Hoosick Township Historical Society

Will J. Kennedy 1872 - 1948

Will J. Kennedy was born in Hoosick Falls on December 6, 1872. His parents were John and Mary Meany Kennedy. He was educated in the public schools of the village. They lived in the "brown row" on Main Street, the site of the present Post Office.

At an early age, Will worked as a barber's assistant and also in the Walter A. Wood company. When young he was able to sing and dance well. He had great ability in the new field of mimicry. ) This resulted in Will Kennedy, at age 17, joining the group and performing his first show in Cortland, New York.

During the early years of the 1900's, he played with many of the top acts in vaudeville and burlesque., He was lead-comedian with the Behman Burlesque Show from 1910 - 1915. When he played in Albany at the Empire theatre, many local people would take the train to see him perform.

His "On The Bench" characterization of a small town constable and judge won acclaim throughout the country and was imitated by many others. Will was one of the actors that started the so called "country rube act" which played to the stereotype that city people had of rural people. Mr. Kennedy remained loyal to the hometown and returned home each year to spend summers in Hoosick Falls.

At the height of his career, World War I broke out. He was the first American entertainer to volunteer his services to entertain the troops. With other top actors, he toured the battlefields and encampments until the end of the war.

After the War ended, he played the big time vaudeville circuits from Broadway to San Francisco in his own act called "Pinch Me." He was on the bills with Fred Allen and Portland, Milton Berle, and many other major vaudevillians. In the thirties, as the tastes of people changed and movies started to become popular, Will Kennedy retired and returned to live in Hoosick Falls.

When defense activities stepped up before World War II he went to work at the Colasta Company. He worked there until the end of the War without missing a day. His health declined but he felt well enough to go back to the Colasta Company as Personnel Director.

In March 1948, he was hospitalized due to a chronic heart ailment. He was released but two weeks later he returned to the Health Center and died on April 8, 1948 at the age of 76. He truly loved Hoosick Falls and always did what he could to make this area a better place.

Philip Leonard
March 2002