On the Vaudeville of Cher
Today is the birthday of Cher (Cherilyn Sarkasian, b. 1946). I wish it had occurred to me to write more about her in No Applause — she is absolutely the modern equivalent of a Nora Bayes, Eva Tanguay, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Mae West, etc etc…a big, BIG female star, a singing comedienne who makes a huge impression wherever she goes, who seems to premiere a new, original designer outfit wherever she shows her face. And for a time she even had her own Jack Norworth in the person of Sonny Bono. And can you imagine having your own comedy/ variety television series, AND recording and releasing hit records all at the same time? THAT, my friends, to me, would be the acme of all existence.
I slavishly watched hers (and Sonny’s) various tv shows in the early to mid 70s, and was inspired not only by them but by Cher’s trilogy of #1 singles.
“Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves” (1971) speaks for itself — the imagery it evokes, and its theme of being an outcast on the fringes of respectable society runs all through No Applause, and I do mention the song in the book a couple of times, so I guess Cher did wind up in it after all.
But as someone who is (like Cher) part Cherokee, my imagination was also fired up by her song “Half-Breed” (1973). This number is also straight-up vaudeville with its Hollywood “Indian” sounding string section and tom-toms, rivaled in the rock era only by Paul Revere & the Raiders’ 1971 “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)” for heap big hokum. This clip is just too good:
And the last piece of the puzzle, 1974’s “Dark Lady” in which she plays a murderous fortune teller. Sonny’s voice is pretty prominent among the background singers, which is kind of funny given the degree to which they were publicly breaking up by the point.
This is just the summit, man. Like all the great ones, she periodally re-invents herself (during the 80s she was a serious actress), but she always comes back to her Cherness. (It was the only palatable aspect of that terrible 2010 Burlesque movie, for example.) But if you want any indication of the health of her career, just Google her. Most of the photographs that pop up when you do so are from, like, NOW.
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