Archive for November, 2011

A St. Andrew’s Day Post

Posted in HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Silent Film, St. Andrews Day/ Tartan Day, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , on November 30, 2011 by travsd

Alreet, shet yer yap!

Maybe St. Andrew’s Day isn’t near as popular as St. Patrick’s, but somewhere under all this greasepaint there lies a card-carryin’, kilt-wearin’ member of the Stewart clan and ye ought to knaw where his fealty lies! In honor of the day of our patron Saint, some tributes to a few favorite Scotsmen:

Sir Harry Lauder

Believe it or not, one of the top five vaudeville acts of all time, up there with Houdini and Eva Tanguay, was this token Scotsman with bushy eyebrows, who came on stage in full kilt regalia and sang sentimental songs in a thick burr. His biggest hit was a song called “Roamin’ in the Gloamin’”. To modern eyes and ears he seems a Warner Brothers cartoon’s idea of a Scotsman. Ah, but perhaps we have it backwards—maybe Warner Bros. got their idea of a “Scotsman” from him.

He was born in Edinburgh in 1870 and got his first working experience in a coal mine. But a coal mine is no place for canaries. He made his debut 1882, in Arbroath. Today Arbroath, tomorrow the world! He debuted in London in 1900, and quickly became one of the most sought after entertainers in music hall, touring also Australia and South Africa before reaching American shores in 1907. His debut at the New York Theater was so successful, the audience held him over an hour.

Americans loved Lauder so much he toured the country 25 times. (His last was 1934). In an era when 17 minutes was a long time for an act to be on a vaudeville stage, Lauder usually did an hour fifteen, slaughtering the throngs with songs like “Wee Hoose ‘Mang the Heather” and “It’s a’ Roon the Toon”. His success extended to a very lucrative recording career (1902-1933) and numerous films, including several early talkie experiments. He was knighted in 1919 for his work entertaining troops. His last radio broadcast was in 1942, but  retired officially in 1949. He died the following year.

Will Fyffe

American vaudeville’s second favorite Scotsman was Will Fyffe (1885-1947), who broke into English music hall around 1916, and made numerous appearances at New York’s Palace Theatre in the late 1920s. His last appearance in the States was in Earl Carroll’s Vanitiesin 1932 (the last edition). He appeared in numerous talkies from 1930 until his death (reportedly by falling out a window) in 1947.

Jimmy Finlayson

I’ll be writing much more about Jimmy Finlayson (1887-1953) in the coming months, both here and in my new book Chain of Fools. Finlayson (known as “Fin” to the fans who revere him) is best known today as the comic foil to Laurel and Hardy, although he appeared in many other films, often as the star. His career spanned both the silent and sound eras. He got his start at Mack Sennett’s Keystone, but enjoyed greater success on the Hal Roach lot. He is best loved for his highly individualistic double-take, which involved the squinting of one eye in a suspicious manner while his head perked up in surprise. His influence is strongly felt today on The Simpsons, both in the person of “Groundskeeper Willie”, but also in Homer’s famous exclamation  “D’Oh!” — another borrowing from Fin. He is seldom identified as the Scotman he is in his pictures — he simply speaks in that unmistakable burr, just another matter-of-fact immigrant to American shores.

Dingus McDollar

Patron and star of the American Vaudeville Theatre 15th Anniversary ExTRAVaganza last August. (a.k.a Josh Hartung).  Stripped of all other ethnic stereotypes, we were forced to resort to “Scotch-face”.

Happy St. Andrew’s Day!

To find out more about these variety artists and the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


Stars of Vaudeville # 393: Lee Morse

Posted in Singers, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , on November 30, 2011 by travsd

Lee Morse (born Lena Corinne Taylor on this day in 1897) was a big time vaudeville singer and star of Broadway revues in the 1920s. She was the daughter of a preacher; her four older brothers formed a professional quartet; her younger brother Glen was Senator from Idaho for a time (known as “The Singing Senator” for his earlier career as a singer). She was married and pregnant by age 16 but still strove to enter show business. She began working local small time in the Pacific Northwest, accompanying herself on guitar. The tide changed when she was booked for a Kolb and Dill revue in 1920. Many such engagements followed, such as Raymond Hitchcock’s Hitchykoo series, and Artists and Models with Frank Fay. The peak of her career was 1924-30, where her pyrotechnic if gimmicky showmanship made her a star of vaudeville, numerous recordings, and some Vitaphone shorts. After this, vaudeville declined, and drinking got in the way of her career. For a time, her husband and accompanist was Bob Downey, a cousin of Morton Downey Sr (a popular singer and father of the briefly notorious tv talk show host). Morse and Downey tried to start a nightclub in Texas in the 30s but it burned down. They moved to Rochester, where the marriage broke up. Morse remained in the area and continued to perform locally until her death in 1954.

Now here she is singing the timeless classic “I Like Pie, I Like Cake”:

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


Vaudephone #3: Carla Rhodes and Cecil

Posted in Contemporary Variety, Vaudephones, Vaudeville etc., Ventriloquism & Puppetry with tags , , , on November 29, 2011 by travsd

Here now, the third installment in our Vaudephone series: the impeccable rock and roll ventriloquist Carla Rhodes and her partner Cecil Sinclair:

Crack Comics #63

Posted in CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, PLUGS, VISUAL ART with tags on November 29, 2011 by travsd

An interesting surprise arrived in the mail with my copy of Pood the other day. An outfit known as the Next Issue Project has been reviving comics titles that have fallen into public domain. Their latest experiment has been Crack Comics, which was originally published by Quality Comics Group from 1940 through 1949. Crack has nothing to do with Cracked; nor has it anything to do with an insidious drug.But it does intoxicate!

