Cut of the same cloth as Benny Rubin, and traveling in the same pack (which also included George Burns, George Jessel, Eddie Cantor, Jack Benny, et al.) this singer/comedian’s most famous bit consisted of rhyming his jokes and setting them to the tune of “O Sole Mio”.
Born April 11, 1893 in San Francisco, he was performing at a theatre called the Crest in that city with the team of Boland, Holz and Harris when he was discovered by impressionist Elsie Janis’s mother. The year was 1913. Ma Janis convinced the trio to come East to New York to back up Elsie, who was one of the biggest acts in vaudeville at the time. The other two got cold feet and bolted, so Holtz went solo.
Holtz started out in blackface**, copping a lot of his moves from Jolson and Cantor. He was employed by the Shuberts for some time as an understudy for Jolson, reportedly an attempt to keep the latter artist in his place. By 1919 Holtz was at the Palace, where he was soon a regular master of ceremonies. He was well prized for his dialects, particularly, the stereotypical Hebrew one, a character he called Mr. Lapidus. He continued to work in revues, nightclubs, and vaudeville straight through the thirties and by the forties, he had saved up (and carefully invested) a big enough pile to retire for the rest of his life — which is what he did (aside from occasional television appearances through the end of the 70s). He passed away in 1980.
To find out more about Lou Holtz and 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.
**Obligatory Disclaimer: It is the official position of this blog that Caucasians-in-Blackface is NEVER okay. It was bad then, and it’s bad now. We occasionally show images depicting the practice, or refer to it in our writing, because it is necessary to tell the story of American show business, which like the history of humanity, is a mix of good and bad.