Archive for June, 2013

Cabin in the Sky (Lena Horne as a Bad Girl?)

Posted in African American Interest, Hollywood (History), Movies, Music, Singers, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2013 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Lena Horne (1917-2010). She got her start singing in Harlem’s Cotton Club and other swank New York night clubs, performing with the likes of Adelaide Hall and Noble Sissle. Always classy and graceful, she was not a part of the earthy black vaudeville scene I often write about here. But she did have an excellent role in the 1943 MGM film version of the hit Broadway musical Cabin in the Sky, which is a veritable Who’s Who of black vaudevillians and performers: Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Ethel Waters, Butterfly McQueen, Louis Armstrong, Mantan Moreland, Ernest Whitman, Duke Ellington, and Buck & Bubbles. The priceless plot has devils and angels vying for the soul of Eddie Anderson, who has a weakness for gambling and sin. It’s a good thing he has a religious wife (Waters) to keep him on the straight and narrow, because Lena Horne is a wanton woman out to take him for all he’s got. NOW…everyone knows Lena Horne. Words I would use to describe her include “fine”, “dignified” and “classy”. So this part was very much against type, and I have to say casting Horne as a femme fatale has to be this wonderful movie’s main weakness. Horne was a beautiful woman but try as she might she could not radiate “bad” in the carnal manner the script called for. And that may well have been why MGM cast her, in those highly restrictive times.

For more about black vaudeville and performers like theseconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever fine books are sold.


Susan Hayward: Beauty and the Bottle

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Hollywood (History), Movies, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2013 by travsd


Today is the birthday of the brassiest of broads, Susan Hayward (1917-1975). Stunningly gorgeous for the first decade of her career (which had begun in 1937 when the former fashion model came out to Hollywood to audition for the part of Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind), her looks and personality grew hard-bitten in time.

Her Oscar nominated performance in  Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947), a portrait of an alcohol nightclub singer, began the redefinition, from pin-up girl to singin’, dancin’ car-wreck:

A few years later she revisited the same territory, this time in a vehicle based on the real life Lillian Roth’s autobiography, I’ll Cry Tomorrow (1955).

But the ever-lovin’ capper, and one of the best scenes in a movie full of priceless moments, is her notorious turn as Helen Lawson in Valley of the Dolls (1967) in which she loses her wig in a cat-fight with the younger, hungrier Patty Duke. “Broadway doesn’t go for booze and dope!” she hisses just before Duke’s sociopathic movie star Neely O’Hara yanks her rusty curls off her head and dumps them in the toilet.

These are the first movies I ever saw Hayward in, so imagine my surprise when I finally saw her in earlier roles like The Hairy Ape (1942). She was one the screens great beauties. Dayum! Stay away from bourbon, children!


 For more about show business historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

George Chandler: The Musical Nut

Posted in Comedy, Crackers, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick, Stars of Vaudeville, Television, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2013 by travsd


Today is the birthday of George Chandler (1898-1985). Chandler began his show business career in vaudeville in 1915, billing himself as “The Musical Nut”. He arrived in silent films just as their heyday was waning, starring in a series of comedy shorts for Universal wherein he played a timid back-east “dude” usually named “Cuthbert” or “Bertie”, who was forced to have heroic wild, west adventures whether he wanted to or not. I was delighted to learn in Steve Massa’s fine book Lame Brains and Lunatics that Chandler was considered one of a handful of Keaton copycats in those years, and that that original characterization spilled over into the early years of talkies. (he even wore a porkpie hat).

One of his best known roles from his early talkie phase was his 1933 turn as the son Chester in the W.C. Fields short The Fatal Glass of BeerHe was a favorite of director William Wellman, who put him in nearly two dozen films between 1937 and 1952, including one of his best roles, that of Ginger Rogers’ sad sack husband in Roxie Hart (1942). That’s not such a big role, by the way. Most of Chandler’s roles in the talking era were bit parts, walk-ons, and under-fives, although he is always both memorable and recognizable — he had a very distinctive face. Baby boomers will remember him as “Uncle Petrie” on the television show Lassie (1956-1959). He’s also notable for having been an officer of SAG-AFTRA: treasurer from 1948 through 1959 and president from 1960 through 1963. His last role was on an episode of Lou Grant in 1979.

To learn more about silent and slapstick comedy and performers like George Chandler, please out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc. To learn more about 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.

Last Week’s Drama

Posted in ME, PLUGS, VISUAL ART with tags on June 29, 2013 by travsd

Last Wednesday night we were sitting in our living room watching tv and suddenly heard a terrifying rumbling sound coming from our front room. We ran in and found that this had happened:



nother angle




Under all that plaster is…Carolyn Raship’s artwork. Everything had been scanned and digitized of course, but the originals — months and months of hard work — are now covered in an insidious, destructive dust. Naturally the necessary cleaning, restoration, preservation and so forth is expensive. Ain’t that always the way?

