Ross and Fenton: Spoofed Contemporaries

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Today is the birthday of Charlie Ross 1859-1918, whom with his wife Ada Towne (a.k.a Mabel Fenton, 1865-1931) formed the team of Ross and Fenton.

Canadian native Ross had started out as a jockey and appeared with a Barnum show (presumably with an equestrian act) prior to making his debut as a singer and comedy impressionist at Miner’s Bowery Theatre in 1885. He began to tour the nascent vaudeville circuits; a couple of years while playing a variety house in Deadwood, South Dakota he met and married Mabel Fenton, a performer with a similar act. It made sense for them to combine their efforts. Mabel did spoofs of stars of the day like Minnie Maddern Fisk and Maude Adams; Fenton did send-ups of thespians like William Faversham and William Gilette.

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With this skill set the duo were a perfect addition to the Weber and Fields stock company when it formed in 1896. They stayed with the company until 1900, the rejoined it for a national tour in 1904. After Weber and Fields split, they played in some Joe Weber shows in 1907 and 1908. Throughout those years, the team continued to play in short sketches in vaudeville and to appear in Broadway shows such as The Social Whirl (1906). In 1907, Ross appeared without Fenton in the first edition of Ziegfeld’s Follies. By 1908, Fenton apeared to drop out of performing; Ross continued to appear in vaudeville and on Broadway until shortly before his death in 1918. The couple also founded a resort hotel in Monmouth County, NJ in the late 1890s; portions of it still stand.

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.

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