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.
Moran and Mack have the dubious distinction of being the last major blackface team to work in vaudeville. As a boast, that’s sort of like putting “Kappelmeister to the Fuhrer” on your C.V.
Mack had been a stage electrician who told jokes all the time. Alexander Pantages suggested he go on stage. one night he was on the same bill as Garvin and Moran, and – just like that — Mack stole Moran.
Using the formula established by McIntyre and Heath, Mack was the slow witted comical one; Moran, was the straightman, always frustrated by his partner’s stupidity.
MACK: Wish I had a thousand ice cold watermelons.
MORAN: Glory be. I bet if you had a thousand ice cold watermelons, you’d give me one.
MACK: Oh, naw! No, siree. If you are too lazy to wish for your own watermelon, you ain’t gona get none of mine!
Oh, git along, now, you two!
The team had great success in vaudeville and in revues such as the 1917 Over the Top, Ziegfeld Follies, Earl Carroll’s Vanities, and The Greenwich Village Follies. In 1927 they recorded their sketch “The Early Bird Catches the Worm” on Columbia records, and it was nationwide smash that boosted their success even more. The team was featured in the 1928 Paramount film Why Bring That Up?
A dispute arose when Mack, who owned the act, refused to give Moran more than a tiny share of the take. Moran quit and another comedian was brought in (though still billed as Moran). This version of the team did 1930 film called Anybody’s War. The film did poorly, so Moran was re-hired at a high salary and the team resumed touring the RKO circuit.
The team also did the 1932 Mack Sennett feature Hypnotized. They were discussing a deal to do a series of shorts with Sennett in 1934, when tragedy struck. The three men were driving to New York together when they were involved in an accident that killed Mack. Moran continued to perform but there was an ever decreasing market for his work.
To find out more about these variety artists 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.