Today is the birthday of Leonard Harper (1897-1943). A second generation performer, he got his start as a child with medicine shows in the rural south. For a time he traveled with a small stock company that included Clarence Muse, George Freeman and Dave Schaffer before he made his way to Chicago, where he met and teamed up with the woman who was to become his vaudeville partner and wife, Osceola Blanks.
From 1916 through 1920, Harper and Blanks played the all-black TOBA circuit with a ballroom dance act, the two of them tricked out in formal wear as was the rage at the time. For the 1920-21 season, they appeared in the big time Shubert opposition vaudeville circuit. The rest of Harper’s career consisted in choreographing and performing in high profile African American musicals and revues, and night club floor shows. His shows included Sissle and Blake’s Plantation Days (1922-23), Blackbirds of 1926, Hot Chocolates (1929), The Cotton Club Parade (1935), and Ed Sullivan’s Harlem Cavalcade (1942). Clubs he worked at included Connie’s Inn, the Cotton Club, the Ubangi Club, and the Grand Terrace Cafe. He died while rehearsing a dance show at Murrain’s, a nightclub in Harlem.
To find out about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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 amazon.com etc etc etc