Today is the birthday of Frank Crumit (1888-1943). University trained as an engineer he didn’t enter vaudeville until he was 25 years old, with a small time act that mixed songs and patter. (Although he did appear in a minstrel show** at age five, and sang in choirs and took opera lessons). For a time he was was in a trio run by a man named Paul Beise. In 1919 he began cutting records and he broke into the big time, singing, joking and accompanying himself on uke, billed as the “one man glee club”. This led to Broadway turns. On the show Tangerine (1921) he met and became involved with Julia Sanderson (1884-1975). (They were both married to other people at the time. That shortly changed).
Sanderson had started out as a child actor in a stock company with her parents, and switched to singing in vaudeville and music comedies in her adolescence. Starting in 1904 she began starring in Broadway shows, roughly a different new show every year, with vaudeville dates in her down time. Though she and Crumit became linked in 1922, they didn’t appear as a team until the show Oh Kay in 1928, They throve in vaudeville as a two-act over the next four years (as long as there was a vaudeville) and then moved on to radio where they got their first show Blackstone Plantation on CBS 1929-1933. They were on radio constantly with a succession of shows until 1943 when Crumit died suddenly of a heart attack. Sanderson briefly soldiered on with a solo show called Let’s Be Charming but then retired.
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.
**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.