Archive for October, 2010

Ray Dooley: Baby Lady

Posted in Broadway, Child Stars, Comediennes, Hollywood (History), Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2010 by travsd

Ray Dooley (born this day in 1896) is best known today as a review comedienne who, by virtue of her diminutive height, often played babies and bratty children. From Raymond Hitchcock’s Hitchy-Koo of 1918, she went on to five editions of the Ziegfeld Follies as well as the 1928 Earl Carroll’s Vanities, often performing opposite W.C. Fields. She started out as a child performer in her father’s minstrel act, and went on to perform in various vaudeville acts by herself or teamed with her brother Gordon, or her husband Eddie Dowling, whom she married in 1919. She was to co-star in Broadway with Dowling in the shows Sidewalks of New York (1927), Thumbs Up (1934-35) and Hopes the Thing (1948), and the Hollywood film Honeymoon Lane (1931). She was to die in relative obscurity in 1984.

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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On the Bowery

Posted in Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES on October 28, 2010 by travsd

Opening tonight — at Whole Foods, of all places, is a new exhibition about the colorful history of the Bowery put on by Eric Farrara of the Lower East Side History Project (see my review of one of his books here) and also the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors (for whom I’ll be making some appearances in upcoming months). The opening starts at 7pm, and further info is here.

Billy Barty: Leading Little Person

Posted in Child Stars, Hollywood (History), Italian, Music, Stars of Vaudeville, Television, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 25, 2010 by travsd

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America’s most famous and respected little person (of the twentieth century) began his career as an even littler person. William John Bertanzetti was only three years old when a Hollywood talent scout spotted him standing on his head, a favorite tricks of his as a child. The fact that he was smart and agile, but resembled an infant, made him the perfect person to play certain specialty parts, particularly in comedies. He was like a special effect. That moment in an old black and white comedy when the baby reaches out of the carriage to beat someone over the head with a rattle – that was usually Billy Barty. His first role was in the 1927 silent Wedded Blisters.  He was in a scene that was cut out of the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business (1933), he played the baby that turns into a pig in Alice in Wonderland (1934), played Eddie Cantor in Roman Scandals (1934) after Eddie shrinks when staying in the steam room too long, and was also in Gold Diggers of 1933, Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and Midsummer Nights Dream (1935), wherein he played Mustard Seed).

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Perhaps because he was getting older, his father decided to put Billy into vaudeville. The year was 1935—hardly an auspicious time to do so. The act was called “Billy Barty and Sisters”, and featured Billy’s two average-sized sisters playing piano and violin ,while Billy played drums and did impressions. The family travelled around to gigs by car, and did so until Billy was old enough to go to college—1942.

Barty majored in journalism at school, got the degree and was even offered a job as a reporter, but the call (and probably the money) of show business was too great. The 3’9”, 80 lbs adult Barty began working night clubs. In 1952 he joined Spike Jones and His City Slickers, the comic novelty band for such records as “Der Fuehrer’s Face” and “Cocktails for Two”. Billy’s schtick with the band was similar to what he had done with his sisters, but now he had a wide audience on television, on records, and in live performances.

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He stayed with Jones for about ten years, and for the rest of his career concentred in acting in film and television. In the 60s, he was in films like Jumbo (1962) and the Elvis pictures Roustabout (64) and Harum Scarum (1965). In the 70s, he worked for Sid and Marty Krofft, on the popular children’s programs PufnstufThe BugaloosSigmund and the Sea Monsters and Dr. Shrinker. 

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In the mid 70s, he went from playing bit parts to actual acting roles, in movies like Day of the Locust (1975) W.C. Fields and Me (1976) Foul Play (1978) Hardly Working (1981), to name just a few. He was very mindful of his position of responsibility as America’s best known little person, and did what he could to educate people about midgets and dwarves by founding The Little People of America in 1957, and The Billy Barty Foundation in 1975. He passed away in 2000.

To find out more about show business past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. To learn about silent and slapstick comedy please see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

Why Elizabeth Hope Williams is Only One Degree of Separation from Flo Ziegfeld

Posted in Broadway, Vaudeville etc., Women on October 25, 2010 by travsd

Having written here about the still-going Foy family, and the Ming-Toy-Tully connection, I began to wonder if I might have a new budding series of posts about multi-generational show-biz families. Three, not two, of course, constitutes a series…but I now have my third. Friend and colleague Elizabeth Hope Williams (whom we’ll culminate with at the bottom of this post) is part of a performing family that stretches back over a century. Her helpful dad Bill supplied most of the research material that makes up this post.

Muriel, age 93, Ziegfeld mini-show for the benefit of Children's Hospital, Fontainebleau Hotel, Miami Beach

Minnie “Muriel” Harrison

It all begins with Elizabeth’s Great-Great Aunt Minnie, born Philadelphia on this day in 1896, who made her professional debut at age seven when she sang “Pony Boy”. At age nine, like many in these annals, she sang on one of the piers at Atlantic City. By her teens she is already in vaudeville in New York, with tab show producer Tim McMahon, and McIntyre and Heath’s sketch “The Ham Tree”. Starting in 1917, she’s in the chorus of big time revues like Miss 1917, and the Ziegfeld Follies of 1918, 1919 and 1920. It was Ziegfeld who changed her name to “Muriel”, the name under which she performed in Broadway shows — at least one a year through 1931, including the major Ed Wynn smash Simple Simon.

