Blossom Seeley and Bennie Fields: Jazz Age Sweethearts

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The adorable husband-wife team of Blossom Seeley and Bennie Fields 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.

Seeley had begun professionally at the turn of the century in her tween years under the name “The Little Blossom”. The most thorough account of the tangle of her early years can be found here, by author Bill Edwards, a truly admirable undertaking and useful. One interesting tidbit I took away was that she performed with Fred Irwin’s burlesque troupe in 1902, which is just a couple of years after W.C. Fields had.

Whew! (fans himself)

As Blossom grew less little (that is, uh, “blossomed”) she developed a reputation for being the hottest girl singer around. She was an almost exact contemporary of (and competitor with) Sophie Tucker (indeed, she introduced the Shelton Brooks tune “Some of These Days” in vaudeville a year before Sophie). Blossom 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. From 1917 through 1920 she formed a partnership on the vaudeville stage and off with her then husband pro baseball player Rube Marquard. 

In 1921 she started working with Fields, who’d been part of her backing trio, in a new two act. Fields 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. This is the period when the pair befriended George Burns and Gracie Allen, who would remain their closest friends for the remainder of their lives. 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. They performed their act in two Vitaphone shorts: Blossom Seeley and Bennie Fields (1927) and All Star Vaudeville (1935). They also appear as a team in the feature Mr. Broadway (1933). That year Blossom also appeared solo in Broadway Through a Keyhole and Blood Money.

Ted Lewis you’re not, Benny!

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. The only rationale one could possibly think of (in addition to the obvious: love), was the fact that Blossom had had her day in the sun; she was a phenomenon for decades. And the closest Fields had come to stardom was as Mr. Blossom Seeley. So she decided to let him take his shot. As a solo artist, Fields flopped around awhile, made a few movies (you can see him in The Big Broadcast of 1937 and his one starring vehicle, 1944’s Minstrel Man) , but he 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 Somebody Loves Me, starring Betty Hutton and Ralph Meeker.

Ya gotta make hay while the sun shines

There followed countless spots on tv variety shows starting in the mid 1950s. And nostalgic records like Two a Day at the Palace, released in 1956.

Fields died in 1959; Seeley continued to make television appearances through 1966.

For more on vaudeville history, including the seminal team of Blossom Seeley and Benny Fields, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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5 Responses to “Blossom Seeley and Bennie Fields: Jazz Age Sweethearts”

  1. […] an accidental response to the pain caused by an ingrown toenail – but Milton Berle claimed that Blossom Seeley was using the move as much as a year earlier for dramatic effect. Seems likely Jolson borrowed […]

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  2. […] worked with what she had. There had been many large women in vaudeville: Mae Irwin, Sophie Tucker, Blossom Seeley, Marie Dressler and Trixie Friganza to name just a few. They took the fact of their size in stride […]

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  3. […] a fairly encyclopedic knowledge of Broadway history); she belts out standards like a space age Blossom Seeley; and like all the great vaudevillians, she lives by Sophie Tucker’s dictum: “Clothes […]

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  4. […] also enjoyed films with Lupino Lane, Abbott and Costello, Clark and McCullough, Larry Semon, Poodles Hanneford, Harold Lloyd, Snub Pollard, Our Gang, Fatty Arbuckle, Jimmy Finlayson, Edward […]

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  5. […] than Harold Lloyd), creating a body of work that hasn’t really aged in a way that, say, Larry Semon’s has. Born Charles Parrott this day in 1893, he started performing in vaudeville in his native […]

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