10 Facts About Disney Legend Ed Wynn
Ed Wynn loved to laugh, and he loved making others laugh.
His career spanned six decades, taking him from the vaudeville stage, to radio, and then on to the golden lights of Hollywood. His trademark voice has been imitated by countless actors over the years, including Alan Tudyk in Disney’s 2012 film Wreck-It-Ralph. Walt Disney was an ardent fan of Wynn’s work, referring to him as “our good luck charm.”
Here are ten facts about the remarkable career of the man dubbed the Perfect Fool.
1. Vaudeville & The Follies
Wynn began his career on the vaudeville stage. Born in 1886, he began performing in 1903 after running away from home to join the theater. His trademark act, The Boy With the Funny Hats, involved transforming a Panama hat into a variety of odd shapes. In 1962, Wynn revived the act for an appearance on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color for the Golden Horseshoe Revue’s 10,000th performance special.
Wynn’s stage career later took him to the Ziegfield Follies. While with the Follies, the famously temperamental W.C. Fields caught him trying to steal a scene and knocked him unconscious with a pool cue.
2. The Perfect Fool
Wynn’s iconic voice was created for his title character in the 1921 Broadway Show, The Perfect Fool, which he also wrote and produced. The show opened in November and ran for 275 performances, closing in July of 1922. The show included bits like an eleven foot pole (for when you wouldn’t touch something with a ten foot pole) and a piano mounted to a bicycle. The piano bit also appeared in the 1962 episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, with Wynn playing the piano and riding the bicycle while Betty Taylor sang the song Tea For Two.
3. The Fire Chief
In the 1930s, Wynn starred in the Texaco sponsored radio comedy, The Fire Chief. The show ran on Tuesday nights and was performed in front of a live audience. Each show ran a half hour long and featured a mix of comedy and music.
4. The Wizard of Oz
MGM offered Wynn the title role in the Wizard of Oz. Wynn rejected the part claiming it was, “way too small.”
5. Alice in Wonderland
Wynn’s first role with Disney came as the Mad Hatter in the 1951 animated feature Alice in Wonderland. Test footage from the film shows how Wynn dressed in character and acted out the tea party scene as reference for Disney animators.
6. Babes in Toyland
In 1961, Wynn appeared in the live action musical Babes in Toyland, alongside teen stars Annette Funicello and Tommy Sands. Wynn described his character, the Toymaker, as a combination of his Perfect Fool and Fire Chief characters. The film also led to Wynn’s appearance in the Backstage Party episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. The party, a staged promotion for the film, featured special performances by members of the Babes in Toyland cast. Wynn was celebrated in the episode, receiving a Mouse-car award for his sixty years in show business.
7. Mary Poppins
Most Disney fans remember Wynn as the lovable Uncle Albert in Mary Poppins, whose uncontrollable fits of laughter leave him floating on the ceiling. In the 1964 film, Wynn appears alongside Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke to sing the song, I Love to Laugh.
8. The Absent Minded Professor and Others
Along with his better known roles in Mary Poppins and Alice in Wonderland, Wynn also appeared in The Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber, That Darn Cat!, Those Calloways, The Gnome-Mobile, and For the Love of Willadean.
9. The Jungle Book
Walt Disney was planning a role for Wynn in Disney’s 19th animated feature, The Jungle Book. He did not end up acting in the film. He died in 1966 of esophageal cancer, a year before the movie’s release. His gravestone at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale reads, “Dear God, Thanks…Ed Wynn.”
10. Disney Legend
Disney named Wynn a Disney Legend in 2013. Tom Bergeron spoke briefly, recapping Wynn’s career and Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger wished the audience a happy Un-Birthday in celebration of Wynn’s first Disney role. Wynn’s granddaughter Hilda Levine accepted the award on his behalf.