York and King were a husband-wife, male-female comedy team of vaudeville’s golden age. Texas native Berry “Chick” York (1887-1969) ran away from home at age 15 to join a medicine show. He worked his way up through minstrelsy**, melodramas and small time vaudeville — frequently returning home when he was broke (conveniently his father worked on the railroad so he got free passage).
By 1907 he was managing an outfit called Otto’s Comedians. There, he met and fell in love with Rose King (nee Koenig, 1891-1958), a veteran of a local sister act, who was in the chorus. Two years later they were married, in Alva, Oklahoma, and one year after that their daughter True, who later joined them onstage occasionally, was born.
By 1921, the comedy team of York and King were a big time vaudeville act. They managed to keep it going longer than most. Frequent performers at the Palace, they were playing there as late as 1932 when it made the switchover to movies (they often boasted they had played there more times than any other act). From 1927 through the next decade they were in several fairly undistinguished Broadway revues, and they made a couple of shorts for Educational 1934-35. After 1937 they retired to work in the Texas oil business; they’d saved a nest egg and invested wisely. What a rare vaudeville story! They emerged from retirement to appear in the 1941 George Jessel show High Kickers with Sophie Tucker and others.
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.
**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.