Winsor McCay: Cartoonist in Vaudeville

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.

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