McNamara circa 1913

Edward James McNamara (August 13, 1884 - November 10, 1944) was a Broadway and Hollywood actor.


He was born on August 13, 1884, in Paterson, New Jersey.[1][2] Rotund in build and with a booming baritone voice, he sang while a police officer in Paterson, New Jersey. One day in 1914 he was overheard singing "il Pagliacci Prologue" at the Paterson May Festival by German singer Madame Schumann Heink, who lived nearby. She convinced him to seek a professional career in voice. She, along with friend William Hughes (U.S. senator), a United States senator for New Jersey, introduced him to Italian tenor Enrico Caruso. After hearing McNamara sing, Caruso called him "The most natural organ he had ever heard" and urged him to seek a professional teacher to help harness his raw vocal power and talent, to which McNamara responded, "Fine. What teacher?" Caruso replied, "Don't take a chance, I will teach you." Henceforth, McNamara became the only pupil of the world's most legendary voice. He toured the United States with Madame Schumann Heink for six years.

McNamara's Broadway career began in 1926, and his Hollywood career started in 1929. He appeared in 18 films in total, mostly appearing in very brief roles, often ironically as a cop or a "singing policeman", which was his somewhat publicly known nickname in the newspapers. He was a longtime dear friend and traveling companion of actor James Cagney, and Cagney was sure to give him bit parts in four of his films. McNamara was also an honorary member of the "Irish Mafia" boys club, a group of actors during the 1930s of Irish descent including Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Frank McHugh, Spencer Tracy, James Gleason and Allen Jenkins. McNamara never considered show business a career, but merely a way to earn some money and spend time with friends. Cagney later said, "McNamara could have been one of the Metropolitan Opera's greatest stars, had he started younger and given himself over to the task. He was the perfect example of someone who could have had it all, but didn't want to pay the price."

McNamara was a member since 1928 of the Dutch Treat Club and the Players, a high society social club for artists in Manhattan. In 1936, McNamara and friend, Players member and cartoonist Denys Wortman, were the driving forces that convinced Cagney to hide (and eventually move) to Martha's Vineyard, while avoiding Jack Warner during his many contract disputes.

Towards the end of his life, McNamara briefly returned to police work, while still dabbling in acting. He died in 1944 in Boston at the age of 60, after suffering a massive heart attack. He died aboard a train, while he was delivering five racehorses to Cagney in California. Cagney said on McNamara in his autobiography, Cagney on Cagney, "Although the best friend that was ever known, he never kept of good health of himself which always disappointed me deeply." Services were held on Martha's Vineyard at the Congregational Church at West Tisbury.[3]


Year Title Role Notes
1929 Lucky in Love Tim O'More
1932 I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang Second Warden Uncredited
1932 Silver Dollar Pete - Senate Bartender Uncredited
1932 20,000 Years in Sing Sing Head Guard Richards Uncredited
1936 Great Guy Capt. Hanlon
1937 Girl Overboard Captain Murphy
1937 The League of Frightened Men Inspector Cramer
1940 Kitty Foyle Tim - Hotel Doorman Uncredited
1941 The Strawberry Blonde Big Joe
1941 The Devil and Miss Jones Police Sergeant
1941 New York Town Brody
1942 Captains of the Clouds Man Buying Dog Team Uncredited
1942 My Gal Sal Policeman Uncredited
1942 The Gay Sisters Policeman Uncredited
1942 The Palm Beach Story Officer in Penn Station Uncredited
1943 Margin for Error Police Capt. Mulrooney Uncredited
1943 Johnny Come Lately W.M. Dougherty
1944 Arsenic and Old Lace Police Sgt. Brophy (final film role)


  1. ^ "Edward James McNamara in the World War I draft registration". Selective Service. September 9, 1918. Retrieved 2009-12-21.
  2. ^ "Edward James McNamara in the World War II draft registration". Selective Service. 1942. Retrieved 2009-12-21.
  3. ^ To, Telephone (November 10, 1944). "Edward McNamara, Actor, Dies. Ex-Policeman Sang Way to Stage". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-12-21. Edward McNamara, well-known stage and screen player who sung himself off the Paterson, N.J., police force on to Broadway, died at 8:15 o'clock last night in South Station.

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