James Doyle (1888-1927) and Harland Dixon (1885-1969) were each successful song and dance men in their own right who teamed up for a successful vaudeville act from 1912 to 1921. Of the two, Dixon was the bigger player. A Toronto native, he started out in amateur shows and contests before working in minstrel shows** for George Primrose and Lew Dockstader with a succession of partners. He met up with Doyle in 1912, and they cooked up a an act distinguished by comical patter and the conceit of a fictional contest between them, each challenging the other to perform difficult dance steps. The act took them to the Palace (when it was but a few months old), a half dozen Broadway shows, and a starring engagement in London. Doyle was a less reliable character than Dixon however. Perpetually late (he partied hard at night) he was fired from the appropriately named show Good Morning Dearie, but Dixon was kept on, and that was the end of the team. Doyle continue to work sporadically as a solo dancer until his early death. Dixon’s Broadway career was more distinguished, including a number of important shows through the 20s until the crash nearly snuffed the theatre in 1930. Then, like a lot of hoofers, he diversified his income, still dancing in nightclubs and the occasional movie, sometimes choreographing for others, keeping a hand one way or another until his death in 1969.
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.
**Obligatory Disclaimer: It is the official position of this blog that Caucasians-in-Blackface is NEVER okay. It was bad then, and it’s bad now. We occasionally show images depicting the practice, or refer to it in our writing, because it is necessary to tell the story of American show business, which like the history of humanity, is a mix of good and bad.