Today is the birthday of DeWolf Hopper (1858-1935), thespian most famous for his 10,000 vaudeville recitations of the poem Casey at the Bat, which was written by my distant relative Ernest Lawrence Thayer in 1888. Thus Hopper was the person most responsible for its popularization…that is until the later Walt Disney cartoon with the voice of Jerry Colonna).
Hopper was of Philadelphia Quaker stock, but opted to stray in a very different direction from his straight-laced family. He was extremely tall (6’5″), making him hard to cast in straight roles, but his big, booming bass voice was useful in musicals. He starred in over 30 Broadway productions, including comic roles in the Weber and Fields’ shows Fiddle-Dee-Dee (1900) and Hoity Toity (1901) and numerous Gilbert and Sullivan revivals. The third of his six wives was Edna Wallace; the fifth was Hedda Hopper, later to become a notorious Hollywood gossip columnist.
And guess what? You can actually hear a recording of DeWolf Hopper reciting Casey here. Play ball!
To find out more about the history of vaudeville including stars like DeWolf Hopper, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous