in this venture was the lively Alice Day. As the series unfolded, the narrative shifted its focus, often centering on Day's character harboring affections for a wealthy man, oblivious to the humble admirer hoping to win her affection. This admirer role was later assumed by the newly signed Eddie Quillan, whose bashful youthfulness proved to be the perfect fit for the series. (8)
Despite his petite stature and delicate features, which almost seemed ethereal under the white screen makeup and black liner, Quillan took on the exaggerated role of a teenage "sheik" of the era in Sennett's films. He was consistently attired in Oxford bags, loud-patterned vests, and jaunty straw hats with striped hat bands. Media coverage celebrated Sennett's discovery, describing Eddie as someone who played the saxophone, excelled at the Charleston, had a weakness for ice cream sodas, wore suspenders, and occasionally sported his socks in a collegiate fashion. Meanwhile, in the series, Alice Day typically portrayed a small-town girl enamored with the sophisticated O'Shea, while Quillan, often referred to as "Buddy Jones," played the role of her shy and genuine admirer. (8)
Above: The first Day-Quillan collaboration was A Love Sundae (April 1926), where country girl Day finds her sweetheart O’Shea has fallen for an alluring city girl. She attempts to get him back by eloping with Quillan, a bashful soda jerk. Lost today, tantalizing stills show that the centerpiece of the short was a Halloween-themed barn dance with streamers and strings of papier-maché jack-o’-lanterns hanging from the ceiling. Day appears in a frilly “little girl” outfit while surrounded by fashionable fellow teens, suggesting there’s a gag where she’s the only one who shows up to the dance in a costume. (8)
At first, Sennett tried to turn Quillan into a new Harry
Langdon, so in Love Sundae Quillan played a rail-thin, pasty-faced
comedian who looked every bit his age, played Buddy Jones, a soda jerk
infatuated with Alice (Alice Day with whom Eddie played many of his first
shorts). Quillan's father, who handled his son's business
affairs played hardball with Sennett and got Eddie raised from a $65 tot a $
175/week contract. Quillan would use the character name Buddy Jones several more
Day and Quillan’s comedy series has largely been lost to the mists of time — only three survive as partial prints. (Strangely, many shorts directed by other Sennett units around the same time do survive.) (8)
Above left: Eddie Quillan, unknown, Danny O'Shea in Kitty from Killarney (Nov 1926) The final Cline-directed Day film harks back to her earlier immigrant roles. Portraying an Irish girl, she disguises herself as the daughter of a Jewish couple to navigate Ellis Island and eventually becomes part of their family. Encountering Quillan, a former flame from Ireland, she learns he is dating an Italian girl who performs with him on stage, showcasing Quillan's vaudeville skills. Overcome with jealousy, Day goes to the theater, hurling vegetables at Quillan during his act. In turn, he retaliates, causing chaos in the entire theater. (8)
Above right: From left to right Eddie Quillan seen with director Larry Semon, Alice Day and Danny O'Shea. They were seen in Pass The Dumplings (Jan 1927) and The Plumber's Daughter (Feb 1927).
Eventually the slight, pop-eyed, ever-grinning Quillan established himself in breezy "collegiate" roles.
The next conflict led to Eddie breaking his contract with Sennett. The situation involved the script for one of Eddie's two-reel comedies, Pass the Dumplings (Jan 1927). When Eddie received the outline of the story, there was something he thought was a bit risqué and out of character for his comedic role. Eddie told Sennett he refused to play the scene the way it was written. Sennett wouldn't budge and ordered Eddie to do the scene. Eddie did but it would be the last picture with Sennett.
Quillan's absence from Sennett was brief, as he made a return only a few months later, suggesting no lingering animosity. By this time, the Day series had concluded, and Sennett, seeking someone to step into the slapstick shoes recently vacated by Harry Langdon, saw potential in Quillan. In shorts like Catalina, Here I Come (April 1927), and The College Kiddo (Aug 1927), Quillan appears to be emulating Langdon's prolonged gazes and peculiar, fluttery movements. Fortunately, this Langdon-esque role was short-lived, as Quillan also took on roles in classics like Love in a Police Station (Dec 1927), a Sennett satire featuring his iconic Keystone Kops. (8) The new Kops were Andy Clyde, Barney Hollum, William Armstrong and Tiny Ward, with Eddie Quillan as traffic Kop.
