Today is the birthday of George Mann (1905-1977) of the vaudeville comedic dance team of Barto and Mann. He and Dewy Barto (b. Stewart Swoyer, 1896-1973) were each performing seperate solo dance acts with Fanchon and Marco shows when they were cast to play Mutt and Jeff in a specialty dance number in 1926 (Barto was 4’11”; Mann was 6’6″). They clicked so well they remained a team and William Morris was able to secure them an engagement at the top of the pyramid, the Palace Theatre in New York, without the months and years of hard work at more modest theatres most acts usually had to endure before getting there. From here they went on to a tour of the big time Orpheum circuit, then a turn in the 1928 edition of Earl Caroll’s Vanities, and more Orpheum and Fanchon and Marco time. In 1932 they appeared on the very first bill at Radio City Music Hall. In 1933 they were in the movie Broadway Through a Keyhole. The following year they toured Europe. With vaudeville dead, and Broadway ailing, they spent several years touring night clubs and presentation houses. From 1938 through the team’s break-up in 1943, they were part of the core cast of Olsen and Johnson’s Hellzapoppin. (The team reunited briefly in 1946-47, then went their separate ways).
By this time, Barto’s daughter Nancy Walker was becoming a successful character actress; the torch had been passed to a new generation. (Walker obviously inherited her father’s gene for height). Mann, meanwhile continued to follow his other passion, photography, and it’s a good thing for us he did. The film footage and still photography he took of his fellow vaudeville performers and theatres they worked in is a valuable resource. This treasure trove of material was discovered and preserved by his daughter-in-law Diane Woods, who now makes it available through thegeorgemannarchive.com. Among the amazing stuff you will find there: footage of W.C. Fields onstage in performance, and home movies of the original Three Stooges fooling around on Atlantic City’s steel pier. It is not to be missed.
Mann the performer was also to get a new lease on life in the 197os when he was cast to play cereal mascot King Vitaman, a role he played for the last six years of his life, and then another quarter century posthumously:
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.