“Let’s All drink to the death of a clown” — Dave Davies
Brace yourself for a sad ending. Oh what the hell, we’ll put it at the beginning. Just as his clown partner Slivers Oakley had done in 1915, Marceline (1874-1927) took his own life in a hotel room, and for much the same reason. He’d gone from the very heights of his profession, to the depths of obscurity and poverty. A day earlier he’d pawned his ring for $15. Then he blew out his brains, surrounded by heaps of photos and clippings from his glory days.
Beginning in his native Spain, then France, then the U.K., Marceline had been beloved everywhere he played. From 1905-1915 he starred in several huge musical extravaganzas at New York’s Hippodrome. So big was he in those years that he had his own comic strip:
After some lean years (and some bad investments) he got a couple of more shows in the early 20s, one of which, ironically, was called “Better Times”. After this, no one would hire him, until he could stand it no more, and sought his release. When he died, Time magazine ran an admiring obituary, and Charlie Chaplin (who’d performed with Marceline in his youth) sent the biggest bouquet of flowers to his funeral. Where are such people when you’re alive, I wonder?
To find out more about the variety artspast and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.