Archive for September, 2010

New York Burlesque Festival

Posted in Burlesk, Contemporary Variety, Women with tags on September 30, 2010 by travsd

This curvy little festival (opening today) seems to be coming up in the world. Highline Ballroom! B.B. King’s! Don’t get snooty, Countess! Remember you started out in the dives and toilets like the rest of us! To see what all the ruckus is about, go here.

To learn more about the roots of variety entertainmentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


Sullivan and Considine

Posted in Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, Impresarios, Irish, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , on September 29, 2010 by travsd

In 1889, an itinerant actor named John W. Considine (born this day in 1868) blew into Seattle and became a card-dealer at the Theatre Comique, a so-called box house. (Concert saloons were sometimes called box houses because the theatre boxes could be closed off for greater privacy).

Within a few months he was managing the People’s Theatre, where he began to make improvements to the presentation of the show. Unlike his Bible-thumping contemporaries on the East coast, he also supplemented his income by pimping, an important part of early variety entrepreneurship. The sign out front read “Come in and pick one out—they’re beautiful.” In the height of the Alaskan gold rush, his “box house” flourished. A lot of marks blew through town, and Considine was sure to get them both going and coming.

In 1894 the Seattle city fathers passed a law against selling liquor in theatres. Considine did what any self-respecting bar manager would do under the circumstances: he moved to Spokane. There he flourished with another People’s Theatre until 1897, when the local city government passed a law outlawing box-houses. Fortunately, they were now making a comeback in Seattle. He returned there and brought with him the exotic dancer Little Egypt (who’d made a splash at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair) to town, and made a big hit. With the profits, Sullivan began buying up saloons and other properties, including Edison’s Unique Theatre (a movie and vaudeville house), making him one of the very earliest exhibitors of silent films. On a trip to New York to book acts, he hooked up with Tammany Hall machine politician and sometime theatre producer Big Tim Sullivan. The two launched a new circuit, with theatres in Spokane, Portland, Bellingham, Everett in Washington, as well as Vancouver and Victoria, in Canada. These were now respectable theatres—Considine, like his predecessors, had left the saloons behind for the bigger profits available through legitimacy. The enterprise flourishsed untrammeled until 1902, when Alexander Pantages came to town and harried Considine with competetion for over a decade until bad luck hit, and the Sullivan and Considine chain was revealed to have been built upon a Ponzi scheme, each succeeding house bought by mortgaging an earlier one. All it took was one setback to start all the dominoes toppling. First, Big Tim Sullivan was declared legally insane in 1913. Then, the following year, the country experienced an economic downturn. Foreclosure proceedings were begun on Sullivan and Considine properties and the house of cards collapsed. Pantages and the Loew’s chain (which by that time was national) picked up Considine’s theatres for a song. Considine passed away in 1943.

To find out more about these variety artists and the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


All Hail, Ed Sullivan!

Posted in Impresarios, Irish, Radio (Old Time Radio), Television, TV variety, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , on September 28, 2010 by travsd


Ed Sullivan (born this day in 1901) is the primary preservationist of vaudeville and its aesthetics into the post-vaudeville era, keeping old school variety shows before the American public nearly four decades after the death of the circuits. Starting out as a boxer, then a sportswriter, in the 1920s he took over Walter Winchell’s theatre column at the New York Graphic, which later went over to the Daily News. This led naturally to a local radio talent show called Ed Sullivan Entertains in 1932, and was nationally broadcast by CBS 1942-1956. At the same time, Sullivan was hosting live post-vaudeville variety shows at New York’s big presentation houses, the Paramount Theatre, and Loew’s State. When television came along, it was only natural for him to bring this hosting experience to the small screen. Toast of the Town was launched in 1948. In 1955 it became The Ed Sullivan Show. Not only did it present hundreds of former vaudevillians (big and small) of every possibly discipline, but it also was instrumental it bringing countless post-vaudeville acts (notably most of the major rock and roll bands) to the national stage. Despite this, changing tastes led to the show’s cancellation in 1971. Sullivan was still producing specials as late as 1973. He passed away the following year. TV variety did not long outlive him.

To learn more about the roots of variety entertainmentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


George Raft: Light on his Feet

Posted in Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, Dance, Hollywood (History), Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2010 by travsd

Not-So-Tough Guy Raft Dancing with Carol Lombard

Like fellow Hollywood tough guy James Cagney, George Raft started out as a hoofer. And before that?  Let’s just call it research for his roles. Born this day in 1895 in Hell’s Kitchen, he dropped out of school at a young age and Drifted. He tried his hand as a professional boxer, a pool hustler (one of his partners was Billy Rose), and a taxi dancer (one of his colleagues was Rudolph Valentino). The latter occupation was led him into legitimate show business. A gifted dancer (Fred Astaire was a huge admirer), by the 1920s, he was playing major nightclubs like Texas Guinan’s El Fey Club and headlining Big Time vaudeville. A turn in the 1929 film Queen of the Night Clubs (loosely based on Guinan’s life) brought him to Hollywood. A role in 1932’s Scarface (and a reputation for a criminal past) established him as one of Hollywood’s top “gangsters”. In 1932 he gave Mae West her start as a film actress by recommending her for Night After Night . Raft was a top Hollywood star until the mid 1950s. He passed away in 1980.

