Louis Edmonds' Mini-Biography

As teenaged Louis Edmonds sat in a darkened movie theater in his hometown of Baton Rouge in the 1930s, flickering images of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and Joel McCrea transported him away from the tiny home he shared with his parents, brother, and sister. The youngster dreamed of joining the stars on the screen.

“I had aspirations to be an actor since I was a teenager, and I used to mimic the actors I saw (in movies) on the way home,” he once told a newspaper reporter. “I would copy everything from the way they walked to how they talked.

“I walked home, trying to move like Bette Davis,” he said years later with a laugh. “I’m sure everyone looked at me and wondered, ‘What’s that boy up to?’”

As an acolyte in a local Episcopal church, Louis fell in love with the ornate garments he got a chance to wear and he enjoyed being the center of attention. Years later he told a newspaper reporter, “The ceremony of the church was very appealing to me. Everything was translatable into theater. The congregation was the audience, and I held a great, brass crucifix, and I led the choir in. We wore costumes. Everything was theatrical.”

When Louis was about 10 years old, he performed for the first time on stage. In a talent show at the Paramount Theater in Baton Rouge, he and a young girl sang a duet of “The Isle of Capri.” When they finished, Louis’ partner didn’t have enough stage sense to leave before the applause died down. Louis, who already understood the importance of timing, let the little girl know it. “I kicked her in the butt,” he said. “That got her off the stage.”

After serving in World War II and attending Louisiana State University and the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Louis moved to New York City in 1948. One of his first roles had a familiar setting: He costarred in a stage production of Life In Louisianna with Alice Ghostley. (Then a young unknown, like Louis, Alice went on to stage and TV success, including recurring roles on the sitcoms Bewitched and Designing Women.)

Louis went on to work extensively on stage and in the relatively new medium of television. Among his early TV appearances was a role in the Studio One production of Taming of the Shrew, starring Charlton Heston and Lisa Kirk. (Louis played Grumio.)
On the New York stage, he appeared in revivals of such classics as The Way of The World (1953) and The Cherry Orchard (1955). He made his Broadway debut in the musical Candide in 1956. Other Broadway appearances included Maybe Tuesday(1957) and A Passage to India (1962). Also in ’62, he made his soap opera debut, starring briefly as Rick Hampton on Young Doctor Malone.

Some of Louis' Broadway-bound vehicles closed out of town. One such production was Royal Flush, a 1965 satirical musical starring Kaye Ballard.

“It was the most hectic, chaotic, horrendous experience, and we went through it laughing,” Kaye recalled in 2001. “Louis kept me laughing through it all.

Even after a busy stage and TV career in the 1950s and ’60s, in 1966, Louis hit a dry spell. He’d landed as supporting role a movie (Come Spy With Me with Troy Donahue), but stage work was becoming difficult to find, so he decided to leave New York City.

“I planned [to leave New York City] and really start my life,” he told me 30 years later. “My Long Island home would be the center of my life. I would sing in the choir every Sunday. I would shop in the local shops and have nothing to do with New York City. Of course, the moment I made that decision, I got a call from Dan Curtis.”
Curtis cast him as Roger Collins, brother of Joan Bennett’s character, Elizabeth. He and the movie star went head-to-head in their first scene, culminating with Roger grasping a brandy glass with such intensity it burst in his hands. The drama increased from there.

In 1995, Alexandra Moltke fondly recalled working with Louis.
“The thing that impressed me about him was the way he could be lots of fun, and then suddenly switch to being a total professional,” she said. “He would be saying something incredibly droll—or naughty—one minute, and then a cue would be given and he would slip into character, leaving Nancy and I very much out of character and trying not to laugh at whatever witticism he had justuttered.“Roger Collins had zero sense of humor, so it was doubly hard to listen to him pontificating, knowing that Louis’ devilish wit was simmering just beneath the surface,” she continued.

Alexandra was impressed by Louis’ acting style. “Louis was really a character actor, and I always admired the grace with which he could slip into his role and be consistent despite the inconsistencies that resulted from having three script writers,” she said. “He was also very steady during the terrors of taping. He could read the Teleprompter beautifully, and I felt that if the set fell down or everyone forgot their lines, Louis would somehow save the day.”

Louis reprised the role of Roger in the film House of Dark Shadows, but after the show’s 1971 cancellation his career slowed considerably. He spent most of the rest of the ’70s battling depression and working regional theater.

In 1979, Louis joined the cast of the ABC soap All My Children playing a con man targeting rich divorcee Phoebe Tyler (played by Ruth Warrick, best known as one of the stars of the film classic Citizen Kane). Louis’ Langley Wallingford was soon redeemed by love, however, and the role, which was originally intended to be short-term, was extended into the longest of his career.

Louis established many long-lasting friendships on the set of All My Children. Eileen Herlie played Myrtle Fargate, a dress shop owner who at first distrusted Langley and later became his ally. Eileen and Louis--both of whom had extensive New York Stage careers before joining the soap opera’s cast--felt an instant kinship.

“We became friends very quickly, because you can always tell when somebody is on the same wavelength as you are,” Eileen said in 1995. “He’s a very good actor. He’s a very good comedian. We worked well together, and we had the same sense of humor.”

TV legend Carol Burnett briefly joined the cast of All My Children to play Langley’s daughter, Verla Grubb in the 1980s. She returned to the soap for a few episodes in 1995, which turned out to be Louis’ last appearances on the show. He had undergone surgery for throat cancer a few years earlier, and never fully recovered his strength and stamina.

Aside from a small role in the 1998 direct-to-video movie Next Year in Jerusalem, Louis retired to his Setauket, Long Island home (dubbed The Rookery), which was where his health took a downturn in March 2001. He was rushed to the Stonybrook, New York, hospital, where he quickly succumbed to respiratory failure.Note: For a much fuller account of Louis' life and career, read Big Lou (order by clicking below).


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