Hadji Ali was vaudeville’s premier regurgitation act. Such a skill was usually the stuff of sideshows, and there’s a reason for that, one embedded in your probable reaction to my first sentence. “Regurgitation” means “throwing up”. What made his act vaudeville was that Hadji Ali threw up with CLASS. He imbued his presentation with all the trappings of a big time magic act — full Bedouin costume, a passel of assistants, a painted backdrop, and middle eastern music. (Leading one to wonder, what’s so “eastern” about swallowing things and spitting them up? Unless the objects were things like dates, scarabs, camel teeth and so forth). At any rate, he got over. After swallowing and tossing back up a number of objects Hadji pulled out his big finish, wherein he swallowed both water and kerosene, and spat them out in a different order, which he was able to demonstrate by spitting them on a flame. You can see him do that very thing here, in this odd clip taken from a Spanish Language Laurel and Hardy film from 1931.
(For more on Laurel and Hardy go here).
Hadji, born in the middle east in 1892 (around the time Little Egypt was causing a stir at the Chicago World’s Fair) enjoyed his heyday in the 1920s (when all the kids were swallowing goldfish). He passed away in 1937 while touring England. Whether it was due to a stomach ailment is not known to this commentator.
Hadji Ali was inducted into Coney Island USA’s Sideshow Hall of Fame in 2013.
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.