William H. Fox (ca. 1840-1915) had several phases to his career. He ran away from home as a youth in his native Kentucky to appear in circuses and early vaudeville touring units where he was a boy tenor and “Dutch” song-and-dance man. In middle age, his voice began to give out, so he became a songwriter, having success with several now-obscure numbers such as “Break the News to Mother Gently,” “The Broken Home,” “Sentenced to Death,” “Only a Violet from Mother’s Grave,” and “When McManus Goes Down to the Track.”
About 1892 he returned to vaudeville with a trick piano act called “World’s Greatest Piano Player: Paddy Whiskey,” (a play on his famous contemporary Paderewski), in which he played the piano with his toes and his nose, performed comical songs and did humorous monologues. By the time he passed away he had done this act on the circuits over 16,000 times.
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.