The modus operandi of the creators (one I happen to agree with) is not just to exhume the old stories and characters but to re-imagine them somewhat. This is most clearly evident on the visuals side; whereas a lot of the writing falls very much into an apt (and often hilarious) tribute to the style of the WWII and early Cold War era, much of the art (although not all) tends to be more “individual” and contemporary. (The principle exception is Waldo Trimpe’s “Spitfire” an awesome tribute to the graphic style of the Golden Age).

Not surprisingly, you’ve never heard of any of these heroes: “The Clock”, Captain Triumph, Hack O’Hara, the Space Legion. (I say not surprisingly, because if they had remained famous, something tells me there would have been a legal battle over this revival, public domain or no public domain). Our good buddy Adam McGovern and his partner Paolo Leandri tackle “The Spider”, an arachno-hero a couple of decades older than Stan Lee’s. But then, as Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun.

At any rate, I had a high old time reading these ripping yarns, and I’m probably going to re-gift my copy of Crack Comics #63 so I can seem way cooler than I am.

Pood #4

Posted in CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, VISUAL ART with tags on November 29, 2011 by travsd

Pood is my life raft.

Oh, not metaphorically — quite literally. The other day I fell off the Staten Island Ferry into the middle of New York harbor…but I simply clung atop my copy of Pood and bobbed along untouched by the icy waters until help arrived. The rescue ship then simply towed me and my copy of Pood back to the pier, while I took a few laps upon my copy of Pood to kill time and keep warm.

I kid a lot about Pood’s size but it occurs to me that it’s expansiveness is a good metaphor for what it does. It constantly opens your eyes to what a comic is, or can be. This month (Pood #4), Jim Rugg contributes “Rampage”, a single panel that takes up two whole pages of Pood…which is in fact poster-size. You could easily hang the comic (which depicts a battle between two monsters resembling Godzilla and King Kong) on your wall, although I would recommend coloring it in first. “Bon Voyage” by Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri had me looking up the names Elbert and Alice Hubbard (you should, too). I’ve especially come to look forward to Tobias Tak’s surreal, charming visions. Many, perhaps most, of the comics eschew narrative and simply give us striking images that make you feel like your skull is being inflated with helium.

In short, I’m a dude who loves my Pood. To find out what all the fuss is about, go here.

The Fartiste

Posted in CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Frenchy, Indie Theatre, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , on November 28, 2011 by travsd

There were several hurdles for The Fartiste to clear before the curtain even went up:

1) I am extremely hard on musicals. It’s not, I finally realized, that I don’t like them, it’s that my standards are extremely high and somewhat idiosyncratic, so I end up enjoying relatively few of the ones created after about 1940.

2) I am extremely hard on shows about subjects that are of interest to me, such as, oh, highly unusual music hall artists like the famous French “fartomaniac” Joseph Pujol.

3) Despite having written my own play about farts, I like to think I am “above” fart humor. Ahem.

So no one was more surprised than I was at at how much I enjoyed The Fartiste, which we caught at Sofia’s Downstairs over the weekend. I was especially impressed by Michael Robert’s tunes, lyrics and arrangements all of which were original, full of wit and kept me on my toes. This is one fart musical that is not dumbed down. I will follow this songwriters’ subsequent outings very closely.

Likewise, I felt Charlie Schulman’s book contained equal measures of wit (over and above the obligatory wind jokes) but the show needs more story. It’s headed in a good direction — the old “man pursues a peculiar vision” arc, but it sill needs honing and focusing and beefing up.

Director John Gould Rubin wrings all he can from the cabaret environment of Sofia’s Downstairs, surrounding us with action. The waitress is in the show. The actors steal drinks off people’s tables. The action takes place not only on the stage but on all sides. (A smart move, because the joint ain’t raked, spoiling sightlines to the stage itself).

I was also impressed (as I seldom am) with the cast. Stand outs were Nick Wyman (a familiar Broadway face–I’d seen him earlier in A Tale of Two Cities) as Aristide, our “street singer”; Kevin Kraft as the eponymous flatulent; Steven Scott, as the foregrounded foley artist (whose range extends from trumpets to saxophones — use your imagination); and Lindsay Roginski, as can-can dancer La Goulue (the Countess informs me the actress is several orders of magnitude more attractive than her real-life character). The lively musical direction was by Rachel Kaufman, whom (coincidentally) was my musical director for my 2008 show No Applause Just Throw Money: The Show That Made Vaudevile Famous.  Rachel’s just moved on to another French cabaret themed show — the Edith Piaf tribute I plugged here.

And the fact that Rachel has moved on leads to some sad news. The Fartiste closed yesterday. I’m glad I got to see it, and will definitely be keeping an eye out for new work by all the artists involved here.

Edith Piaf, Opening Tonight!

Posted in Frenchy, Music, PLUGS, Singers, Women with tags , on November 28, 2011 by travsd

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