Many famous Hollywood personalities got their start in vaudeville; such luminaries as W. C. Fields, The Marx Brothers and Abbott and Costello all plied their trade and perfected their craft touring the country and performing on small and large stages for an entertainment hungry audience. Such was also true of song and dance man Eddie Quinlan.
Quinlan was the son of vaudeville performers who made his stage debut at a very young age and became proficient at singing, dancing, and most importantly comedic timing. As he reached adulthood, Quinlan made an easy transfer from the stage to screen in 1922 with the film “Up and At’Em”. This would eventually lead him to Mack Sennett in 1925, where after a failed attempt to turn the affable young star into the next Harry Langdon (then Sennett’s top comedic super star) Quinlan found his perfect niche, playing young, happy-go-lucky nice guys (generally referred to as Collegiate films as they usually centered around college life).
Eventually Quinlan would leave Sennett’s comedy factory studio over a dispute on the direction his shorts’ story lines were taking, Quinlan feeling that the material was getting too risqué for his super clean public image. Quinlan signed with Pathe in 1929, where he starred in a slew of pictures patterned after the college student character he had perfected with Sennett. The titles of these films say it all; “The Sophomore” (1929), “Nosy Neighbors” (1929), “Big Money” (1930), “The Tip Off” (1931), “Girl Crazy” (1932), and “Strictly Personal” (1933).
As Quinlan got older it became obvious that he couldn’t continue playing young, naïve, college age characters anymore. After what many fans considered to be his miscasting as Ellery Queen in the adaptation of “The Spanish Cape Mystery” (1936) for Republic, Quinlan made a smooth transition to supporting player. His credits during this time include visible parts in “Mutiny On the Bounty” (1935), John Ford’s “Young Mr. Lincoln” (1939) and “The Grapes of Wrath” (1940), as well as Abbott and Costello’s “It Ain’t Hay” (1943) and the Inner Sanctum mystery “Strange Confession” (1944).
Appearing in comedies and mysteries at Universal lead to Quinlan being cast in two of their serials, playing sidekicks to the older and more experienced heroes. “Mystery of the Riverboat” (1944) cast Quinlan as a riverboat entertainer who helps out Robert Lowery save his Louisiana swampland from unscrupulous oil thieves, while also allowing him to strut his stuff on the dance floor in a few early episodes. The next year Quinlan was the garage mechanic buddy of Edward Norris who both decide to go over to Africa on their own and fight Nazis, where they are helped out by the ghost called “The Jungle Queen” (1945). Quinlan left Universal and made a final serial for Columbia. “Jungle Raiders” (1945) returned the actor to Africa, this time to help Kane Richmond find his missing father and a secret treasure.
Quinlan left the serials behind him as he continued carving out a career as a dependable character actor, appearing in “Brigadoon” (1954), King of Rock ’N’ Roll Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas” (1964), “A Guide for the Married Man” (1967), the Don Knotts vehicles “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” (1966) and “How to Frame a Figg” (1971), and Kurt Russell’s third and final Disney college gang comedy “The Strongest Man in the World” (1975). Being a working actor, Quinlan also made many TV appearances from the sixties through the eighties. His credits include episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show”, “The Jeffersons”, Michael Landon’s “Little House on the Prairie” and “Highway to Heaven”, as well as Robert Blake’s short lived “Helltown”.
Always one to keep busy, after retiring Quinlan spent his remaining years in a new career as a popular talk show guest. Whenever you needed someone to reminisce about Hollywood’s golden age you called up Eddie Quinlan, due to his phenomenal memory of events, as well as being a highly entertaining person in his own right.