Billy “Beef Trust” Watson

Billy Watson was born Isaac Levie in the Lower East Side circa 1852. His nickname arises from his most famous gambit — presenting parodies of burlesque shows starring women in the vicinity of 200 lbs. He started out as a boy singer in old time dime museums such as the Globe, the New York, and the Chatham Square before becoming a full-fledged Dutch comedian in vaudeville and burlesque. After a couple of decades as a burlesque star he formed his Beef Trust troupe of plus-sized women in 1899. Competition to get into the shows was heavy; hundreds of hopefuls would show up at his “cattle calls”. Watson retired around 1925, a man of some substance, not only as a producer and performer, but part owner of the Empire Burlesque circuit. He found retirement stifling, however and mounted a well-publicized revival of his Beef Trust show in 1938. And now, the real stars of his show:

To learn more about vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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30 comments

  1. Hello, I also have a relative who was part of this troupe. Her name was Darlin Dot or Dot Darling, Dorothy Kinney by birth and Dorothy Gragg by marriage. I see lots of requests from others seeking to know more about the line-up. I am trying to do my own research but it is harder than I expected!

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  2. Thank you for all the info that you had sent. Im focused on finding my grandmothers name . They say that she was in one of his shows but I never found any proof of that. Her name was Anna Fenlon.
    Thanks again,
    Ann

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  3. I am hoping members of the Watson family will read the information I left regarding what was written in my mother’s autograph book from 1937/38. My mom was in the chorus line and even wrote an outline of the show she was in. Would love any other information about Billy Watson and his shows. Thanks. Marjorie (Howse) Culver.

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  4. I am the great grandson of his rival, Sliding Billy Watson. For years, the two comedians would run ads claiming to be the original but I have a few theories on the name Watson.

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  5. Please check the information I left on this site regarding performers in Billy Watson’s show, and also the performance line-up. My mother danced in the chorus line and I just recently found her autograph book. Marjorie Culver. My e-mail is lsculver @rogers.com.

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  6. In one of the pictures is my Uncle George DeCosta. He was part of the Beef Trust Girls act. If you or anyone you know have any pictures, letters or any other in formation on him, please let me know. I am working on our family history and need all I can get. Thank you

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    • I have no knowledge of your uncle George DeCostas as part of the Beef Trust Girls.
      I, myself,. am still trying to find our the names of these women.
      Sorry, I cannot help you.

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    • Billy Watson was my grandfather who passed away when I was 2 yrs. old. He was “the original Billy Watson”. He passed in 1945. He was semi-retired and continued to write scripts while lliving in Belmar, N.J. My mom was the youngest of his three daughters.

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  7. How wonderful to read about my grandfather, Billy Watson! I am the daughter of his second daughter, Anna. I am always interested in learning more about him and my grandmother. I also have few pictures of them, but I do have a picture of him holding me on porch in Belmar, N.J., probably either before or after one of his fishing adventures!
    Betty Jane Clark, New Bedford, MA

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    • Hello Betty Jane!

      I just forwarded information found in my mother’s autograph book for Billy’s show at the Gaiety Theatre in Cincinatti, Ohio in 1937. I gave her the names of the performers who signed her book and she also wrote down the line-up for the show too. Hope this helps. Info. was sent to Ann.

      Marjorie Culver.

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    • Hello Judith!

      I found my mom’s autograph book (she was in the chorus) from 1937 when she worked at the Gaiety Theatre in Cincinatti, Ohio. I sent this information to Ann. It has the names of other performers in the show, and the show line-up. Please read my response to Ann. Hope the information helps you.

      Marjorie Culver.

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  8. Hi Ann!

    I just moved to Cambridge, Ontario, Canada and have been really busy. I will look for my mom’s autograph book and give you the names of those whose signatures she got. My e-mail is lsculver@rogers.com. I just wish she had told me more about those days. What was your grandmother’s name and I will check the book to see if she was one of those who signed it. Thank you for responding.
    Marjorie

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  9. My mother was a dancer in Billy Watson’s show and I have her autograph book from 1938. Her name was Winnifred (Taylor) Howse. She passed away in 1976 at age 62. She is the reason I probably got involved in dance at age 3 1/2. I quit when I was 17 and restarted tap again 6 years ago. I am now 73. I would really like to know more about Billy’s shows.

