Happy Columbus Day!
In New York at least, with our huge Columbus Day parade, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, the day has become a sort of semi-official day of Italian American appreciation, much akin to St. Patrick’s Day and the Irish. So, today a little post to celebrate the contributions of Italian Americans in vaudeville.
The roots of course go back to the old country. The origin of muchof our clowning and comedy tradition lies in the Italian commedia dell’arte. Italian circus (such as Victor Franconi’s) brought American vaudeville countless acrobats. The annals of vaudeville are chock full with acrobats and magicians with Italianate names. Some were real. But the cache was so great, many artists would fake an Italian name. (And, like every other ethnic group, Italians were the subject of comic ethnic stereotype. The most famous purveyor of what might be called “Italian face” was Chico Marx).
Two of the most important vaudeville impresarios Tony Pastor and Sylvester Poli, were Italian Americans. Important stars included Lou Costello (actually from burlesque), Jimmy Durante, Jimmy Savo, and the Mosconi Brothers. For many more, see my Italian-Americans in vaudeville sub-category here.
And for a little squib on varieta, the all-Italian American vaudeville, go here.
To find out more about the history of 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.