The Blessed Lamb (above) was born this day, but so was James J. Morton, vaudeville’s first Master of Ceremonies. Born on Christmas day in Boston in 1861 he started out in a two act with his wife Maude Revel in the 1890s. She would sing–or start to sing–and his job was to “direct” her, which he did comically, of course. Eventually he became a monologist and this segued easily into introducing other acts. (Back in the day they didn’t use an m.c., just a title card with the act’s name written on it, which the stage manager would put on easel). Morton’s forte was nonsense, in the form of improvised monologues and silly songs. In the Jazz Age, his rambling style was deemed too slow and old-fashioned and he faded from the scene, making room for the likes of Frank Fay, Jack Benny and Bob Hope. He passed away in 1938.
To find out more about these variety artists and the history of vaudeville, consult 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 my new book Chainof Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc