103 years ago today the following review appeared in the NY Clipper:
“A colored ventriloquist is rather a novelty, and at [Hammerstein’s] Victoria last week Frank Rogers, a rather good looking young fellow, appeared with two dummies to uphold the cleverness of his race along the lines of ventriloquial work. One of the the figures was a little white ‘tough,’ while the other was a slow thinking, stammering ‘coon’ kid, who was very funny. The ‘boys’ get into an argument over spelling, and quite a few laughs were aroused over the dispute. Rogers catches his different intonations nicely, and the changes of voice between the two kids, especially in a rapid, heated argument they indulged in, was excellent…”
His two characters were Jerry and Rastus (you can tell who was who, I imagine). Rogers was one of the first African Americans of any sort to play the big time white vaudeville circuits, and he must have been excellent. While every review I come across does mention the unique fact that he is “colored”, they also rave about how good he is. The Freeman , an African American paper reprinted his reviews in the mainstream papers with pride. Still, I can’t find much more about him than this. I find references to him as early as 1901, and as late as 1923.
And coolest of all, this morning I saw a 1914 item in the NY Clipper that lists him on a bill at the Columbia Theatre with Finlay and Burke, the comedy team we featured here as part of the Cyndy Fuj’s Family series! They must have known each other!
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.