Today is the birthday of Albert Whelan (1875-1961). Born in Melbourne, as a young man he moved to Western Australia where he sang and danced for miners employed in the gold fields (very similar to many American performers who got their start in the mid to late 19th century in the area around San Francisco.) Encouraged by his success, he moved to the U.K. around the close of the century. Billed as “The Australian Entertainer”, he developed an act where he entered and exited in tie and tails as he whistled a waltz from the opera The Jolly Brothers. He is thought to be one of he first performers associated with a signature tune. From 1908 through the 20s, he divided his time between British and Australian music hall and American vaudeville. Whelan is the singer who introduced Americans to the song “Show Me the Way to Go Home”, memorably sung by the three main characters in Jaws. The song was originally written in 1925 by James Campbell and Reginald Connelly.
Here is a fairly bizarre clip of him telling a story to musical accompaniment in 1931. It’s the sort of thing that was peculiarly vaudeville/ music hall, uncategorizable, a sui generis:
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 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