The Wiere Brothers unfortunately came along too late for American vaudeville, hence we do not include them in our Stars of Vaudeville Series. Yet it would have been the perfect home for their unique blend of talents. Today is the birthday of Sylvester (1909-1970); his brothers were Herbert (1908-1999) and Harry (1906-1992). Third generation performers, they were born in Prague, Vienna and Berlin, respectively as their family toured the Great Capitals. As children they studied singing and ballet at the Prussian State Opera. In 1922 they set off with their own act, incorporating those skills along with comedy and acrobatics. Fleeing Nazism and looming war, they moved to the U.S. in 1937 where they immediately found work in night clubs and film, and later television. Here’s how they looked in their heyday (the dance is amusing enough but definitely stick around for the horse costume!):
In another of their oft-recounted routines, the three come out as a string trio. Herbert keeps trying to play serious music, but the brothers keep cutting up with hillbilly playing. Finally, in consternation , Herbert gives up and balances his violin on his chin. Harry, sees and responds by balancing his guitar on his chin. Sylvester, who is playing an enormous bass fiddle seems to be in a pickle. There is a long pause as the audience observes his struggle. Finally, the payoff–as he too balances his instrument on his chin.
Of their half dozen or so movie performances perhaps the best known is in The Road to Rio (1947) with Hope and Crosby. They briefly had their own tv series Oh, Those Bells! in 1962, directed by Jules White (cancelled after 13 episodes). Some of their last appearances included Double Trouble in 1967 with Elvis Presley, and a 1969 shot on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in. The act disbanded after Sylvester passed away in 1970. They actually have their own web site! Go to wierebrothers.com for more info.
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 Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.