Today is Ned Harrigan’s birthday. Since my original post on Harrigan and Hart concentrates mainly on the team’s vaudeville days (then ends before their true fame even truly begins) I thought I’d just file a brief postscript today…
From 1876 through 1885, Harrigan and Hart ran the Theatre Comique, where they started out by presenting variety shows with an afterpiece (comedy sketch). One of these The Mulligan Guards (which actually debuted in 1873) became a huge phenomenon, spawning a series of sketches…which then blossomed into full length musical shows, all penned by Harrigan. In essence, for about a decade the two men ran New York’s favorite theatre company…where they wrote, directed and starred in all the shows. This is a template that was later followed by Weber & Fields, and a handful of others, like George M. Cohan and Ed Wynn, enjoyed similar God-like status.
At any rate, the day word got around that Harrigan and Hart broke up (they were driven apart by schemers in their respective families) was a day of mourning in New York City, akin in significance to the Beatles’ break-up in 1970. Tony Hart was to die of syphilis in 1891. Harrigan continued to enjoy many more stage successes as playwright and performer. In 1897, he returned to the vaudeville stage where he was a popular favorite for over ten more years. He passed away in 1911.
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.