The Bull Fighter (Nov 1927) would be the last film Quillan would make for Mack Sennett. In June Quillan filed suit against Sennett to enjoin Sennett from preventing him from working for other producers, claiming that his contract of November 7, 1925, was invalid because he was a minor at the time he signed it (though Quillan was over 18 at the time of signing). The dispute was settled out of court and the two reportedly parted as friends. Quillan went off to make shorts for Educational, then starring features. (4)
Boven: Eddie Quillan and family in A Little Bit of Everything (1928)
Quillan began to freelance. He starred in the A Little Bit of
Everything (1928), notable because it featured his
Thomas ("Buster"), Joseph, and John in starring roles.
This 8 minutes long karaoke
version of the hit song "Little Bit of Everything"' contained karaoke backing
track with on-screen scrolling lyrics. Basically it recreated an earlier
vaudeville act by the family (2 songs).
Quillan made his first major feature-film appearance when he co-starred in Cecil B. DeMille's The Godless Girl (Mar 1928). One of DeMille's best works - it betrays itself only in a couple of weak romantic interludes, and in the overwrought playing, particularly of Noah Beery as the sadistic head guard. It opens at a high school, where Judy (Lina Basquette) addresses a meeting of the Godless Society. Judy's love for Bob Hathaway (George Duryea), doesn't protect her when he leads a storm troop to break up the meeting. Her pal "Goat" (Eddie Quillan) is beaten up, and a girl is killed when she falls from the top floor. Sent to reform school the youngsters discover how swift brutal punishment can be. When stepping out of line in the washroom the head guard turns a very painful fire hose on them. Quillan remonstrating with Beery and being knocked down, he bounced straight off the water-soaked floor. It transpired that electric cables for the lights were lying in the water, and he had received a violent shock.
Top left: Eddie Quillan & Lina Basquette in The Godless Girl (Mar 1928)
Top right: Quillan (right) with Carole Lombard (left) and Bessie Barriscale (middle) in Show Folks (Oct 1928).
Above left: Eddie with Albert Gran in (jan) 1929's Geraldine
Above right: Sally O'Neil and Eddie Quillan, The Sophomore (Aug 1929). In the movie Eddie Quillan gives a real impersonation of the modern American college boy, the Pathé all dialog feature was adapted from Corey Ford's College Humor Magazine serial Joe College.
|The film led to a contract at Pathé studios, where Quillan starred in such ebullient vehicles as The Sophomore (Aug 1929, his all-talkie debut with "Little by Little" the hit song to the music of Earl Burnett's Biltmore (Los Angeles) orchestra), Noisy Neighbors (Jan 1929) , Night Work (1930) (right), Big Money (1930), and The Tip-Off (1931).|
|The Noisy Neighbors is notable because it featured most of he Quillan clan as unwilling participants in a hillbilly feud. His sister Marie appeared opposite her brother in the film. This was the last time Eddie would work professionally with his mother and father.|
Above: Eddie Quillan, Alberta Vaughn, Marie Quillan and other players (including other Quillans: Joseph, Isabelle, John, Buster) in Noisy Neighbors (Jan 1929), which gave them the opportunities to display their musical talent in the Photophoned version of the Pathé production. Eddie gave his impressions of a saxophone virtuoso, while Miss Vaughn and Marie Quillan demonstrated their abilities at the piano. Eddie and his Dad also did a dance.
The role for which Eddie is probably best known is Tommy Elison, the most
endearing and tragic character of the ill-fated crew, in the movie,
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). The film starred
Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, and Franchot Tone
“There have been a lot of idols,” said Eddie, “but to me, Clark Gable was the greatest. Not only did the women like him, but the men liked him also. He had a great following with men. He was down-to-earth and was all man. Working with him was a lot of fun. I liked him tremendously.”
His most treasured trophy was a 1936 Screen Actors Guild Award presented to him for his performance in this movie.
Top: two stills from Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) Charles Laughton, Donald Crisp & Eddie Quillan (left) and Eddie Quillan and Clark Gable (right).
Above left: Charlotte Henry and Eddie Quillan have to do some explaining in The Mandarin Mystery.
Above right: Charlotte Henry and Eddie Quillan
He remained a favorite in large and small roles throughout the 1930s and 1940s;
he faltered only when he was miscast as master sleuth Ellery Queen in
The Mandarin Mystery
(1937). Eddie was
panned by critics who felt casting him was a fatal mistake. Although the film
contained the original structure of the book, The Chinese Orange Mystery,
the general consensus of film reviewers was that the script played for laughs,
and childish acting by Quillan and ineffective direction by Ralph Staub bought
the first series of Ellery Queen films to a halt. A heavily
edited version for television was subsequently developed but experienced no more
success than the film.
Among Quillan's other more memorable credits as a supporting actor were: with Spencer Tracy in Big City (1937); with Carole Lombard and Jimmy Stewart in Made For Each Other (1939); with John Wayne in Allegheny Uprising (1939); with Henry Fonda both in Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) (below left) and in The Grapes of Wrath (1940): with Marlene Dietrich in The Flame of New Orleans (1941); and with Abbott and Costello in It Ain't Hay (1943).
