ReCap: Former Irish gridder Ed Peil was an oater regular

Cappy Gagnon is the leading authority on the first 30 years (1887-1917) of Notre Dame football, he said immodestly, in the third person.  Having done exhaustive research on the later lives of the 370 men who played at least one game for the Catholics/Hoosiers/Rockmen/Irish, I have found some fascinating post-ND careers.

A few of these gridders became actors.  Edward John Peil was one.  He was born in Racine, Wisconsin, one of ten children, of a German immigrant.  Peil attended Notre Dame from 1901-1903 earning a Bachelor of Philosophy degree.  He played in three games as guard for Notre Dame, listed at 5’8 ½ and 180 pounds.

In late December 1901, Ed, as a member of the St. Joseph’s Literary Society, gave a talk, described as “well-rendered” in a program, which honored Fr. Morrissey, Notre Dame’s president.  In May 1902, Notre Dame held a campus-wide series of “strength tests.”  Peil finished second in lung capacity at 51.5 kilos.  No idea what this means, but it was a second place right behind the campus strongman.

Ed worked as a druggist before heading off to Hollywood where he had more than 400 movie roles as a character actor, often in Westerns.  A few times as a Chinaman!

His first role was in 1906 in “Charlie’s Aunt.”  He was one of the leads in the first five-reel film, “Through Fire to Fortune” (1914).  He was “Evil Eye” in “Broken Blossoms,” a 1919 D.W. Griffith silent movie, which was the first movie distributed by United Artists.  Peil was the fifth lead behind Lilian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Donald Crisp (who played the president of Notre Dame in “Knute Rockne, All American”), and Arthur Howard.  Peil was in “The Black Pirate,” the first technicolor film (1926).

Peil sometimes appeared as the “brains heavy” in oaters.  This is the guy (according to Wikipedia) who “issued the orders to his henchmen…often wears a suit, and pretends to be an upright, lawful member of the community.  He usually had little to do until the last chapter except talk, snarl, or grimace.”  Boyd Magers (“Western Clippings”) and Charles Anderson (“Old Corral”) have done some wonderful research and writing about old cowboy actors.  Much more fascinating information about Westerns and Peil is available from their sites. 

Edward Peil in the 1934 film “Blue Steel”

Peil was in “The Big Page” (1933), which featured Andy Devine (who played Truck McCall, in “The Spirit of Notre Dame.”)  Peil appeared in the 1933 serial, “The Three Musketeers,” which featured John Wayne and Lon Chaney Jr.  Peil played Sam Houston in 1937’s “Heroes of the Alamo.”   The “Old Corral” website points out that he was in Frank Capra’s 1938 film, “You Can’t Take it With You.”  Near the end of the movie, a balding Peil appears, carrying one end of a sofa, helping the Sycamores move out of their home.  In 1947, he was in “The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap” with Abbott and Costello.  Peil was the “Gnarled Worker” in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1949 film “Samson and Delilah.”

Peil’s wife, Henrietta, was a stage actress. They were married in 1916 in Wabash, Indiana, while both were touring with the Chicago Majestic Theater Stock Company. Their son, Edward Peil Jr. was also an actor.  Under the name Johnny Jones he played the role of Edgar Pomeroy in 12 shorts, written by Indianapolis native Booth Tarkington.  Virginia Peil, sister of Ed Jr., appeared in two of these shorts.

According to historian Les Adams, Peil made a total of 104 sound westerns. He also had roles in at least 19 serials including “Sign of the Wolf” (1931), “Mystery Squadron” (1933), “Phantom Empire” (1935) and “The Shadow” (1940).

One of his final roles (uncredited) was as “first bartender” in the movie “Jim Thorpe, All American” (1951).  

Peil died in 1958 and was buried in San Fernando Mission Cemetery.  If you google this Catholic Cemetery, you will note it is the final resting place of some famous actors and other L.A. folks.  Too many for this essay, but some of my faves are Edward Arnold, William Bendix, Walter Brennan, Chuck Connors, Alan Dwan (a former Notre Dame QB who will be the subject of a future essay), George Goebel (no longer “Lonesome”), Bob Hope (one of my L.A. neighbors), William H. Parker (legendary LAPD Police Chief, for whom the headquarters is named), Paul Picerni (still “Untouchable”), Richie Valens (“La Bomba”), and Jane Wyatt (she likely knew “best”).