Today’s Fred Stone’s birthday. Stone was a major show biz legend as an eccentric dancer in his day; it is a sad fact that the sands of time have swallowed him up.
Stone actually grew up in Dodge City during the wild west days, and began his show business career in circuses and saloons with his brother as a kid. In 1895 he teamed up with Dave Montgomery, his partner in vaudeville and on Broadway for many years.
It was Fred Stone’s reputation for his performance as the Scarecrow in the 1903 Broadway version The Wizard of Oz that not only convinced Ray Bolger to become an eccentric dancer, but that he too must someday play the part. (Montgomery was the Tin Man). In the years after Montgomery passed away in 1917, Stone continued to play in Broadway (often with his whole family) and in films (notably as the father in the 1935 Alice Adams). During these years, he was Will Rogers’ best friend.
He was also very active in the show biz unions, being one of the founding members of the original vaudeville performers union the White Rats, and later President of the National Vaudeville Artists. His last stage role was Grandpa in the 1945 Broadway revival of You Can’t Take it With You. He passed away in 1959. Fun fact: Stone was also the uncle of Milburn Stone, Doc Adams on Gunsmoke.
Come hear the stories of Fred Stone and many others you love in my illustrated talk Vaudeville, Sideshow and The Wizard of Oz at the Coney Island Museum, August 24!
To find out more about the history of vaudeville and vaudeville stars like Fred Stone, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.