“One Got Fat” is on Edward Everett Horton’s IMDb page. I know—you’re stunned, too. That height of the bicycle safety genre where all the kids are somehow monkeys with dumb names? But if you go digging, there it is—under “Self: Short.” (Honestly, I kind of wish narration were its own category, since IMDb can never quite decide where to put it.) I’ve only ever seen the RiffTrax version, unless I saw it once in my long-ago childhood, and I don’t remember much in the way of safety videos. But Bill Corbett actually refers to Edward Everett Horton as “Fractured Fairy Tale Guy,” which I think is how generations of viewers think of him.
It’s always a little sad to me, when someone with this many credits is known for a single thing that’s usually voiceover or similar. Not that I’ve seen most of his about two hundred credits myself, you understand. And of course it could be worse; we could all know him as Chief Screaming Chicken from the Adam West Batman instead. Or the similarly named Roaring Chicken on F Troop. At least Fractured Fairy Tales is something with some wit and style?
The fact is, my understanding is that large numbers of those credits are as forgettable as “One Got Fat.” Horton was one of those actors who played the Sissy. And while there are exceptions, movies that relied on Sissy roles for some or all of their comedy were frankly not great. I know there are people who are fond of them—Harvey Fierstein, for one, expresses his fondness in The Celluloid Closet—but most of those roles leave me cold. Still, if you’re going to have them, there are worse people to fill them.
Horton, I think, tended toward the bookish and possibly upper class Sissy. Again, I’ve not seen most of those movies and could be wrong. But I think that, if he didn’t project a certain aura, he wouldn’t have been cast, twice, in what I assume to be terrible and racist as well as vaguely homophobic characters with the same approximate name that implied he’s Less Than Manly. Maybe it’s me, though, because I’d rather hang out with most Horton characters than with what I remember of literally all the other characters on F Troop. Not that I’ve seen F Troop in many long years.
When I think of him in the flesh, though, so to speak, I think of him from Arsenic and Old Lace, cheerfully willing to take any and all Brewsters back to Happydale Sanitarium, should they require it. Which they all seem to, from what he can tell. It’s a charming enough role. I suppose there are people who would classify it as a sissy role; maybe it is. But he’s a sensible man who reacts to the situation in the movie in a sensible way—by assuming they’re all nuts. If he were overacting as much as Cary Grant, it wouldn’t work as well as it does.