Today is the birthday of Joe Fox (Joseph Monahan, 1852-?) With William H. Ward (1852-?) he formed minstrelsy’s longest-lasting duo. Having started in Cincinnati in 1868, they were still going in vaudeville as late as 1916 (I found a reference to them playing Pittsburg that year). Painted in burnt cork**, they tumbled and clog danced, and toured throughout the far west in stage coach days. They worked with a long succession of companies: Dan Shelby’s…Dupre and Benedict’s…Barlow, Wilson, Primrose and West…Skiff and Gaylord’s…Haverly’s…Lester & Allen’s…George Arlington’s. For one season (1882), they had their own company, Fox and Ward’s. In their latter decades, they eschewed the burnt cork part of the time and played vaudeville in their own skin. I don’t know how good they were at their singing, dancing and patter. In vaudeville you needed an angle, and there’s was that they had been around so long! In fact, as far as I can tell, they’re still around! (Can’t find their death dates).
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.
**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.
My great grand father was Joe Fox. William Ward died in 1934, with his life long friend by his side. Joseph passed in 1937. Their grave is located at Arlington Cemetary in Philadelphia.
How nice to hear from you! and thanks much for this information! we’d be grateful for any more you’d care to share
Seems Joe and William had friends from their stage travels. Both George M. Cohan and Edwin Booth hung out with the guys per a few letters and photos that remain with my family. In 1968, a large flood sweep through our family’s estate in Philadelphia. My grandmother had recalled Joe’s ‘good time’ stories with his friend Edwin Booth and sent many of the salvaged memories to the Hampden-Booth Theater Library at Gramercy Park in NYC.
One great story that has been passed down; while Joe & William were traveling, they started running low on cash. Joe wired his wife Emma and asked for her to send $100. When the package from Emma arrived, Joe opened it to find a one hundred confederate bill. He kept the bill and told the ‘joke on him’ the rest of his days.
My great grandfather and grandfather were were writers during this era. I have photos signed by Fox and Ward in addition to other photos.