Fred Niblo: Married Into the Cohans


Such lasting fame as Fred Niblo enjoys today is the result of his success as a silent film director, notably on films with stars like Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino. Be that as it may, he, like almost everyone else of that era, cut his teeth on the stage.

Born Frederick Liedtke on this day in 1874, he began as a minstrel** and magician in small time vaudeville, but eventually honed his act to where he became one of the classiest and best loved monologists in the business. All the while, he was also appearing in legit stage plays. His professional name seems clearly copped from William Niblo of Niblo’s Garden. 

In 1901, he married Josephine Cohan, and would wind up acting in and producing shows by her brother George M and starring the Cohan family, including The Governor’s Son and Running For Office. While continuing to appear in vaudeville for years, he also had a role in The Rogers Brothers in Paris (1904-05). This 1908 self-caricature by Niblo was generously lent from the collection of Mari Lyn Henry of the Society for the Preservation of Theatrical History. 


Josey died young in 1916, and that was around the time Niblo went west to begin his successful film career. His best remembered films (out of nearly 50) include The Mark of Zorro (1920), The Three Musketeers (1921), Blood and Sand (1922), Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925), and the Norma Talmadge version of Camille (1926). He made a handful of talkies but none of them clicked and he retired after 1932. Niblo is important for being one of the founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, ergo, the Oscars. He passed away in 1948.

To find out more about 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. For more on silent film don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from etc etc etc

**Obligatory Disclaimer: It is the official position of this blog that Caucasians-in-Blackface is NEVER okay. It was bad then, and it’s bad now. We occasionally show images depicting the practice, or refer to it in our writing, because it is necessary to tell the story of American show business, which like the history of humanity, is a mix of good and bad. 


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