John Bunny (September 21, 1863 – April 26, 1915) was an actor who was often described as “the first internationally recognized film comedian.” Between 1909 and his death in 1915, Bunny was one of the top stars of early silent film, as well as an early example of celebrity.
Bunny was born in New York City and raised in Brooklyn. The son of English immigrants, he initially worked as a clerk in a general store before joining a small minstrel show at the age of twenty. His stage career spanned over 30 years and included work in tour and stock theater companies around the US until he worked his way onto the Broadway stage. His performance as Bottom in a Midsummer Nights Dream brought great acclaim and he decided to move to the movies after seeing how film was effecting the stage.
He approached Vitagraph studios and started working with them in 1910, accepting a lower rate of pay than he made on Broadway. He ended up starring in over 150 films for the studio. They often paired Bunny with the comedian Flora Finch, with whom he made over one hundred popular comedies that came to be known as “Bunnygraphs” or “Bunnyfinches”.
Bunny had been acting in films for only five years when he died from Bright’s disease, a kidney disease, at his home in Brooklyn on April 26, 1915. He was survived by his wife and two sons and interred in the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn, New York