Stars of Vaudeville #35: Blossom Seeley and Bennie Fields
Originally posted in 2009.
This adorable husband-wife team was still kicking around within the living memory of the Pepsi generation, enjoying a healthy second career performing in night clubs and on the Ed Sullivan Show throughout the 1950s. When Benny passed away in 1959, Blossom cheerfully plugged on halfway through her seventh decade in show business.
She had begun professionally at the turn of the century at age 10 under the name “The Little Blossom”. As she grew less little (that is, uh, “blossomed”) she developed a reputation for being the hottest girl singer around. She knew how to deliver a rag or jazz number in such a way that you would want to leap out of your seat and dance. She lit up the joint with her sassy renditions of “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” “I Cried for You” “Somebody Loves Me”, “Toddling the Tolado” and “Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey”. Throughout the teens she alternated vaudeville with musicals such as Lew Fields’ The Henpecks (1911, also with the Castles) and the Shuberts’ The Whirl of Society (1912, also with Al Jolson). In the mid-teens she performed with a trio called Seeley’s Syncopated Studio.
In 1921 she started working with Fields, who sang harmony, played the piano, and did the comedy chores. The pair was married the following year. As a team Blossom Seeley and Benny Fields headlined in Big Time vaudeville throughout the twenties and into the early thirties. George Gershwin wrote a 25 minute jazz opera called “Blue Monday” for them to sing in the 1922 George White’s Scandals. The number was pulled for being too highbrow and debuted with the new title “125th Street” at Carnegie Hall in 1925.
In 1936, Seeley made the ultimate sacrifice. Though she was plainly the star of the act, she retired to support Benny in the development of his career. As a solo artist, Fields flopped around awhile, made a few movies, but never caught fire. The two experienced a resurgence beginning in 1952 when they appeared as a team again at L.A.’s Coconut Grove club in conjunction with the release of their bio-pic, starring Betty Hutton and Ralph Meeker.
Here they are tearing it up in a 1928 Vitaphone:
To find out more 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