The recent announcement of the release of the cast album of last season’s My Vaudeville Man at the York Theatre prompts the inclusion of hoofer Jack Donahue (upon whose life the musical is based) in these annals. I might have otherwise passed over him — so thanks to creators Bob Johnston and Jeff Hochhauser for making me (and the public) more aware of him.
Born in 1892 and raised in Charleston, Mass., a suburb of Boston, Donahue ran away from home at age 10 to join one Dr. Zurego’s Medicine Show. For a time he danced during the entr’acts at melodramas, before going into vaudeville in 1910 with an act that supplemented his dancing with a line of funny patter. By 1915 he was a big time act at the Palace and a couple of years later, began starring in Broadway shows, notably in a couple of musicals (Sunny, Rosalie) with his old vaudeville friend Marilyn Miller. This has caused some to confuse this ‘un with the other Jack Donohue, whom Miller not only worked with but married, and later went on to become a film and tv director.
Bad health caused Donahue to cut down on the legomania after awhile and he began to lean more heavily on comedy before exhaustion finally overtook him in 1930. Not surprisingly, Ray Bolger portrays Donahue in the 1949 Marilyn Miller bio-pic Look for the Silver Lining. Jack’s brother Joe Donahue was also in the biz. We wrote about him here.
To find out more about 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.