Joseph Cawthorn
Date of Birth
Mar 29, 1867
Birth Place:
Brooklyn, NY


Joseph Cawthorn launched his seven-decade show business career at age four as a performer in "variety" revues (the precursor to American vaudeville). At age five, Cawthorn was appearing in minstrel shows, and at seven he moved to England, where he became a successful child performer. Back in America, he toured in vaudeville as a "Dutch" comic, fracturing audiences with his Yiddish dialect and hyperkinetic gestures. He first appeared on Broadway in the 1895 musical Excelsior Jr; two years later he got his biggest break when he replaced William Collier as principal comedian in Miss Philadelphia (1897). A popular Broadway attraction for the next 25 years, Cawthorn starred or co-starred in such tuneful extravaganzas as Victor Herbert's The Fortune Teller (1898), Mother Goose (1903, in the title role!), Little Nemo (1910), The Sunshine Girl (1913), The Girl From Utah (1914) and Rudy Friml' s The Blue Kitten (1922). By the time he appeared in the 1925 Marilyn Miller vehicle Sally, however, Cawthorn was being written off as a "fading star. Rather than stubbornly cling to his Broadway fame, Cawthorn moved to Hollywood in 1927, where he began a whole new career as a movie character actor. He revived his old dialect routines as Cornelius Van Horn in Dixiana (1930) and Joe Bruno in Peach o' Reno; both of these films starred Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, who'd known Cawthorn "way back when" in New York (Woolsey in fact had supported Cawthorn in The Blue Kitten). Not always confined to "Dutch" roles, he was effectively cast as Shakespearean suitor Gremio in the Mary Pickford/Doug Fairbanks version of Taming of the Shrew(1929) and as a French physician in Lubitsch's Love Me Tonight (1932). Nor was he limited to comedy parts: he was most persuasive in the largely serious role of Dr. Bruner, the "Van Helsing" counterpart in Bela Lugosi's White Zombie (1932). Because of his celebrated Broadway past, Cawthorn was often cast in period "backstage" musicals, essaying such roles as the title character's father in The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and Leopold Damrosch in Lillian Russell (1940). Joseph Cawthorn died peacefully at his Beverly Hills home in 1949. His wife, actress Queenie Vassar, lived until 1960. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Provided by Rovi