Sliding Billy Watson

Sliding Billy Watson (a.k.a William Shapiro, 1880-1940) was so called because of his sliding, skidding entrance onto the stage from the wings. The burlesque comic’s career started around the turn of the century, and his name was a cause of particular pique to fellow burlesque entrepreneur Billy “Beef Trust” Watson, who saw it as a brand infringement.

An interesting tidbit: the first burlesque show the writer Henry Miller ever saw was a Sliding Billy show in 1909. He wrote up an account 60 years later:

“I was still going to High School when an older boy (from the old Fourteenth Ward) asked me one day if I would not like to go with him to The Empire, a new burlesque theatre in our neighborhood. Fortunately I was already wearing long pants, though I doubt if my beard had yet begun to sprout. That first burlesque show I shall never forget (Krausemeyer’s Alley with Sliding Billy Watson). From the moment the curtain rose I was trembling with excitement. Until then I had never seen a woman undressed in public.”

[“The Theatre,” p. 3; from The Books In My Life, p. 289]

(Thanks to the Cosmodemonic Telegraphic Company: A Henry Miller Blog, for this anecdote).

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.

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9 comments

  1. This is a long shot but here goes. Am looking for bio info like birth/death on a burlesque comedienne named Fred Nolan (real name Fred Pigeon). He performed until Sept 1903-1924 – with a hiatus Oct 1903-1906 when I think he was working as a stagehand for Klaw & Erlanger road shows, leastwise for Mr. Bluebeard company when it was at the Iroquois Theater in Chicago in ’03
    In July-Aug of ’24 he turned up as a prop man for Billy Watson.

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  2. Hi Alan! I’m rather late to this comment party but I wonder if you have any info on some of the ladies Sliding Billy Watson toured with often? I have some sheet music with Nita Bernard on the cover and through the library of congress I was able to find an article from November 1925 that she was with him for a Columbia Burlesque show. Looks like they also performed on the same circuit March 1926 at the Gayety which I assume was the Gayety in DC because I have record of her performing there a couple times. I did double check and nothing comes up linking her to Beef Trust and she also wasn’t in that weight class.

    If anyone else coming across this with info on Nita Bernard I’d love if you shared!

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  3. No, It was a Beef Trust Watson show—Sliding Billy however was known as a Dutch based comic. EVen Beef Trust Watsons own daughter who passed a few years ago –her obituary claimed she was the daughter of Sliding Billy Watson. I’m still cleaning us this mess 100 years later. I think Iknow why he chose the name Watson tho.

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    • Hi Alan I have been researching my Family tree and it has brought me to Billy sliding Watson. Who I believe is my Great Great Uncle. A lot of things lead to him then it go`s a bit strange , You say he took the name Watson, I think I know why this MAY be so I don’t want you to think I am prying into your family’s business but, I would like to bring this to some conclusion.

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  4. Chances are Henry Miller was watching Beef Trust Watson, not Sliding Billy as Beef Trust was known for his Krausemeyers Alley Routine. I am Sliding Billy’s Great Grandson.

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