Today is the birthday of Roy Smeck (1900-1994). Billed as the “Wizard of the Strings” he was proficient and entertaining on the uke, banjo, guitar and steel (Hawaiian) guitar. A poor singer, he developed flashy ways of playing, accompanied by novelty dancing in order to sustain interest in his act. He started out in vaudeville in the 1920s, his fame getting a big boost in 1926 when he appeared in one of the very earliest Vitaphone shorts. In 1930 he was at the very top of his game, appearing at the Palace in New York and the Palladium in London. He would return to the Palace in 1933. He would appear in several other movie shorts over the years, and several times on television during the 1950s.
In 1983, after a long career as a musician, he was the subject of an Oscar-Nominated documentary short Wizard of the Strings: A Film Portrait of Roy Smeck.
Here he is doing his stuff (his playing starts about 30 seconds in). Makes me want to just up and quit!
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.