Jean Carroll (b. Celine Zeigman this day in 1911) was one of the very first female stand-up comedians, a familiar face on the Ed Sullivan show, who briefly had her own sit-com in the early 1950s. Her comedy routines about life as a housewife paved the way for the likes of Phyllis Diller, Totie Fields, and Joan Rivers. Buddy Howe was a talent agent who rose to be chairman of the board of CMA (not to be confused with MCA). They were also husband and wife; he was her manager.
But before this, they had been a team in vaudeville. Buddy Zolitan (b. ca. 1910) started out as one half of the dance team Bud and Buddy in the mid 1920s in an act that toured the major big time circuits. (They were only teenagers but had gotten this rare opportunity via a successful audition.) After this, he worked solo for a bit, changed his name to Howe (as in “Buddy–How He Can Dance!”) and then hooked up with a trio that also included Alyce McLaughlin (who later married Amos ‘n’ Andy’s Charles Correll) and Jack E. Leonard. This act broke up around 1933, and soon after, Buddy spotted Jean Carroll, who’d already danced with a number of acts herself. They formed a versatile team that mixed comedy cross talk with dance (and pretty quickly found themselves getting married). As an act they were together from around 1935 through 1943, playing presentation houses, what was left of small time, British music halls and the U.S.O. Buddy was drafted in 1943 and that was when Jean went solo and switched to stand-up. Howe died in 1981. Carroll died in 2010, just shy of her 99th birthday, and was on the grateful end of several public tributes in her final years. There are terrific interviews with both Carroll and Howe in the book The Vaudevillians by Bill Smith.
To see Carroll and Howe in action as a team, courtesy British Pathe see link here.
And here’s Jean Carroll in her prime as a solo act:
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.
For more on silent film don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc