Gus Edwards: Godfather of a Hundred Stars

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Not a vaudeville star himself per se, German-born Gus Edwards (Gustav Schmelowsky, 1878-1949) was more the Godfather of a hundred stars.

Edwards was vaudeville’s premier producer of kiddie acts. He was still a kid himself when he started out Tony Pastor’s, Koster and Bial’s and other venues as a song plugger, balcony singer, and with acts like the Newsboy Quartet.

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He then went on to build a producing machine that developed and presented scores, probably hundreds of pint-sized vaudevillians — many of whom went on to bigger and better things. Famous products of the Gus Edwards mill include: Groucho Marx, Georgie Jessel, Eddie Cantor, Phil Silvers, Walter Winchell, Ray Bolger, Eleanor Powell, Sally Rand, Bert Wheeler, Lillian Roth and the Duncan Sisters.

Gus Edwards was also a prolific songwriter (his best known song “School Days” is still known to many). The “School” theme was also the basis of many of his vaudeville sketches as well as a 1908 Broadway show. On Broadway, his songs were used in the original 1903 stage version of The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Bluebeard (1903) with Eddie Foy, several editions of the Ziegfeld Follies, and The Passing Show of 1914. He and his bunch also appeared in eight movie shorts between 1929 and 1932, and the movies The Hollywood Revue of 1929, and the Ed Sullivan vehicle Mr. Broadway (1933). In 1936 Edwards returned to Broadway with his own production Broadway Sho-Window. 

Born in 1879, Gus Edwards died in 1949. I visited his family plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in 2015:

To find out more about the history of vaudevilleincluding Gus Edwards, 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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