Stars of Vaudeville #21: Ted Lewis
Originally posted in 2009
TED LEWIS, “THE JAZZ KING”
Ted Lewis was the original party animal. His catchphrase “Is ev’rybody happy?” still rings on the lips of millions who never even heard of Lewis himself. He wore a dented old top hat when he performed, and himself a crazy old good time up on the stage, and as any veteran will tell you, that’s half the battle.
Of course, calling Lewis “the Jazz King” is a little like calling Pat Boone “the Grand Duke of Heavy Metal”. One can call oneself anything in show business, the more hyperbolic the better. But though you might fool your contemporaries, posterity, never.
Born Theodore Lewis Freidman, in Circleville, Ohio (1890), he started out singing and playing his clarinet in nicklodeons, medicine shows and carnivals. For years he played the small time and his own nightclubs and cabarets with the Ted Lewis Nut band. His debut at the Palace in 1919 was a wow, and he was to repeat it many times. Trademark Ted Lewis tunes include “When My Baby Smiles At Me”, and “Me and My Shadow.” For good measure, he would roll his hat down his arm and catch it. He had great success through the twenties in revues such as Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic and the Greenwich Village Follies. In 1925, he had successful run at London’s Kit Kat Club with the Dolly Sisters. By the thirties, he was out of style, and he gradually faded into the woodwork, passing away in 1971.
Now here he is being captured by pirates (and performing for them) in the 1929 revue film Show of Shows:
To find out about the history of vaudeville, 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 check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc