Thanks to the memories of most of the vaudevillians and vaudeville fans who survived into the late 20th century, Fink’s Mules is an act that has become not only legendary, but proverbial. They worked their way into the public mind as the perfect opening or closing act on a vaudeville bill. Now: readers of No Applause know that those were the least desirable slots on the bill for most types of acts. To be a singer, dancer, comedian or actor in the opening and closing spot was not only an indignity but a trial to be overcome. But for an animal act? For an animal act, opening or closing on a BIG TIME bill was the highest to which the act could aspire. Fink’s Mules, which also included monkeys, dogs and ponies (viz, canines above) always made a big stir, and for all the reasons you can imagine. Mules are stubborn and independent beasts, well known to do precisely NOT what they are told, all the while kicking their hind legs and emitting what is undoubtedly the most retarded-sounding of all animal cries. Audience members (who or may not have been stooges) were invited onstage to attempt to ride the contrary critters. The ten-minute act was a staple of the biggest big time venues, such as the Palace and the Hippodrome through the late nineteen-teens and twenties.
To learn more about 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.