For St. Patrick’s Day: The Irish in Vaudeville


The only notice that my book No Applause received in the mainstream British press was a snooty and snarky reference in the Daily Mirror, quoting my remark that the 19th century Irish in America faced a stark choice: do a jig or dig a ditch. Of course, it wasn’t meant to be taken literally — and I stand by the essential truth that the people at the bottom of the economic ladder are traditionally the ones willing to take the risk of choosing such an uncertain profession as show business. We in New York often connect the local Irish with their long, proud history of association with the NYPD, FDNY and City Hall. Less often acknowledged or realized by many is that the Irish for the most part founded American show business. Especially in the days of minstrelsy and saloon variety, the Irish dominated the entire scene. Later, with immigration from Eastern Europe, and a mass exodus from the American south, Jews and African Americans would make inroads, but the 19th century was dominated by sons and daughters of Erin, and they remained a major factor well through the 20th century. From Harrigan & Hart, through Maggie Cline through George M. Cohan, Pat Rooney and his progeny, Duffy and Sweeney, James Cagney, and countless more.

You can read the stories of dozens of them here in the Irish and Show Business category of Travalanche. Something to be celebrated on this day of tradition.

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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