Stars of Vaudeville # 549: The Berry Brothers
Today is the birthday of Warren Berry (1922-1996). The Berry Brothers (Ananias, James and Warren) were principal rivals to the Nicholas Brothers as acrobatic dancers in the 1920s and 30s. The act began with the two older brothers, Ananias (1913-1951) and James (1915-1969) who started out in carnivals and black vaudeville in the early 20s with a tribute act honoring Walker and Williams. By the mid 20s, their family had moved to Hollywood, with the boys acting in Our Gang comedies and performing at parties for Hollywood stars. From 1929-1934, the two were featured at New York’s Cotton Club. In 1929, they were the first black performers at the Copacabana, and were featured in Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds revue in London. In 1932, they were on the very first bill at Radio City Music Hall.
In 1934, Ananias briefly left the act and Warren stepped in to replace him. Then Ananias came back and the act was a trio. In 1938 they engaged in a famous dance-off with the Nicholas Brothers at the Cotton Club, in which the highly acrobatic Berry Brothers performed legendary feats. In addition to their rigorous touring schedule, they also appeared in numerous films, including Lady Be Good (1941), Panama Hattie (1942), Boarding House Blues (1948) and You’re My Everything (1949.) After Ananias passed away in 1951, the surviving brothers went solo. Warren worked for 15 years as a film editor at Screen Gems.
Check out this routine from Panama Hattie – you will not believe the big finish.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.