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QueensLine: Astorian Eddie Bracken found fame in theater, film

Edward Vincent Bracken was born in Astoria to Catherine and Joseph L. Bracken Feb. 7, 1915. He was a born entertainer who sang solo in nursery school and also performed at functions given by the Knights of Columbus around New York.

By age 9, he was already performing in vaudeville shows and got his first big break when director and producer George Abbot asked him to be in “Brother Rat,” a comedy about life in the Virginia Military Institute. In 1939, Bracken gained fame with the Broadway musical comedy “Too Many Girls” in a role he reprised in a 1940 film adaptation that featured Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz and Van Johnson.

In the late 1940s, Bracken starred in two of the best-loved “screwball comedies” of director Preston Sturges: “The Miracle of Morgan Creek” and “Hail the Conquering Hero,” both of which had timely military-related themes. In “Hero,” Sturges cast Bracken as a young man rejected by the U.S. Marines because of his chronic hay fever, but who through confusion and misunderstanding is welcomed back to his hometown as a war hero. The popularity of these films as well as numerous radio broadcasts made on “The Eddie Bracken Show” made him a household name during the World War II era.

Although he derived considerable fame and income from his movies, Bracken’s first love was repertory theater and he spent years starring in revivals and touring in company offerings of productions that had been successful on Broadway.

In the 1950s, Bracken was Tom Ewell’s replacement in the road show version of “The Seven Year Itch”; in the ’60s, he took over the role of Felix Unger, performed by Art Carney in the original Broadway run of the Neil Simon play “The Odd Couple”; in the ’70s, he joined Carol Channing on tour in “Hello, Dolly!”; and in the ’80s he played the devil, Mr. Applegate, in the role Ray Watson had made famous in “Damn Yankees.”

After nearly 30 years away from feature films, Bracken returned to the big screen to perform character roles such as the sympathetic theme park owner Roy Walley in “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” a 1983 film starring Chevy Chase. He also appeared in episodes of the hit TV series “The Golden Girls” and “Tales from the Darkside.”

In November 2002, Bracken died in Glen Ridge, N.J., of complications from an undisclosed surgery at age 87. His wife of 63 years, Connie, a former actress, died three months earlier. They were survived by two sons, Michael and David, and three daughters, Judy, Carolyn and Susan.

Bracken once said he never minded the long hours and hard work of acting: “I’m only tired until the curtain goes up.”

For more information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit astorialic.org.

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