Peter F. Dailey: He’s My Neighbor!


Today is the birthday of Peter F. Dailey (1861-1908). A major star of his day, Dailey had a hand in most of the popular theatrical forms then going. The son of a Brooklyn fishmonger, he broke into the theatre at the age of eight, performing a Barn Dance Reel at the Globe Theatre on the Bowery, when that street was still the theatre’s theatrical main stem. Then he performed as an acrobat and clown for Whitney’s Circus.

Dailey toured early vaudeville for eight years as one quarter of the American Four, whose other members included Peter F. Hoey, Pete Gale and Joe Pettingail. For three years he played legit theatre in Boston at the Howard Athenaeum, including the lead in an extravaganza called Evangeline. In his last decade, he was a star of Broadway farce comedies and burlesque, notably with the Weber and Fields company, in such shows as Hurly Burly, Whirl-i-Gig, and Whoop-de-Doo. When the team broke up, he performed with each of their individual companies. He also toured vaudeville again with a one act version of a play he’d starred in called The Press Agent. When he died of pneumonia in 1908, the entire theatrical community mourned.

Here’s what put him onto my radar a few months ago. I was walking through Green-Wood Cemetery and stumbled on the memorial to the minstrel man** Billy West. Part of his plot was given over to Dailey:


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

**Obligatory Disclaimer: It is the official position of this blog that Caucasians-in-Blackface is NEVER okay. It was bad then, and it’s bad now. We occasionally show images depicting the practice, or refer to it in our writing, because it is necessary to tell the story of American show business, which like the history of humanity, is a mix of good and bad. 

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