George Fuller Golden: Big Cheese, White Rats

This day in 1901, the White Rats  went on strike. The White Rats, as the vaudeville performers’ union was known, was founded by comedian and prize fighter George Fuller Golden. No one knows his birthday, so today’s as good as any (and better than most) for a tribute to him

Golden was one of the top stars of early American vaudeville. Joe Laurie, Jr. called him America’s first intellectual monologist. His voracious reading in the classics (especially poetry) and Biblical scripture combined with his natural Irish blarney to produce a popular series of stories about an imaginary friend named Casey whose adventures audiences followed with great delight. But Golden also had a serious side, a sense of fairplay and justice that was bound to get him into trouble in a high stakes game like vaudeville. Part boxer, part idealist, he was just the type of man to go down in a losing battle.

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In 1899, Golden had been the beneficiary of the services of the Water Rats, England’s music hall performers’ union, when his wife had fallen sick in London and he had gone without work for months. The Water Rats had paid his doctor’s bills and other expenses, and helped him and his wife get back to the States. Based on his experience, when the managers formed the monopolistic Vaudeville Managers Association, Golden knew just what to do. In short order, he organized a leadership committee to form the White Rats, enlisted a large dues-paying membership and started their own booking office. In early 1901, the performers, getting nowhere in negotiations with the managers, struck. The effort seemed successful for a time when Keith, Albee et al. pretended to capitulate, but it was all a ruse. Within weeks, the strike was broken.

The White Rats collapsed, and Golden became a laughing stock in the business, never working as a leader or an entertainer again, although he did publish one book about his experiences My Lady Vaudeville, still cherished by show biz buffs (and the source of the peculiar rodential swastika you see above). Golden died, a charity case, of tuberculosis in 1912.

To find out more about the history of vaudeville, please consult my critically acclaimed book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other fine establishments.

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2 comments

  1. I am writing from Australia in an effort to find information about my paternal grandfather Edward Lang, aka Edward Abe Langer. I recently discovered that he died in 1947 and was buried at Kensico cemetery. He was born in NYC in 1865 and apparently spent his whole life working in the theatre, initially as a vaudeville performer. He married my Grandmother Agnes in 1902 in Scotland, she was an Austrlian. They had three children, however the relationship must have broken down as she returned to Australian with the children about 1907 and died several years later. He lived near Broadway at the time of his death at 82 and his death certificate notes the the death was notified by his nephew, Benson Lang, a resident of Las Angeles. I am not sure if his stage name was Lang or Langer. If anyone could be of help it would be much appreciated. I am going to arrange for plaque to be placed on his grave and would like to be able to put more information on it. Records show that his funeral was organised by the Vaudeville Association and the Will Rogers Foundation.

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    • Benson Lang was my 2nd great Uncle. His father Henry David was my 2nd great grandfather and Edward’s brother. I’ve been researching the Langer/Lang family and have some information to share. Feel free to reach out to me at calamari9@aol.com

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