Astorian Bracken landed roles on radio, TV and in film

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Born Feb. 7, 1915, to Catherine and Joseph Bracken, Astoria native Eddie Bracken enjoyed a career that spanned seven decades as a movie, television and stage actor.

He was known for his quick-fire, frenzied humor and portrayal of bumbling, stuttering, hapless characters. Bracken went on to appear in more than 40 stage and silver screen productions, as well as the television show “The Golden Girls.”

In 1939, he married the former actress Connie Nickerson. They were married for 63 years and died three months apart in 2002. They had five children. Bracken is honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his exploits on radio and television.

Bracken began his acting career early in life. He began performing vaudeville at age 9 and later acted in a short-lived film series called “The Kiddie Troupers.” Bracken’s breakthrough came in the 1939 Broadway musical “Too Many Girls,” followed by a 1940 film of the same name.

World War II brought successive military- and patriotic-themed movie roles for the young New Yorker. Among other work, Bracken appeared in the 1941 comedy “Caught in the Draft” alongside Bob Hope, followed by the musical “The Fleet’s In” the next year and the comedy/drama “Hail the Conquering Hero” in 1944.

The late 1940s saw the actor show his versatility by branching out into other entertainment media while continuing to appear on the silver screen, including a casting with Ronald Reagan in the 1949 comedy “The Girl from Jones Beach.”

He turned to radio to star in “The Eddie Bracken Show” with Shirley Booth, William Demarest and Ann Rutherford. As America entered the 1950s, a nation in the grips of the Cold War had perhaps grown jaded and no longer enjoyed the hapless, bumbling, zany characters Bracken often portrayed on film. It was time for Bracken to rediscover his Broadway roots.

After essentially retiring from Hollywood in 1953, the former screen star returned to the stage, appearing in such musicals as the 1957 production “Shinbone Alley,” one of the first Broadway shows to feature a fully racially integrated cast. Bracken went on to perform in the 1964 production of “Hello, Dolly!” and the following year appeared as Felix Unger in “The Odd Couple,” the stage precursor to the popular television series of the same name.

In 1979, the actor shared the stage with Rat Pack member Joey Bishop and Broadway neophyte Mickey Rooney in “Sugar Babies.”

Bracken never fully surrendered his lifelong passion for acting. Aside from an appearance in the television series “The Golden Girls” as Rose Nylund’s childhood flame, he appeared in numerous character roles, including the lovable theme park founder Roy Walley in the 1983 comedy “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” He continued to tread the boards until his twilight years, appearing at the Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey until shortly before his death.

Eddie Bracken died Nov. 14, 2002, in Glen Ridge, N.J., after suffering complications from surgery.

Of his long, varied career on stage, screen, television and radio, the Astorian reflected, “I’ve made a good living and I’ve had a good time doing it. Has it been tough? You bet! I went broke three times, but I’m proud of the way I’ve recovered. You never hear any scandals about me. I’m well-respected. I’ve got a happy family, a nice home and I’m working in my business. What more could I ask?”

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