Herb Williams and His Breakaway Piano

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Herb Williams’ (Herbert Schussler Billerbeck, 1884-1936) whole act revolved around a trick piano that fell apart like Harry Langdon’s automobile, but also was the source of many other surreal gags. Ironically, he was a legitimate, trained pianist (he studied at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music). His partners over the years included his first wife Hilda Woofus, his second wife Jean Halpin, and Tom Kennedy (a different one, I think, from the Keystone comedian). By the mid 20s Williams was a big time headliner, who played the Palace several times. Broadway appearances included Earl Carroll’s Vanities of 1930 and The Farmer Takes a Wife (1934). He was just beginning to break into films when he passed away in 1936.

To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

 

8 comments

  1. I have been researching Jean Halpin’s first husband, Edward E. Ford, an Australian comedian. I was asked to do it by an English acquaintance as I am based in Australia. It turns out I am related to him!. Do you have details about Jean, her English background etc. I have traced her if you don’t have those details. She was born Adeline May Herring. Halpin, her stage name was her grandmother’s name. I am interested to know what happened to her. I have traced her to late 1925 as she was divorcing Ed and appearing with Herbert – I think on the Orpheum Circuit. I also have the newspaper clipping which tells all about the breakup of the marriage of Hilda and Herbert, but you probably have that in your collection.

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    • No,I sure don’t have that clipping Maryann! All I know is that Herb went to England and married a woman there..and my Great grandmother (Hilda) and my grandmother (Doris) went to live with Hilda’s mother in West Virginia after the divorce. Everything was so hush hush back then…I don’t think my grandmother even talked about it very much back in the 1980’s lol….I’d love to see your news clipping if you have any way of scanning it Maryann…I’m still going through my steamer trunk of clippings from her early years myself.Sorry I don’t have any details as of now for you in regards to Jean Halpin..if I come across any info I will gladly provide you with it 🙂

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  2. LOVE THIS…Herb Williams(Billerbeck) is my great grandfather ..My grandmother,Doris Billerbeck,was the daughter of Hulda Wolfus and Herb Williams..of the Vaudeville team Williams and Wolfus…I have trunks filled with newspaper clippings,programs etc etc…This is really wonderful to see him on film..I know he did a movie or 2 right before his death (Rose of the Rancho being one of them) but I could never locate any of them! Thank you sooo much for posting this…now I know where I got my nose from LOL LOL…I actually look a lot like him.He was also related to the character actor Billy Beck (Frank Billerbeck…my grandmother’s cousin) who just passed away June 29th 2011.

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