What, I ask you, could be more vaudevillian than a banjo-playing Harry Langdon impersonator? Answer: nothing! Born this day in 1908, Gene Sheldon’s act was that he would come out and convince the audience that he was scared and incompetent…and then wow them with his banjo playing prowess. Born Eugene Hume, he began his performing career as an assistant to his magician father. In addition to his time in vaudeville, he appeared in nightclubs, Broadway revues, extensive television (especially for Walt Disney) and several Hollywood films. He died in 1982.
Now here he is on The Perry Como Show
To find out more about the variety arts past 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.
And 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
My grandmother, Linda Preston, sang operatically while he pantomimed sewing his fingers together! 🙂 Nice to find your post. I linked to it from my post about my grandmother’s touring with him.
Thanks! wow! what an act!
[…] maternal grandmother, née Linda Preston, traveled as a singer with comedian Gene Sheldon in 1941. Unfortunately, it seems her tour with him was cut short when her brother, my Uncle Peter, […]
He also had the misfortune of being cast in the flop musical comedy, Sweet Bye and Bye, written by SJ Perelman and Al Hirschfeld with music and lyrics by Vernon Duke and Ogden Nash. A star crossed musical (whose score was recently recorded for the first time http://www.psclassics.com/cd_sweetbyeandbye.html), Sheldon had the audacity in the New Haven tryout to jettison the script and start doing his own material. When Perelman confronted him backstage after the 1st Act demanding to know why he wasn’t using the script, Sheldon replied that the laughing heard was because of his act not the script, whereupon Perelman cold cocked him, sending him to the hospital. Hirschfeld remarked later, “we were never brought up on charges by Equity.”
Four years earlier, Hirschfeld drew Sheldon in The Priorities of 1942 which can be seen here: http://www.alhirschfeldfoundation.org/piece/priorities-1942
Check out the rest of the cast!
Hirschfeld told me that Sheldon’s big piece of business was sewing his fingers together.
This is the best comment that has ever found it’s way to my comment page — it’s actually better than the post! Thanks, David! The image of Perelman decking a performer will put a spring in my step all day!
You are too kind. Your post showed me Sheldon’s act after years of only hearing about it.