Vaudeville was a universe of niches. If you found one that hadn’t been discovered, chances are you could corner the market and be a national success. Such was the case with Russian born Borrah Minevich, who was obsessed with the harmonica, became a virtuoso on the instrument, wrote a book on it, taught dozens of others and started his own harmonica factory. Born in 1903 (birth date unknown) he started playing in his native Kiev at age 5. By the 1920s he was playing on Broadway and in vaudeville (he headlined at the Palace).
The full act consisted of 32 trained harmonicists, who played a wide variety of music (including classical) on harmonicas of every conceivable shape and size. While the main group did this, the diminutive clown Johnny Puleo, a dwarf, ran around trying to get in on the act, the others deflecting him so that he would fall down, without ever stopping playing. Borrah took this act to vaudeville, presentation houses, nightclubs, radio, films and television. When he died in 1955, Puleo became the leader of the act and they continued for several more years until Puleo died in 1983.
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.