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.
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.
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.
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 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 history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.