Archive for April, 2013

Reverend Gary Davis

Posted in African American Interest, Blues, Television, TV variety with tags , on April 30, 2013 by travsd



Today is the birthday of blues musician Reverend Gary Davis, a.k.a Blind Gary Davis, a.k.a Blind Reverend Gary Davis (1896-1972). (I don’t know if anyone called him the last name, I just thought it was funny). I prime exponent of the Peidmont blues style, his career began in the mid 1920s, and got a major boost during the folk and blues revival four decades later. Here he is from that latter phase, in a half-hour tv special recorded in 1967:

“The Girl I Left Behind Me” Opens Tonight

Posted in British Music Hall, Contemporary Variety, Drag and/or LGBT, Indie Theatre, PLUGS, Singing Comediennes, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , on April 30, 2013 by travsd


Tonight through May 19 at 59e59 Theaters —

The Girl I Left Behind Me, written by Neil Bartlett and Jessica Walker, and directed by Mr. Bartlett for Brits Off Broadway.

From the press release:

“From the swaggering cross-dressers of the Victorian Music Hall belting out their innuendos in black tie and tails, to the ambiguous boy-heroes of Mozart and Strauss, to the back-room tuxedoed blues singers of the Harlem Renaissance, this is a provocative, flirtatious and deliciously personal one-woman guide to a whole forgotten chapter of female performance. With just a piano, a microphone and a few well-chosen items of male attire, mezzo-soprano Jessica Walker conjures up an entire world. Ranging from Victorian and Edwardian Music Hall and American vaudeville, to some well-known hits like “Burlington Bertie from Bow” and the achingly beautiful “After The Ball”, each song is illuminated by the stripped-down musical settings and by Walker’s very personal singing style, bringing alive both the songs and the stories of the women who sang them for a contemporary audience.”

The Girl I Left Behind Me begins performances on Tuesday, April 30 for a limited engagement through Sunday, May 19.  Press opening is Sunday, May 5 at 7:30 PM.  The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 8:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM & 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM & 7:30 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to

Forgotten Shows of My Nonage #40: Phyllis

Posted in Comedy, Forgotten Shows of My Nonage, Movies, Sit Coms, Television with tags , , , on April 30, 2013 by travsd


Today is the birthday of the divine Chloris Leachman (b. 1926). Equally adept at comedy or drama, capable of grace and loveliness on the one hand (see above) or comical ugliness (as in her performances in Mel Brooks’ movies) on the other, her career, which began in the 1940s, continues to this day. She pops up in surprising places. Before she gained prominence in the films of Peter Bogdonavich, fo example, you could see her in the 1956 Mike Hammer noir classic Kiss Me Deadly, and as a whore in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).

In the 70s she was best known to most Americans as the buttinsky, annoying landlady and friend Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. After five years on the show (1970-1975), Leachman followed in Valerie Harper’s footsteps by getting her own spin-off series, Phyllis. In the show, Phyllis, now widowed after the death of her always off-camera husband Lars, moves to San Francisco to live with her in-laws. (The father-in-law was one of my favorite character actors Henry Jones. I’ve been known to channel his distinctive vocal mannerisms from time to time). Unfortunately, though Harper’s show Rhoda managed to last five seasons, Phyllis was able to hang in there for only two. A shame, because I really loved it.

My favorite part was the theme song, one of the best and funniest in all television history. If you hang in ’til the end you’ll see why I say that.

I Love You, Alice B. Toklas

Posted in Comedy, Movies, Rock and Pop with tags , , on April 30, 2013 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Alice B. Toklas (1877-1967), most famous as secretary and companion to Gertrude Stein. Far more importantly, her name became a synonym for a certain type of elicit brownies, and thus became part of the title of one of my favorite crazy sixties comedies, I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (1968). 

In the film, Peter Sellers plays Harold Fine, an uptight nebbish much modeled on the character of Woody Allen (whom Sellers had recently worked with in What’s New Pussycat and Casino Royale).


Harold accidentally eats some of the Toklas, drops out of straight society, shacks up with a hippie chick (Leigh Taylor Young) and pretty soon he looks like this:


Times have changed a GREAT deal. Much comedy is mined out of the idea that a man of the advanced age of THIRTY is behaving in a certain fashion…if people only knew what was coming. The trailer tells the tale:

And of course, the thing has to have an arc. Things get out of hand and Harold comes to his senses. Here is the hilarious party scene in which that happens, when the craziness around him has gone on too long and has simply gotten to be too much. After all, even his own parents are turning on:

I defy you to tell me it gets any better than this!

Al Lewis in the Flesh

Posted in Comedy, Jews/ Show Biz, Movies (Contemporary), Sit Coms, Television with tags , , , on April 30, 2013 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Al “Grandpa” Lewis (for my full article on that star of Car 54 and The Munsters  go here). To learn a little but about Lewis as we New Yorkers knew him during his last decades, see this terrific doc I found on Youtube this morning:

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable 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 etc etc etc


Grace McDaniels, the “Mule Faced Woman”

Posted in Dime Museum and Side Show, Human Anomalies (Freaks), Professional Uglies with tags , , , , on April 30, 2013 by travsd


Despite what her unfortunate name suggested Grace McDaniels (1888-1958) did not resemble a mule. She was born in Numa, Iowa with a condition called Sturge-Weber Syndrome which by around age 30 had degenerated to such a point that she joined Harry Lewiston’s Circus as a freak (a designation she understandably objected to). In 1935 she joined F.W. Miller’s sideshow after winning an “ugliest woman” competition. Grace preferred “mule-faced” to “ugly” in her billing and was generally mortified by the attention she got from her condition. Audience members were known to scream or faint; some reported nightmares in the aftermath.  In early years she tried to cover her anomaly (which began as a wine colored birthmark) with make-up; later she wore a veil in public.  Raped by a carnival worker, she gave birth to a son she named Elmer, who grew up to be her manager. Elmer turned out to be cruel and abusive, stealing from Grace and her employers in order to cover gambling debts. This happened just as she was becoming more dependent, the growths on her face swelling to the point where she couldn’t speak. Eventually, the sideshows stopped hiring her. She died at age 70. Elmer died shortly thereafter of cirrhosis of the liver.

To find out about  the history of the variety arts, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


Also please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from etc etc etc


Tommy James, “Draggin’ the LIne”

Posted in Music, Rock and Pop with tags , , on April 29, 2013 by travsd


Today is Duke Ellington’s birthday, but I hope you’re not too disappointed to learn that I am much more excited about the fact that it is Tommy James’ birthday today (b.1947). Duke Ellington’s sister once came to one of my shows, but I’m not certain I could even identify any of Ellington’s music. But I had several 45s by Tommy James and the Shondells when I was a kid (on the Roulette label, a colorful story there). Very hard to choose which song to post today, out of several favorites….but since this one has been in my head for the past several days anyway, I guess this is fated to be it:

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