Archive for September, 2012

Cholly Atkins: Rhythm Pal

Posted in African American Interest, Broadway, Dance, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2012 by travsd

Today is the birthday of the great dancer Charles “Cholly” Atkins (1913-2003). Buffalo native Atkins started out playing floor shows and revues with William “Red” Porter as the “Rhythm Pals.” By 1935, he was playing the Apollo Theatre, Hollywood and nightclubs. In the late 30s he toured with Bill Robinson in The Hot Mikado. World War 2 slowed his career, but he got to perform with army bands and take the occasional club date on weekends. After the war he teamed with Honi Coles and toured with the big bands of Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and others. They peaked as a team with a three year run in Gentleman Prefer Blondes starting in 1949. After this, apart from a few television dates, work grew scarce and Atkins worked as a choreographer. He worked with all the great Motown artists during the 1960s and 70s, staged revues in Las Vegas, and climaxed his career as one of the choreographers on the Broadway show Black and Blue (with Savion Glover) in 1989.

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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Fally Markus

Posted in Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , on September 30, 2012 by travsd

It’s five for Fally Markus

At Only Half the Dough

But It’s Two a Day for Keith

And Three a Day for Loew

— “The Vaudeville Song”, 1938

Fally Markus (ca. 1887-1955) was one of those legendary show business figures, so much so that he almost seems like a rumor or a figure out of myth. He was the agent that vaudevillians big and small went to when they were either completely out of all possible other work (in other words had exhausted every other option) OR when they wanted to break in new material. The small time dates he booked provided little or no money (sometimes only travel fare) but at least kept you performing. Milton Berle, for example, spoke of resorting to him during his awkward adolescent years, during the fallow period between his childhood success and his adult stardom. Markus claimed he could book ANY act–provided the price was low enough.

By the same token, Big Time acts took dates from him at venues so out of the way and obscure that they could try out new material and feel free to risk bombing.

“There was a booker in New York, Fally Markus,” said Billy Glason in an interview in Bill Smith’s The Vaudevillians, “…Everyone that had to break in their act, either for the Palace or whatever, went to Fally and said, ‘Fally, I need three days.’ And he’d get them. Which meant that Fally got the biggest acts for bubkis–peanuts.”

When vaudeville dried up so did Markus’s niche as a booker. He kept a hand in the business as a ticket agent for the remainder of his career.

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.

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Billy Bevan: Star of Late Sennett Silents

Posted in Comedy, Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2012 by travsd

Bevan is the One on the Right

Billy Bevan (1887-1957) was born on this day. The Australian native began performing as a child and spent eight years with the Pollard Light Opera Comedy before coming to the U.S. He started out at L-KO studios, Pathe Lehrman’s Keystone splinter group in 1916. In 1920, he moved over to Sennett, where he was to become of the King of Comedy’s top stars during the 1920s. His distinctive moustache (like a pair of brillo pads) and perpetual look of surprise made him one of the most distinctive comedians on the lot during its last decade. He is frequently credited with originating that bit later revived by Curly Howard and Lou Costello, where his efforts to eat a bowl of chowder are hampered by a spitting, apparently sentient oyster. That’s him in one of the most famous clips of the last Sennett years, wearing nightgown and cap driving his bed down the street. The 1924 comedy is called Lizzies of the Field, and also features his frequent co-star Andy Clyde. Part of it is below, with German sub-titles:

In the sound era, Bevan was no longer a star, but was he ever present in Hollywood films! He became a bit player, that Australian accent usually subbing for Cockney, and he was frequently cast in period pieces and horror films as the querulous lantern-holding constable, or the driver of a hansom cab. Look for his turns, still his unmistakable self, in such films as Dracula’s Daughter (1936), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945). His last picture was 1950’s Three Secrets.

Don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.

Arnold Stang

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Radio (Old Time Radio), Television, TV variety with tags , on September 28, 2012 by travsd

Today is the birthday of character comedian Arnold Stang (1918-2009). He started out when still a teenager in radio (with that voice, who’d have guessed?) In the 50s he was a regular named “Francis” on the Milton Berle Show. In the attached bit, he gets the better of Uncle Miltie in a Christmas episode. Stang’s entrance is at about 1:16. If you don’t recognize that face, you’ll know the voice right away when he speaks, from a million cartoons and commercial voice-overs.

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.

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Ed Sullivan

Posted in Irish, Sport & Recreation, Television, TV variety, Vaudeville etc. with tags , on September 28, 2012 by travsd

Today is the birthday of Ed Sullivan (for the full story on the great television showman, go here.) Sullivan was among other things a former sports columnist. To prove it, see how he conducts this interview with Wilt the Stilt in 1962:

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.

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The Art of Molly Crabapple (Review)

Posted in BOOKS & AUTHORS, Burlesk, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, CULTURE & POLITICS, VISUAL ART, Women with tags , , on September 27, 2012 by travsd

I find myself inspired and rejuvenated since the arrival in my mailbox yesterday of the two volumes that comprise The Art of Molly Crabapple. Or, to say it plainer and broader, I am simply inspired and rejuvenated by the art of Molly Crabapple.

Artists are the bellwethers of their times (thank you, I made that up) and the slippery Crabapple embodies the ambivalence of ours. “Artist and Entrepreneur”. Those are two things I call myself, and I grapple with the contradictions regularly. Molly never asks the questions flat out so much as lives them (and draws them). On the one hand, decadence, hedonism, publicity and the drive to make a buck. On the other hand, revolution, and common cause with the left wing. But these internal clashes have driven artists for centuries. It is the essence of Romanticism. Still, she is somehow also of our particular moment.

