Philadelphia native Francis Wilson (born this day in 1854) got his start in minstrelsy and old school variety as one of half of the blackface** team of Mackin and Wilson. He left the variety theatre in 1878, to pursue what ended up being a highly distinguished career on the legitimate stage. He also wrote several plays and books and was the first President of the Actors Equity Association. He retired in 1930 and passed way in 1935. Florida’s Francis Wilson Playhouse is named after him.
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.
**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.