In 1932, her benefactor Flo Ziegfeld died and Broadway was taking a major hit from the Great Depression. Muriel performed in night clubs, resorts and cruise ships for the next couple of decades. Starting in 1954, Minnie (now 58 years old) went to work as a receptionist at a Miami beach hotel, where she stayed for the next 27 years. At age 95, she was on the Sally Jessie Raphael show as one of the last living Ziegfeld girls. She passed away at age 102, at that time the oldest living Ziegfeld Girl.

Lorraine, back when she was Muriel II

Muriel “Lorraine” Harrison (later Williams)

Meanwhile, rewinding some, Minnie’s brother William found himself a wife named Pearle, who was so thrilled with Minnie’s career that she named her daughter Muriel and pushed her into show business. The daughter began performing as a small child  in Atlantic City. In 1930, at age 12 she was cast in the Charles Dillingham musical Josef Suss, spending in year in NYC leaving with her Aunt Muriel. During the Depression she helped support her family by performing in the Philadelphia Opera Ballet and on cruise ships. In her early twenties, tired of the show business life that had been imposed on her, she dropped out, and insisted on being called “Lorraine” thereafter. Her son is Bill.

Bill, circa 1971, directing a show at Andy’s, possibly “Alice in Wonderland”

William “Bill” Williams

Bill was not encouraged to be in theater; he discovered it on his own. He studied psychology and education in college, and started a summer theater for children called Andy’s Summer Playhouse in the aftermath of playing piano for a school production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” in 1970. The theatre just finished its 40th season and Bill calls it one of his proudest accomplishments. Bill studied acting after starting the theatre, which is where he met Elizabeth’s mother. He went on to teach theater at Trinity School for 27 years, directing over 60 productions. More on Bill can be found on his website and blog.

Elizabeth, "Willy Nilly", 2009

 

Elizabeth Hope Williams

I think the very talented Elizabeth Hope Williams came to our fold through the agency of Jeff Lewonczyk’s production of William Peter Blatty’s John Goldfarb, Please Come Home, which was in the 2007 New York International Fringe Festival. She was a key part of the ensemble in Piper McKenzie’s production of my play Willy Nilly in the 2009 Fringe (she performed the role of Daffodil). Most timely of all, she stars in this Lewonczyk-directed rock video of my friends The Electric Mess, in which yours truly also appears. I think her forbears would be very proud. You can get more info on Elizabeth here. Hire her, folks!

To find out more about show biz historyconsult 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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Cissie Loftus: Like Mother, Like Daughter

Posted in British Music Hall, Broadway, Hollywood (History), Singing Comediennes, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2010 by travsd

Cecilia “Cissie” Loftus (born this day in 1876) was daughter of the equally famous music hall star Marie Loftus. She joined her mother onstage in her teens and was unique in her constant shifting back and forth among music hall, vaudeville, legit theatre and musical comedy. Like late Rome, she had two capitals: London and New York. In 1923 she moved to the U.S. permanently, continuing to play the Palace (as long as it lasted)  and Broadway shows (until 1941). She also appeared in many Hollywood films during her last dozen years, although none can be said to stand out in the mind as classics. Drugs and alcohol were a problem for her in her last couple of decades. They finally took her life 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.

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Raymond Hitchcock: He of the Hitchy-Koo

Posted in Broadway, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2010 by travsd

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Born today in 1865, this largely forgotten comedian was such a major Broadway star that, like certain others of his time (Ed Wynn, Frank Fay) he produced and starred in his own revues (the “Hitchy Koo” series 1917-1920). According to Frank Cullen’s Vaudeville: Old and New, Raymond Hitchock started out as a chorus boy in Keith and Albee’s inaugural theatrical venture, their pirated edition of The Mikado, circa 1884. Staring around 1889, he shows up in Broadway shows, and he was pretty much on a Broadway stage every year from then on until he passed away in 1929.

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He was a vaudeville headliner for much of that time; he starred at the Palace many times between 1918 and 1927. He also appeared in numerous silent comedies by the Lubin Studio and Mack Sennett. While he did one Phonofilm short with Lee Deforest in 1925, Hitchock’s demise four years later robbed us of the talkie star he might have been. But there are some record albums from the period showcasing his famous raspy voice. Here, from 1916 is Sometime:

To find out more about vaudeville stars like Raymond Hitchcock and the entire 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. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.

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Alice Lloyd: Scion of a Music Hall Family

Posted in British Music Hall, Singing Comediennes, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2010 by travsd

Alice Lloyd (1873-1949) was one of a family of 7 performing siblings (out of 10 total) who had been raised in an actual music hall. Her older sister Marie had gone onstage first in 1885,  becoming the top English music hall star during the next decade. Alice formed an act with her sister Grace a couple of years later. Grace retired in the mid ’90s and Alice went solo. Both Marie and Alice toured the U.S. many times, but Alice — the more “proper” one — was much more successful in the States, notably at the Percy Williams-owned Colonial. She headlined in America many times between 1907 and 1928 and continued performing well into the 1940s. Today is her birthday.

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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