Leonce Errol Sims|
July 3, 1881
Sydney, New South Wales
October 12, 1951 (aged 70)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Stella Chatelaine (1906-1946)|
Leon Errol (born Leonce Errol Sims, July 3, 1881 - October 12, 1951), was an Australian-born American comedian and actor, popular in the first half of the 20th century for his appearances in vaudeville, on Broadway, and in films.
Born in Sydney to Joseph and Elizabeth Sims, Errol had toured Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain and Ireland in a variety of theatrical settings, including circuses, operettas, and Shakespeare. According to his petition for naturalization (1914), he first came to the United States in 1898, having arrived at the Port of San Francisco. By 1905, in Portland, Oregon he managed a touring vaudeville company troupe, giving an early boost to the career of a young comedian named Roscoe Arbuckle. In 1908, he made the United States his home.
By 1911 Errol had graduated to the New York big time in the 1911 Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, notably in two skits with the legendary Bert Williams. Errol's sister, Leda Errol (née Sims) was a personal friend of Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice, and she appeared with him in the Ziegfeld Follies doing one- and two-act plays. He appeared every year in the Follies through 1915, when he is also credited as director of the show  that included W.C. Fields, Ed Wynn, as well as Marion Davies as one of the Ziegfeld Girls.
While balancing vaudeville appearances and a dozen Broadway shows, like the original 1920 production of Jerome Kern's Sally, in 1919 Errol achieved the pinnacle of vaudeville success: headlining at the Palace.
Errol made his first film, a comic short subject called Nearly Spliced, in 1916 (it was not released before 1921), for pioneering east-coast producer George Kleine. By 1930 he'd left Broadway and turned his full attention to movies, third-billed for Samuel Goldwyn's One Heavenly Night in 1931. The box-office for that film was disappointing, but overall Errol made a smooth transition to films in a variety of comedy roles. His comic trademark was a wobbly, unsteady walk, moving as though on rubber legs; this bit served him well in drunk routines.
Errol starred in a long string of two-reel comedy shorts, which began at Columbia Pictures in 1933. He also starred in an early three-strip Technicolor short made at Warner Brothers, Service With a Smile (released 28 July 1934), just beating the RKO Radio Pictures release La Cucaracha (31 August) as the first live action, wholly Technicolor release.
Moving to RKO Radio Pictures in 1934, he continued to make six shorts per year until his death in 1951. Most of these were marital farces in which Leon would get mixed up with a pretty girl or an involved business proposition, and face the wrath of his wife (usually Dorothy Granger); the theme tune to the series was the nursery rhyme, London Bridge Is Falling Down.
Leon Errol is well remembered for his energetic performances in the Mexican Spitfire movies opposite Lupe Vélez (1939-43), in which Errol had the recurring dual role of affable Uncle Matt and foggy British nobleman Lord Epping. Monogram signed Errol to appear as fight manager Knobby Walsh in the eight entries of their "Joe Palooka" sports comedies (1946-50). Leon Errol's best known non-series appearance is in the nonsensical comedy feature Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941), starring fellow vaudeville and Ziegfeld alumnus W. C. Fields.
Errol's next-to-last film, Lord Epping Returns in 1951, reprised his famous characterization (and some of the gags) from Mexican Spitfire.
Footage from Errol's short subjects was incorporated into RKO's compilation features Variety Time, Make Mine Laughs, Footlight Varieties, and Merry Mirthquakes. RKO kept Leon Errol in the public eye by reissuing his older comedies throughout the 1950s. His RKO shorts soon became a staple of syndicated television.
Errol married Stella Chatelaine (born 1886) in Denver, Colorado in 1906. She died on November 7, 1946 in Los Angeles. Five years later Errol suffered a fatal heart attack, on October 12, 1951, aged 70. They had no children.