Today is the birthday of the great Irish-German-Austrian-American stage composer Victor Herbert (1859-1924). (He was born in Ireland, raised in Germany and Austria and moved to the U.S. as a young man. Funny to be writing this now — I spoke about him in my recent talk at the Greater Astoria Historical Society.
Herbert was a crucial figure in the evolution of modern musical comedies out of the European style operas and operettas that came before them. Between 1896 and his death, he composed the music for dozens of stage shows. His best known today include Babes in Toyland (1904), Little Nemo (1909, based on the Winsor McCay comic strip) and Naughty Marietta (1911). The 1907 show Mlle Modiste has been on my radar lately because it featured an obscure chorus boy named Mack Sennett. In the teens and afterwards he also wrote music for several revues, including numerous editions of the Ziegfeld Follies. He remained sufficiently popular after his death for the Marx Brothers to make jokes about in the late 20s and early 30s. Several of his shows were revived in the decades after his death.
Coincidentally, it’s also the birthday of Gene Sheldon (for my full bio on that quirky entertainer go here). Here’s Sheldon in the 1960 3-D Disney remake of Babes in Toyland (he’s the mute in the Langdonesque dented hat):
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