Ned Wayburn and the College of Vaudeville

Ned Wayburn (born this day in 1874) was known as  many things: the entrepreneur behind a string of vaudeville and dance schools; producer of vaudeville flash and kiddie acts; and choreographer and director of big budget Broadway shows.

Wayburn started playing piano and singing in amateur theatricals in the Chicago area when a local theatre owner convinced him to go pro. He worked the vaudeville circuits in the midwest, eventually moving to New York around the turn of the last century, where he found rapid success as a director, choreographer and producer. His name was attached to nearly 70 Broadway shows. His first was Matthews and Bulger’s By the Sad Sea Waves (1899) in which he both performed and designed costumes (back then you could still do that). Among his other credits as a principal artist: Mr. Bluebird (1903) with Eddie Foy; several Rogers Brothers’ shows (1903-06); The Ham Tree (1905) with McIntyre and Heath and a young W.C. Fields; The Mimic World (1908); Gus Edwards’ School Days (1908); Old Dutch (1909) with John Bunny; Tillie’s Nightmare (1910) with Marie Dressler; The Hen Pecks (1911) with Lew Fields and Vernon Castle; A La Broadway (1911) with a young Mae West; the first two editions of The Passing Show (1912 and 1913); Ned Wayburn’s Town Topics (1915); several editions of the Ziegfeld Follies and other Ziegfeld reviews (1916-1923); Miss 1917; Ed Wynn’s Carnival (1920); Raymond Hitchcock’s Hitchy-Koo (1920); Ned Wayburn’s Gambols (1929); and Smiles (1930) with Fred and Adele Astaire.

Fred and Adele had been pupils of Wayburn’s at the vaudeville academy and he had set them up in a vaudeville act. This was also true of Groucho and Gummo Marx. Other Ned Wayburn pupils included June Allyson, Leonard Sillman, Hal Le Roy, and Chick Chandler. 

Wayburn also has one movie credit: he choreographed the 1935 musical Convention Girl with Rose Hobart, Sally O’Neill, Shemp Howard, and others.

If you want to find an absolute treasure trove of info about vaudeville, revues and early Broadway, check out Wayburn’s 1925 book The Art of Stage Dancing, available in its entirety free-of-charge here. (See my beloved Countess’s much more thorough appreciation here.) Wayburn passed away in 1942.

To learn more about vaudeville including important players like Ned Wayburnconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous


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