Part One of The Art of Molly Crabapple, “Week in Hell” is just what I’m talking about. Last year she locked herself in a hotel room for a week with the goal of filling the walls with art. The stunt has echoes of David Blaine, John Lennon, and to a lesser extent Michaelangelo. Unlike many a Medieval artist, she is “suffering” (just a little) for art, but not at all for God. The “Hell” she refers to is ironic, like Matt Groenig’s “Life in Hell”, or at worst Dorothy Parker’s “fresh hell” — an irritation, one spawned in her own mind. A vow of poverty is not on her personal agenda; a Kickstarter campaign (which earned five times the cost of the project) bankrolled her sumptuous layout, during which 17 pots of coffee and 22 bottles of liquor were consumed. Dontcha worry, the five foot tall Crabapple may resemble Dorothy Parker AND can even put it away like Dorothy Parker, but she was helped in emptying those bottles by a steady stream of VIP visitors, many of whom were her models (porn stars, burlesque dancers, dominatrices). If her behavior is masochistic, then it’s the pleasurable kind, and let us say she will not walk out of this experiment poorer or more obscure. This makes her then also much like Warhol, who borrowed from spiritual art by tweaking the religious ikons of his Eastern European ancestors to portray the idols of capitalism, and got fistsful of money and attention for those efforts.

If Crabapple’s art has a spiritual forbear one would have to name Heironymous Bosch. All of that caffeine and alcohol clearly fuel mad, mad visions in Crabapple’s fevered skull, rendered in endless, obsessive detail. Like imps in Bosch’s Hell, tiny figurines called Girl-Things (all of which resemble Molly but without a face) populate the hallucinatory landscape. In one, inspired she says by the Arab Spring, the head of the “Pug Dog of Dictatorship” tumbles to earth out a giant tree full of onion domes and minarets. In another, Girl-Things race to the top of a a giant rabbit head, where they are char-broiled on a barbecue. It’s called “War Bunny”. At any rate, during her week of voluntary confinement she spewed out 270 feet of amazing drawings, a prodigious feat when you look at the detail, and all free hand in magic marker, with no do overs.

Part two of the series “Devil in the Details” contains recent portraits of her “night life muses”, many of them the same folks we have met in the first book. Generally there is so much going on in any one picture that one is by turns turned on, amused, and disgusted, the high and the hangover taking place at the same time. She says she learned to draw by “copying Hogarth and Alice in Wonderland”. ye Gods! How did I not notice that she resembles Tenielle’s Alice? By design, of course. There’s nothing she does that hasn’t been first conceptualized. There’s Alfred Jarry in there, too. And am I crazy? Something about her pen-and-ink style reminds me of Mad Magazine’s Sergio Aragones!

So this is how it is with her, so many echoes and influences in her work, mashed-up and presented in a completely new manner. There seem to be as many ripples and memories in her act of self-creation as there are details in her work.

Lately the political seems to be dominating. Three days after emerging from her hotel, Occupy Wall Street happened, and she produced posters for them (many of them are in the book). On the anniversary a few days ago, she got arrested and spent a day in jail. Before that she was in Athens for a few weeks, birthplace of Democracy, Western Art, and Bacchanalia. Her debauch there is a matter of public record, but I have no doubt she wanted to see what was up with the protests too…and just maybe take in some ruins. Like Byron before her. Revolutionary and hedonist both.

Isidore H. “Izzie” Herk: Wine, Women and Song

Posted in Burlesk, Impresarios, Jews/ Show Biz with tags , , , , on September 27, 2012 by travsd

The Gaiety Theatre, managed by Izzie Herk during its burlesque heyday. If you squint, you can see that the top line on the marquee reads “Girlie Follies”. Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” playing next door dates the photo to 1940-41 just a few months before the Gaiety (and all of New York) ceased producing burlesque due to political pressure

Isadore H. “Izzie” Herk (1882-1944) was one of the principle managers who helped turn old-fashioned “Little Egypt” era burlesque into something modern burlesque-lovers might recognize. He was known variously as “Napoleon”, “the Henry Ford of Burlesque” and “one step above a gangster”.

Beginning his career as Treasurer of the Valentine Theatre in Toledo, he then moved his operation to Chicago, and to the Empire Burlesque circuit. In the late oughts he began to work for the Columbia wheel (the pre-eminent burlesque circuit in the country), eventually running their American Burlesque branch, a faux competitor set up in 1915 to play riskier shows, taking the heat off the mother company. In 1922 he became president of the newly founded Mutual Burlesque wheel, which provided still raunchier stripteases, bump and grind, and low-down jazz, even as Herk insisted to politicians and the press that his were “clean working class entertainments” — and many believed him. In 1942, he co-produced (with the Shuberts, which whom he had collaborated twenty years earlier on Shubert Advanced Vaudeville) a Broadway show called Wine, Women and Song starring Jimmy Savo and Margie Hart. It was advertised to be a mix of vaudeville, burlesque and Broadway revue. Since all three forms were dead or nearly dead by that point, the rationale must have been that the three struggling genres might add up to one healthy show. Unfortunately the burlesque part outraged authorities, and Herk was thrown in jail for three months. The show closed after only seven weeks. The ordeal took a toll on his heart. He died two years later. Martyr to free speech? Or scoundrelly businessman? You decide!

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.

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