Today is the birthday of J.C. Nugent (1868-1946). A Texas farm kid, he ran off with a travelling repertory company at age 16, barnstorming the country in melodramas, comedies and occasion classics, sometimes contributing plays himself. After 15 years of this he made it to New York, where he broke into vaueville at Tony Pastor’s and Keith’s Union Square. His sketches were a big hit and he wound up not only getting bookings for himself, but selling material to other vaudeville acts. He was exiled after participating in the White Rats Strike in 1906, relegated to playing regional circuits like Poli’s or Orpheum houses out west. In 1911 he was allowed to return to eastern Big Time. For 15 years he performed in skeches, after this he switched to monologues for a time billed as “Vaudeville’s Most Talked-About Line of Talk”. Starting in 1922, he acted, directed or wrote (sometimes all three) in over two dozen Broadway plays. From 1927 to 1931 he also wrote scenarios and screenplays for Hollywood (the best known of these was the script for the sound remake of Tod Browning’s The Unholy Three). He was also a busy Hollywood actor from 1929 through 1943 (most notably he played Esther Blodgett’s father in the original 1937 version of A Star is Born). His last film was Follies Girl. His last Broadway show was Playboy of the Western World, which closed just a few months before he died. His wife Grace Fettig was also his long time acting partner since the beginning of his career. His son Eliot Nugent, also became an actor, writer and producer.
To learn more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous