Today is the birthday of Henry E. Dixey (1859-1943). Dixey started out as a child performer, acting in a production of Augustin Daly’s Under the Gaslight at the Howard Athenaeum in his native Boston when was only ten years old. In 1879, he made his adult debut as one half of a cow in a revival of Evangeline. From the 1880s through the 1920s, he starred constantly on Broadway and on tour in a long string of hit musicals, operettas, burlesques, farces and extravaganzas, the most notable of which was the title role in Adonis (1884), a turn which some say makes him the first Boylesque star. In addition to his comedy chops, he was known for his handsome physique and his skills as a dancer. One of his show stopping turns in Adonis cast him as a marble statue who springs to life and tap dances on top of a pedestal.
In the early 20th century, he also toured in vaudeville with a series of sketches. He was one of the very first performers to appear at the Palace in 1913. Despite his film stardom, he seems barely to have gotten his toe wet in films; he made only three between the years 1908 and 1916, and that was the entirety of his output. His last Broadway show, the drama The Two Orphans, was in 1926.
Today, ironically, Dixey might be best known for an occasion on which he did not perform but was an audience member. He was one of the handful of people present when Robert Emmet Odlum became the first person to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge (as well as the first person to die in doing so) in 1885. An expert swimmer, ironically, Odlum was attempting to demonstrate the survivability of the leap. Dixey was manning the stop watch.
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 my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc