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Top 10 Comedy Actors of the Pre-1970s

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Q.V. Hough They're the original kings and queens of comedy. Join as we counting down our picks for the Top 10 Comedy Actors of the Pre-1970s. For this list, we're scouring Hollywood history to find the funniest comedic actors who ever graced a screen, and are categorizing them by the era in which they proved the most impactful. Special thanks to our user kenn1987 and MikeMJPMUNCH for submitting the idea using our interactive suggestion tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Script written by Q.V. Hough

Top 10 Comedy Actors of the pre-1970s

They’re the original kings and queens of comedy. Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10comedy actors of the pre-1970s.

For this list, we’re scouring Hollywood history to find the funniest comedic actors who ever graced a screen, and are categorizing them by the era in which they proved the most impactful. We’re focusing on performers from both feature films and television, but have decided to exclude talk show hosts and voice actors. This is part of a series of videos spanning the decades.

#10: Jack Lemmon
1925 - 2001

After a tremendous run throughout the 1950s and an Academy Award-winning performance in 1955’s “Mister Roberts,” this Massachusetts native became the comedic muse for one of Hollywood’s greatest directors, Mr. Billy Wilder. Over the next ten years, Jack Lemmon was one of the era’s most prominent comedy actors, with his friendly neighbor demeanor and exaggerated slapstickcomedy style. He was nominated for several Golden Globes during in mid-‘60s and closed off that decade with the classic “The Odd Couple,” alongside his friend and frequent acting partner Walter Matthau. However, it was his magnetic performances in “Some Like It Hot” and “The Apartment” that stand above the rest.

#9: Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy
1890 - 1965; 1892 - 1957

When it comes to classic comedy routines, it was these two goofballs that helped usher in the golden age of Hollywood. While Laurel and Hardy first appeared together in the 1921 film “The Lucky Dog,” the two comedy veterans permanently joined forces five years later and killed it with wacky catchphrases and screwball antics. Unlike many double acts, shared the laughs equally, and successfully made the jump from silent films to talkies unlike many others. The cuckoo theme song became synonymous with the Laurel and Hardy brand, and by the end of their partnership, they provided fans with over 100 collaborations.

#8: Harold Lloyd
1893 - 1971

Beguiling and bespectacled, this man often took a backseat to more popular names in the realm of silent cinema, but his résumé stands among the greats. Known perhaps most for his famous “Glasses” persona, Harold Lloyd was just your average American with an uncompromising sense of humor. A prolific performer, he made a couple hundred films during his over-30-year career, many of which featured stunt sequences that thrilled audiences of the era. However, his most iconic performance came in 1923 as he dangled from a clock in “Safety Last!” He was the quintessential boy-next-door in early Hollywood comedies and gave audiences plenty to think about beyond typical gags.

#7: Bud Abbott & Lou Costello
1895 - 1974; 1906 - 1959

Today, New Yorkers watch films at the AMC Empire on 42nd Street; however back in 1935, it was a burlesque theater and the stomping grounds of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. After signing with Universal Studios in 1940, the comedic tandem was on the fast track to fame, especially given the success of their unforgettable bit “Who’s on First.” Abbott and Costello appeared in a number of comedic gems during the late-‘40s, but they are most known for the small-screen sensation “The Abbott and Costello Show,” a program that’s considered a landmark in TV and inspired perhaps the most popular sitcom ever.

#6: Lucille Ball
1911 - 1989

This woman’s beloved sitcom made her a universal star, but what many don’t realize is that she was already 40-years-old when the first episode aired. Lucille Ball appeared in dozens of Hollywood films with RKO in the ‘30s and ‘40s, and it was during this time that she met a bandleader named Desi Arnaz. Just over ten years after exchanging vows, their first child was born, as was a television series that would charm the socks off American viewers. The husband and wife banter of “I Love Lucy” immediately found a following, and spawned specials in the late-‘50s entitled “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour.” It was all in the name; we all loved Lucy.

#5: The Three Stooges

Originally a vaudeville act, this comedy collective became the pre-eminent stars of Columbia Pictures during the late-‘30s. Comprised mainly of Larry Fine and the three Howard brothers – Moe, Curly and Shemp – the Stooges pumped out 190 shorts during a fifteen-year span and milked every bit of farcical comedy one could imagine. Their haircuts were both devastating and spectacular, while their catchphrases can still be heard today. Sure, you might not be able to name ten of their films, but surely you know who they are, and might even be able to replicate a gag or two.

#4: Jerry Lewis
1926 -

In 1948, this comic appeared on a television program that would eventually become known as “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The duo of Jerry Lewis and partner Dean Martin performed their live act, which was often improvised given their natural comedic chemistry. With Lewis playing the “stooge” role in Martin & Lewis, he quickly became a hot commodity in Hollywood and ultimately became a leading man, most notably in the 1963 classic “The Nutty Professor” – a film Lewis also directed. He went on to become a Hollywood icon, but it was Lewis’ early performances on “The Colgate Comedy Hour” that captured the essence of his act.

#3: Marx Brothers

Chico, Harpo, Groucho: these three men changed the face of comedy in the United States at a time when “Hollywood” was still mostly an idea. Born and raised in The Big Apple to Jewish immigrants, the brothers toured America as a vaudeville act and transitioned from their emphasis on singing to a hysterical focus on comedy. Upon commanding the stages of Broadway with their free-form style, the Marx Brothers signed with Paramount Studios, and films like “A Night at the Opera” and “Duck Soup” became defining pieces of work in a blossoming industry.

#2: Buster Keaton
1895 - 1966
Long before he became known as “The Great Stone Face,” a child named Joseph Keaton performed for his father’s traveling vaudeville show, which was co-operated by Harry Houdini. Just over fifteen years later, a chance encounter with Fatty Arbuckle led the seasoned performer to Hollywood, and the persona of “Buster Keaton” was born. His directorial innovations were legendary, but his straight-faced brand of humor made him the most famous American comic of his day. Part magician, part stunt guy and part leading man, Keaton transcended the perceived possibilities of film before the existence of “talkies.” We undoubtedly owe a lot to Buster and his blistering routines.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

- Jackie Gleason
1916 - 1987
- Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle
1887 - 1933
- W. C. Fields
1880 - 1946
- Sid Caesar
1922 - 2014
- Mabel Normand
1892 – 1930

#1: Charlie Chaplin
1889 - 1977

In 1913, this man was already a notable British performer when he arrived in America, but nobody knew that he was about to revolutionize the business side of Hollywood and the art of filmmaking. With his down-and-out character named “The Tramp,” Charlie Chaplin found a way to emotionally connect with audiences while simultaneously lifting their spirits. His roles were tinged with vulnerability, and as the years passed, his political consciousness proved just how powerful a muted voice could be. Even when sound trumped the idea of silent cinema, Chaplin continued to work on his own terms well into the 1950s. Chaplin is the first, the last, the everything when it comes to modern comedy.

Do you agree with our list? Who is your favorite comedy actor of the pre-70s? For more mind-blowing Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to

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