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. In 1901, he married Josephine Cohan, and would wind up acting in and producing several shows by her brother George M.
Josey died young in 1916, and that was around the time Fred went west to begin his successful film career. Though he made a handful of talkies in the early 30s, none of them clicked and he retired soon after. In addition to his many silent classics (Blood and Sand, Ben Hur, Zorro), 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 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. 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 amazon.com 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.