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.
Today is the birthday of James Budworth (1831-1875). He was prized on the variety and minstrel stages as a mimic (or impressionist), and for his blackface and “Dutch” characterizations, as well as singing, acting, and playing the banjo and Chinese and Japanese fiddles. He made his debut on the stage of New York’s Park theatre in 1848. In the early 1850s, as part of White’s Original Serenadors he appeared at Barnum’s American Museum. By 1859 he was principal comedian with Christy’s Minstrels, and over the next decade and a half, worked with a succession of companies, including Wood’s, Peel’s, Sharpley’s and Moran’s. He also starred in several plays, including “Pomp”, and “The Persecuted Dutchman”. His brother WillIam “W.S.” Budworth was also a performer, and for a time they co-managed their own company Budworth’s Minstrels, which opened the Fifth Avenue Theatre in 1868. This theatre would later become a major vaudeville house, managed successively by Henry C. Miner and F.F. Proctor. James’s son Frank Budworth was also a performer, known as “the best of the Chinese impersonators” and for playing Topsy in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
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.