    Marjorie (Howse) Culver.

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    • Hi Marjorie,
      I have very little info about Billy Watson’s shows. I can email you what I have. I’m curious about the other girls that were in his shows. Someone told me that my grandmother was once in his show but I have no proof of that. Pls give me your email address.
      Thank you,
      Ann

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      • Hello Ann!

        Well, it took me a long time, but I was sorting out some boxes from our move in 2013 and surprise, I found my mother’s autograph book. This wil be of interest to you and any other members of Billy Watson’s family. The following was written in her book:

        Oct. 14, 1939, Cincinatti, Ohio

        To Winnie!

        True worth is in being, not seeing. In doing each day that goes by some little good not for the being of great things to do by and by.

        Loads of luck,

        Anne Watson,
        Old Man Watson’s Darling Brat.

        Others that wrote in her book are:
        Delores Dirnly (Chorus Girl)
        Jackie Jarrett
        Viola Lee
        Billie Newman and dog Pluto
        Milton Blakely
        Betty La Mars
        Baby Helen Crawley
        Kerry (no last name given)
        Harry Reed and Elsa Ryan (Nov. 1937, Worcester, Mass.)
        Terry Lay
        Shirley Whitton
        Dave (looks like ) Aiots
        Fred Lowar
        Al Gaudec
        Ginny Graves
        Bert Little
        Count Von Braurberg, L. Heavy Wrestler, Germany
        Billy Grogan Spencer, Comedian
        John (I’ll Kill Em) Barry
        Howard (no last name given), Toronto 1947
        Del Ray (Rialto) Chicago 1937
        Ray Parsons
        Thelma White
        Evelyn D. Barry

        She wrote a line-up of the show:
        College opening tap, ballet and singing – 24 girls, male tenor.
        Kindergarten tap – Little Red Schoolhouse.
        Comedy – LemonScene
        Roller skating act.
        Cowboy Number.
        Guitarists and singers.
        Fireside scene.
        Boy tap.
        Blues singers – 2 number.
        Night Club scene with team.
        Hypnotism Act.
        Baby Ballerinas.
        Hawaiian Scene featuring chorus.
        Guitar – acrobatic solo.
        Tenor solo.
        Blues solo – duet.
        Comedy – baseball scene.
        Winter wonderland senior skater\s waltz.
        Baby skater’s waltz featuring roller skaters and tap on skates.
        Boy soft shoe tap.
        Cowboy songs.
        Military
        Baby sailor’s
        Highland
        All on stage for Military tap – form flag.
        Finale.

        Well, I guess that is a lot of information and hope it helps. Most of the signatures were at the Gaiety Theatre in Cincinatti, Ohio. So glad I finally found this treasure of days gone by and my mom.

        Marjorie

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  10. My mother was Isabel Watson, the second daughter of Billy Watson. Mom just passed away at 94 yrs old. I have no memory of my grandfather since I was 2 yrs old when he passed. I do have a photo
    of the Watson Sisters if you’re interested.

    Ann

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  11. BILLY WATSON WAS MY GRANDFATHER AND I HAVE A PHOTO AS A BABY ON STAGE WITH HIM.HE MARRIED MY GRANDMOTHER ANNA WHO WAS A BEEFTRUST BABE. THEY MADE AN INTERESTING COUPLE. THEY HAD THREE DAUGHTERS ISABELLE,ANNA AND BERTHA. HE WAS SHORT AND SHE WAS RUBENESQUE.HE LIVED IN BELMAR N.J. AND LOVED TO FISH WHILE SMOKING A FAT STOGIE.

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    • How wonderful to hear from you! This is tremendous! We’d love to see anything you’d care to share with us. I’d be glad to post the picture for example…

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      • I have a Beef Trust Item. It is a Mechanical dancer in a round case with an image on the back. Seems his shows and items were a bit Risque’.

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      • Hello!

        I found my mom’s autograph book signed by performers in the 1937 show at the Gaiety Theatre in Cincinatti if you would care to read it. Lots of info.

        Marjorie Culver

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    • Hello Carole!

      I just posted a lot of information found in my mom’s autograph book and names of performers in his show at the Gaiety Theatre in Cincinatti in 1937. Hope you read it.

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