We show biz buffs really ought to be ashamed sometimes. Our tunnel vision gets the better of us and extremely worthwhile and interesting characters get reduced to unworthy show business anecdotes. Case in point: I have shabbily treated Mr. Sadakichi Hartmann (whose birthday is today) by speaking of him solely in terms of having one of vaudeville’s most bizarre, worst acts: the infamous scent-producing machine on which he played “perfume concerts”. Others have done him injustice by making him a footnote in the careers of W.C. Fields and John Barrymore, his drinking buddies towards the end of all their lives. He is referred to in biographies as a “leech” and a “sponger”. Yet, he had been secretary to Walt Whitman! He wrote several important books on art history and appreciation, and the life of Christ. He may have been the first person to write Haikus in English! This is just the tip of the iceberg on this remarkable man’s life, which seems ripe to be turned into a movie. He passed away in 1944, perhaps not a bad time for a German-Japanese-American to seek greener existential pastures. See a great portrait of him by his friend John Decker, who shared a birthday with him, here.
To find out more about vaudeville, including Sadakichi Hartmann and his infamous perfume concerts, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.