Today is the birthday of “Professor” William S. Hutchings (1832-1911), billed in vaudeville and dime museums as the “Lightning Calculator”. Hutching was a math prodigy who began working at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum as the Boy Lightning Calculator. For 25 cents he then hawked a book by the same title that revealed his arithmetical secrets (read the text here). In 1881, he moved to Austin & Stone’s museum in Boston, where he was the star of the whole show: outside talker, lecturer and master of ceremonies for the vaudeville acts and freaks he presented therein. Boston native Fred Allen was a huge fan, and writes about him in his autobiography Much Ado About Me, saying that Hutchings was so famously loquacious that Harvard students would come to study his modes of speech. In 1904, Hutchings published his autobiography; he was with Austin & Stone’s until he passed away in 1911.
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.
For more on silent film 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