To find out more about these variety artists and the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


Winsor McCay: Cartoonist in Vaudeville

Posted in PLUGS, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., VISUAL ART with tags , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2010 by travsd

Born this day (according to some, including himself) circa 1867-1871, cartoonist Winsor McCay is much revered today for his highly whimsical, dreamlike comic strips like Little Nemo in Slumberland and Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend. More to the point here, starting in 1911, he toured vaudeville with short animated films using his characters like Gertie the Dinosaur and others. McCay would lecture and magically interact with the films. My friends from the Silent Clowns screening series have shown some of these — get on their list, and they’ll tip you off the next time it’s on one of their bills! After about 10 years of touring the circuits, McCay began to concentrate on editorial cartoons. He passed away in 1934.

Now here’s his creation “Gertie the Dinosaur” in a film from 1914. The titles are lines the cartoonist would have spoken to the animated film as part of his vaudeville act. The scenes at the end are a recap of the framing device that begins the film (available in a different youtube clip) in which fellow cartoonist George McManus bets him that he can’t make such a film.

To find out more about these variety artists and the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


Ocean County Bookfest

Posted in BOOKS & AUTHORS, My Shows, PLUGS on September 25, 2010 by travsd

For all you Jersey-ites out there…I’ll be signing books, talking (and maybe even crooning) at the Ocean County Book Fest in Tom’s River today from 11am – 3pm. If I’m not enough of an attraction, I’m told May Pang, John Lennon’s girlfriend during his famous “Lost Weekend” period, as well as the staff of The Onion and dozens more will be on hand. For directions and more info, go here. And if you can’t make it, but still want to buy No Applause, go here.

Trav S.D.’s Last Chance Saloon Tonight!

Posted in Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, Contemporary Variety, Music, My Shows, PLUGS, Rock and Pop, Vaudeville etc. on September 24, 2010 by travsd
Friends, freinds, friends, and I do mean, friends.
I hope you’ll join me this evening for an unprecedented mix of the old and new. The folkway known by the name of “vaudeville” began, as we all know,  in the taverns of France where patrons got blitzed and sang a bunch of songs into their mugs. British music hall and the American concert saloon (home of variety, American vaudeville’s precursor) all began the same way. So please join us for Trav S.D.’s Last Chance Saloon, which continues that tradition by using the environment of Dixon Place’s excellent lounge (and its bar) as a platform for several of his musical friends (with a smidge of old time variety as the icing on the cake).
Kicking it off, my new supergroup Children of the People (a.k.a. People of the Children), including several current and former members of the Electric Mess and Willy Nilly vets (Oweinama Biu, Derek Davidson, Chris Talsness), long-time cohort and Beat Rats drummer Robert Pinnock, and subway siren Jillian Tully, she of my famous Ming and Toy post on Travalanche. This “real gone” combo will open the show with a set of psychedelic vaudeville favorites including “The Trav S.D. Theme Song”, “Trav S.D.’s Phrenological Lower East Side Calypso”, “Ostrich # 13”, and “The Five Alarm  Cowbell Blues Abbreviated”. Also, Ms. Tully will be presenting some numbers of her own. Tully:
Don’t be scared, it’s just a costume.And that’s not all by a long shot. We have two music hall artistes in the line up. I am thrilled to be able to present the multi-talanted operatic chanteuse, clown and clarinetist Jenny Lee Mitchell, well known to fans of the Maestrosities and The Renaldo The Ensemble, hear her doing one of my favorite comical numbers “There Are Faeries at the Bottom of my Garden” by special request. — plus special surprises! Ms. Mitchell:
But wait! There’s more! Lorinne Lampert, praised by me here, and who is single-handedly redefining the concept of “pep” is back in the fold singing the old music hall favorite, “Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay” and other chestnuts. I just know you’ll want to sing along. Actually, if you don’t some of my goons will MAKE you sing along.  Lampert:
Never mind the ears, it’s just a costume. Had enough yet? I don’t think so. After all, what about that theatrical pop duo known as Dye Violets, simultaneously cuter than Donny and Marie and hipper than Sonny and Cher. A man on the street whispered that they have “skillz to pay the billz”, and that’s good enough for me. Dye Violets are Sarah Engelke and Adam Swiderski, and here’s what they look like:
Don’t worry, folks, Adam’s pants are only a costume. Lastly, with me and Pinnock on the bill I think you can rest assured that a little comedy and variety type stuff will be thrown into the mix for good measure — at some other night club. Also, I was careful to book Satanic storytelling raconteur Art Wallace, whose harrowing comedy monologues are bound to produce emotions you never knew you had. Mr. Wallace:
In this case, okay, go ahead and be afraid. Be very afraid.
Now you got the who, here’s the where/ when/ how.
Trav S.D.’s Last Chance Saloon
Dixon Place, 161 Chrystie Street (above Delancey)
Friday, September 24, 9:30pm
Only Ten buckeroos for admission!
More info/ directions at:
See ya there!
I remain,
Trav S.D.
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