Today is the birthday of James Edmondson, Sr., a.k.a Professor Backwards (1910-1976). Edmondson was a comedian with a vaudeville nut act who possessed the rare ability able to write and spell backwards and/or upside down. In the television era he was a frequent guest on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Tonight Show and the Mike Douglas Show.
A gang of moronic thugs apparently equated these occasional television appearances with great riches and tried to squeeze several thousand dollars of him. When he didn’t produce, they ended his life. This unfortunate event prompted a classic bit of comedy on the “Weekend Update” segment of a then new television program called Saturday Night Live:
Chevy Chase: Professor Backwards, the entertainer who had the bizarre ability to speak backwards, was killed today in College Park, Georgia. Passersby apparently ignored the Professor’s cries of ‘Pleh! Pleh!'”
To learn more about the roots of variety entertainment, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.