Today is the birthday of Dave Montgomery (1870-1917), for 22 years one half of one of vaudeville’s greatest teams, Montgomery and Stone.
Montgomery had gotten into show business as a teenager in his native St. Louis with a song and dance act that played dime museums and saloons in his hometown. Then he toured with minstrel shows, working with a succession of partners in blackface **comedy teams: Wetherlay, Williamson, and O’Dell, in that order.
In 1896, he moved on to Fred Stone, whom he’d first met three years earlier. Theirs was also a blackface act at first. Since Montgomery had the better singing chops, he took over most of those chores. Stone was one of the best acrobatic dancers in vaudeville so he led in that department. And each of them taught the other. Because Stone was such a force of nature, and Montgomery had a lieable personality, the latter became a sort of middle man between the audience’s reality and Stone’s literal flights of fancy. Montgomery also became the team’s business partner. In the late 19th/ early 20th century, the team went from minstrel shows up each rung to the better vaudeville circuits and venues, working for Gus Hill, Weber and Fields, Tony Pastor, F.F. Proctor, Orpheum, Keith.
They unavoidably came to the attention of Broadway producers; after a transitional period where they worked both, they eventually became strictly musical comedy performers. The Girl from Up There was their first show. Their second, The Wizard of Oz was their most famous, and most lasting. They were with the show from 1903 to 1906. As always, Stone made the bigger splash with his legendary performance as the Scarecrow, ripples of which have come down to us through Ray Bolger, who emulated it. We’d have to dig a little deeper to learn what Montgomery’s performance was like. But that’s just the kind of crazy thing we are likely to do, so don’t be surprised if we post about that here some time in the future. (Any way you slice it, it’s a certainty that the original Broadway Oz musical was superior to the egregious monstrosity now in cinemas). Montgomery and Stone were in several more Broadway shows together before Montgomery died of stomach cancer in 1917 at the age of 47.
To find out more about vaudeville 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
**Obligatory Disclaimer: It is the official position of this blog that Caucasians-in-Blackface is NEVER okay. It was bad then, and it’s bad now. We occasionally show images depicting the practice, or refer to it in our writing, because it is necessary to tell the story of American show business, which like the history of humanity, is a mix of good and bad.