McIntyre and Heath were a blackface** team who started out in the golden age of minstrelsy and were still going well into the jazz age. James McIntyre (1857-1937) played “Alexander” the slow-witted stable boy; Thomas Heath (1853-1938) played “Hennery”, his pompous friend who tried to put on airs. Their most famous sketch (of many) was called “the Ham Tree” – they rung various changes on it for 50 years. A 1905 full-length version provided W.C. Fields with his first speaking part. Other sketches included “the Georgia Minstrels”, “the Man from Montana”, “Flying to Jail”, “Chickens”, and “Waiting at the Church”.
HENNERY: Well, didn’t that woman at the house where I sent you up give you something to eat?
ALEXANDER: No, she didn’t…I got down and started to eat the grass, thinkin’ that might touch her. And she said to me, “you poor man, you must be starvin’. Come around to the back yard an’ I’ll show you were the grass is longer.”
The team was together from 1874 through 1924. In later years the men didn’t speak to each other offstage, mostly on account of McIntyre’s drinking problem which necessititated the frequent services of an understudy. McIntyre and Heath died in 1937 and 1938, respectively.
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, including performers like McIntyre and Heath, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
**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.