Today is the birthday of James Carl “Ham Tree” Harrington (1889-1956). Born in South Carolina, he ran off an joined a carnival in his adolescence, working in black vaudeville and revues throughout the oughts, teens and twenties, often with his partner Cora Green. A man of small physical stature, he played a slow-witted man who was easily hoodwinked, in the tradition of Bert Williams.
Shows Harrington was associated with included Put and Take (1921), Strut Miss Lizzy (1922), Lew Leslie’s Dixie to Broadway (1924), and The Darktown Affair (1929). In the thirties he cracked Hollywood, beginning with a supporting role in His Woman with Claudette Colbert and Gary Cooper in 1939. Most of his films through the 30s were novelty shorts like the famous Rufus Jones for President (1933), but he did land a couple of features in 1939: The Devil’s Daughter and Keep Punching.
Along the way there was more high profile stage work like As Thousands Cheer (1933-34) and Blackbirds of 1939. Aside from an ill-fated revival of Shuffle Along in 1952 his career appears to have faded after this.
Now here he is in the 1934 short Bubbling Over (1934) in which he co-stars with Ethel Waters:
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, 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