Elmer Goodfellow Brendel was almost certainly born on March 25, 1891. Although I have yet to uncover an actual listing for his birthdate (pre-1893, birthdates were recorded by local churches and birth certificates were not issued) multiple censuses and death certificate information bear this out. His father, Joseph Brendel was born December 24, 1859 or 1864 in Germany and immigrated to the US in 1865 and was a milk dealer by trade. His mother, Mary E. Goodfellow was born in September of 1864 in Pennsylvania to a German father and PA born mother. Contrary to what has been written elsewhere and copied many times over erroneously, I have found absolutely NO evidence at all that El’s last name was ever “Brendle”. It was always BRENDEL and never changed.
The 1900 census lists the Brendel’s living at 2268 Lambert Street in Philadelphia and at the time they had five children (birthdates provided):
George (June 1882)
Joseph (Nov. 1883)
Mary G. (Aug. 1886)
William J (August 1887)
Elmer G (March 1891)
Eva G (December 1896)
The Brendel’s also had a sixth child, Lizzie Mary Brendel (born 1881) but she died at age 3 ½ years on 31 October 1884. At that time the Brendel’s were living at 215 Susquehanna in Philadelphia. She is buried at the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Philadelphia.
Probably some made up information in his later life, was a quote from an interview in 1954 with Walter Ames where he stated about his youth, “My Mother didn’t want me to have a Swedish accent so she wouldn’t let my grandmother talk the language around the house. Grandma and I would sneak out to the barn and she’d try to teach me there. Only thing I learned was the accent.” It seems highly unlikely that this was a true story but this is the only interview I have where El talks about his youth.
The 1910 Census still lists the Brendel's at the Lambert Street address. His father Joseph was listed as a butter, eggs, and milk merchant. Still living at home were George, Elmer (age 19), and Eva. El’s dad Joseph died August 15th, 1911 of stomach cancer and is buried at the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Philadelphia.
Also in 1911, El gets married for the first time to an Emma Smith (born in Bucks County, PA). This marriage I discovered when I obtained a copy of the license to El’s 2nd marriage to Sophia Florence Rosbert (known professionally as “Flo Bert”). Of course the most important part of the marriage license is not clearly visible in the document provided by the city of Philadelphia, so I have to try to work out the details of the written information of El’s first marriage. It appears that El and Emma were married on June 10th, 1911 and were divorced on January 25th, 1921. Until I can find further information to confirm these dates, this is my best guess, but I will show and scan here and maybe you can decipher the dates.
Nearly nothing is known of Emma Smith. Being such a common name, it has been hard to research and find any information of her under her maiden name and even with the last name of Brendel. What is known is that she and El had 2 children, Elmer Norman Brendel born on August 15th, 1912 and Mildred Brendel, born January 9th, 1914. Mildred died on May 18th 1914. At that time El and Emma were living at 2763 North Jackson in Philadelphia. The daughter was buried at the Odd Fellows Cemetery in Philadelphia.
Similar to Emma, not much is known at this time of Elmer Jr. (but we certainly have more info on him than his mother). The first details I have on him is his in 1930 in a census of Merchant Seamen which lists an Elmer Brendel, age "18," born in PA, listed as a deck boy on the "West Eldara" -- a vessel owned by the American Diamond S S Company, in port at Hoboken, NJ and he had signed up on that ship on March 25th, 1930. We know this is Elmer Jr. because he lists the address of his next of kin as 1175 South Harcourt, Los Angeles, where El and Flo were living at the time.
Elmer Jr. was married to Marjorie A. Stohler, a nurse, on February 28th 1937 in Marysville, Pennsylvania even though they lived in Philadelphia. Junior gave his address as 2413 Opal Street and his occupation was listed as salesman. Emma (Smith) Brendel was listed as living at 31 Ashmead Place. The marriage didn’t last long as in 1942, Marjorie Stohler Brendel married William Matz Wenzel in Santa Rosa, Florida.
Elmer Jr. had some trouble with the law. An article in the Los Angeles Times (on a story originating from Chicago from the 6th) on November 7, 1944 states:
Brendel Son Held On Check Charge
Three worthless check charges against Elmer Norman Brendel, 31, who testified he is the son of El Brendel, film comedian, were dismissed today.
Brendel was held, however, for action on a fugitive warrant alleging a similar offense in Pennsylvania.
And in the L.A. Times issue from 5-10-50:
Comedians Son Gets Jail Term
Elmer Brendel, 37-year old son of comedian El Brendel, yesterday was sentenced to a year in Riverside County Jail and was placed on probation for two additional years for issuing checks without sufficient funds.
At present he is in the Prison Ward of Riverside County Hospital under medical treatment.
Judge O.K. Morton, in pronouncing the sentence, took cognizance of the fact that Brendel had made good $200 of the $250 in bad checks and that the victim of a $50 check-passing, Mayor Charles Farrell of Palm Springs, had sent a letter to the probation officer asking for leniency for the defendant, who admitted his guilt.
The last information I can find on Elmer Jr. comes from another L.A. Times article on 3-21-62 in regards to bowling:
Elmer Brendel, who managed establishments in the Los Angeles area for years, is now at his familiar post at Ramona Recreation in Hemet.
Elmer Jr. passed away on August 31st, 1963 of a suicide by drug overdose. His death certificate lists the Hemet Bowling Alley Co. as his employer and his last usual address as 1830 North Taft Avenue (El and Flo’s house)
Like many young men in 1917, El registers for the draft and lists his address as 51 North 52nd street in West Philadelphia. He lists his birthdate as March 25th 1892 (not like everywhere else where it’s listed as 1891). His employer is listed as H. Bart McHugh (vaudeville agent) and listed his present trade as “Theater Business”. He also listed he couldn’t fight in the war as he was the sole support of his wife, child, and widowed mother.
1920 census lists El, his mother, wife Emma, and son, Elmer Brendel living in Cheltenham, Montgomery County, PA (a Philadelphia suburb) at 135 Waverly Road.
That’s all I have on the early life of El Brendel. Of course, if any new information appears, I will post it here. If anyone has any further information they can provide, or know of any relatives who I could contact, please send them my way.