Today is the birthday of Lew Ayres (1908-1996). The original Dr. Kildare in films, he did not start out in vaudeville, but came awfully close. Originally a medical student, he ended up playing banjo in the the Harry Halstead Orchestra, one of the first big dance bands, which played ballrooms and large hotels in the mid 20s. In 1927, he appeared with the band in one of the very first Vitaphone shorts. He began playing small parts in silent films that same year, culminating with his breakout role in All Quiet on the Western Front. In the 30s, he played Dr. Kildare and was married to Ginger Rogers. His later work included roles in Johnny Belinda (1948), Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1971), and lots and lots of television. His last appearance was on Hart to Hart (1994).
Lots of his movies are available to view in their entirety on youtube. Here’s a scene from the Tod Browning boxing picture Iron Man (1931):
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.