With so many projects and causes out there competing for your attention, the alchemists at Caviglia’s Cabinet balk at passing the hat in this instance. BUT, if you wanted to BUY one of her awesome prints, greeting cards and so forth, you’d be getting full value for your purchase AND supporting what I deem to be among the best of causes. Her store is here at:

I’m Trav S.D. and the Duchess has not approved this message.

Frank Loesser: Sketch Artist?

Posted in Broadway, Stars of Vaudeville, Tin Pan Alley, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , on June 29, 2013 by travsd


The birthday of Frank Loesser (1910-1969) is today. It’s a little known fact that the composer of Guys and Dolls, Where’s Charley?, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Hans Christian Anderson worked for some time in his youth for the Keith vaudeville circuit. I find two different accounts of what he actually did however. Historian Anthony Slide says he drew caricatures. This is eminently possible. Lightning sketch artists were a staple of vaudeville, and Loesser drew thousands of such pictures during his lifetime (see his web site here). However Wikipedia and several similar sources on the Internet say that he WROTE sketches for vaudeville (i.e. comedy sketches) — quite a different thing.  And just as possible — plenty of songwriters were also writers of comedy sketches. If you’re a Loesser scholar — or even a greater one — feel free to chime in and let us know if it was one or the other, or (equally possible) both.

To find out more about the history of vaudeville, including sketch artists (whatever sort) like Frank Loesser, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


Captain Paul Boyton, Coney Island Amusement Pioneer

Posted in Amusement Parks, BROOKLYN, Coney Island, Impresarios with tags , , , , on June 29, 2013 by travsd


Today is the birthday of the Fearless Frogman, Paul Boyton (1848-1924), showman, daredevil, and one of the early founders of the Coney Island amusement district.

Boyton served in the navy as a teenager in the Civil War, then became a mercenary for Mexico and France, and later one of the early founders of what was to become the U.S. Coast Guard. His initial fame came through his promotion of an inflatable rubber dry suit invented by C.S. Merriman, which allowed the wearer to float atop the water on his back. Wearing this suit, Boyton made several highly publicized long-distance journeys, floating feet forward, paddling himself along kayak style, toting his provisions in a little boat behind him. In such a fashion in the mid 1870s he crossed the English channel and the Strait of Gibraltar, and went up the Rhine, Danube and Mississippi Rivers. His longest journey, taken in 1881, was a distance of 3,580 miles.


Next he toured around for some years with an aquatic circus. In 1887, he traveled with P.T. Barnum’s circus. At each stop along the tour they would have to excavate a special “artificial lake” for him to do his demonstrations in. He opened his first permanent park (indeed the first amusement park anywhere) Paul Boyton’s Water Chutes in Chicago in 1894. The next year he opened Sea Lion Park in Coney Island, the first amusement park there. Prior to Boyton, the Coney resort had consisted of hotels, casinos, racetracks and of course the reason for it all, the beaches. Thus it can be said that its transformation into what it is now began with Boyton. In addition to presenting demonstrations of his own act as well as trained sea lions in Boyton’s artificial lagoon, Boyton offered rides like the Shoot the Chute and the Flip Flap Railroad (an early roller coaster).


Boyton’s example inspired George C. Tilyou to open Steeplechase Park on adjoining land. Then in 1901, Thompson and Dundee bought Sea Lion Park itself, transforming it into the original Luna Park. Boyton continued to live in Brooklyn until he passed away in 1924.

To learn more about amusement historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


Posted in Circus, Contemporary Variety, Magicians/ Mind Readers/ Quick Change with tags , , , , , on June 29, 2013 by travsd

Tihany gala

Today is the birthday of Tihany (Franz Czeiler (b. 1916). Originally from Hungary, he took magic lessons from Alfred Uferini and learned to pick pockets by watching Dr. Giovanni, a German performer. His first magic persona was “Fakir Sanda Ruh”; the act focused on mentalism and feats that seemed mystical. In his early years he seemed to bounce back and forth between Europe and South America. In the late 1940s,he opened his first big magic show in Budapest and toured Hungary, Yugoslavia and Romania.

Tihany moved to Brazil in 1953 to work in the Circo Romana. In 1955 founded Circo Tihany, one of the world’s most successful tent shows, seating at various times anywhere between 2,000 and 4,000 people, with a cast ranging from 70 to 200. While magic is the focus of the show, it includes every single circus and variety act imaginable – jugglers, dancers, clowns, aerialists, and acrobats as well. The circus tours throughout Latin America to this day.


In 1984 Tihany retired and moved to Florida; the latest account of him (only a couple of years old) has his him living in Las Vegas, and there is no mention on the internet anywhere of him having died. If he is still with us, he is 97. His circus, which he reportedly still keeps a hand in, is still going.

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


And check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc


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