Above left: Eddie Quillan in Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)
Above right: Promotional photo for Grapes of Wrath (1940) Eddie Quillan with Dorris Bowdon.
Discouraged with playing simple roles such as bellhops, soda jerks, et al., he
continued on in "B" pictures until Sensation Hunters
(1945) and A Guy Could Change
when his film career finally fell away.
From 1948 through 1956, Quillan was paired with screen veteran Wally Vernon by Columbia as yet another attempt to create an original comedy team. Wally Vernon was a veteran of the Columbia shorts department and together they appeared in a series of 16 two-reel comedies, which showed to excellent advantage the physical dexterity of both men (below left).
Above left: From 1948 through 1956, Quillan was paired with screen veteran Wally Vernon. Seen here in A-Hunting They Did Go (1953). The plot revolves around the men embarking on a hunting weekend, closely trailed by their wives. Notably, this film is a remake, incorporating stock footage from their own movie "Crabbin' in the Cabin" (1948).
Above right: Eddie Quillan introduces Van Johnson to Dodie Heath in Brigadoon (1954)
owned and operated a bowling alley in El Monte for a time but eventually returned to the
film industry, with middling results and infrequent appearances, among them
(1954) opposite Gene Kelly.
In addition to his film work in the fifties, Eddie began to work in television when he was offered the chance to work with Jackie Cooper in The People’s Choice. Once beginning his television career, Eddie would appear in over two hundred (200) television programs. He had roles in a multitude of TV series: Love Lucy, The Jack Benny Show, Perry Mason, Daniel Boone, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Addams Family, The Wild, Wild West, Andy Griffith, and Petticoat Junction.” (5)
His brother, Joe, was a well-known comedy writer in radio and television, Known for his contributions to the Our Miss Brooks radio and TV show. It was through Joe that Eddie met Hal Kanter who would cast him years later in his first recurring role in a network series, Valentine’s Day (1964-65), starring Tony Franciosa. From 1968 through 1971, Kanter made Eddie a series regular on the Diahann Carroll sitcom Julia. (5)
Light-hearted fluff also came his way in the next decade with The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966), Angel in My Pocket (1969) and How to Frame a Figg (1971), but his contributions were relatively minor.
His career experienced a minor resurgence during the 1960s and 1970s on TV when he guested on such series as Mannix (1967), Lucas Tanner (1974), Police Story (1973), and Baretta (1975).
During this decade he was seen rarely in the movies. His last movie was The Strongest Man in the World (1975).
A close friendship with actor Michael Landon led to work for Eddie in several of Landon's TV vehicles, including Little House on the Prairie (1974) (7 episodes), Father Murphy (1981) and Highway to Heaven (1984).
Above left: Eddie as he appeared in the 1985 series Hell Town.
Above middle: Quillan as Abbie Cadabra in the Moonlighting episode "In God We Strongly Suspect" (1986).
In his retirement years, Eddie continued to lead an active life enjoying golf,
bowling and swimming. A lifelong bachelor, he lived in North Hollywood (San
Fernando Valley) with his
two sisters, Peggy and Roseanne.
Eddie Quillan became a favorite interview subject for film historians thanks to his ingratiating personality and uncanny total recall.
Eddie died in Burbank, California of cancer in 1990 at age 83, and was interred at the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills.
Eddie prided himself in being a comedian and as he once told one producer, who was trying to insert an off-color joke, he obviously didn't need him because he could get anyone to get a laugh with a dirty joke, no talent is needed.
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(3) The Columbia Shorts Departement
(4) Mack Sennett's Fun Factory: A History and Filmography of His Studio
and His Keystone and Mack Sennett Comedies, with Biographies
of Players and Personnel by Brent E. Walker (2013)
(5) Playbills to Photoplays: Stage Performers Who Pioneered the Talkies
by Brenda Loew (2010)
(6) Rotten Tomatoes
(7) The Eddie Quillan Film Festival: "Sweepstakes" and "Gridiron Flash"
at "The Incredible Inman"
(8) Day and Quillan, "The Flaming Youth" Comedies by Lea Stans
(Comique - The Classic Comedy Magazine, Issue no. 2, Spring 2022)
(9) The Godless Girl a
Additional video & audio sources
(1) Sweepstakes 1 - 2 -3 (Clips, 1931
This actor profile is a part of
Ellery Queen a website on deduction.
The actor above played Ellery Queen in
an Ellery Queen movie.
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Page first published on May 27. 2017
Last updated December 7. 2023
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