The Vaudeville of Chuck Barris
Today is the birthday of visionary show biz entrepreneur Chuck Barris (b. 1929). We celebrate him for many reasons today. In chronological order:
His uncle Harry Barris was a member of the Rhythm Boys, the 1920s group in which Bing Crosby got his start. Harry wrote such songs as “Mississippi Mud” and “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” and sings, acts and/or plays piano in over 50 films made between 1930 and 1950.
Surely Harry’s example was an inspiration to Chuck who started off his career by penning “Palisades Park”, an awesome paean to a New Jersey amusement park, and a #3 hit for Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon in 1962.
Following his hit game shows of the late 60s/ early 70s, The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game, Barris went on to create The Gong Show (1976-1980), one of the pre-eminent survivals of vaudevillianism in those years, which mixed elements of the amateur hour, a variety show and a game show, the acts ranging from the professional to the absolutely freakish. I wrote about it some in No Applause, and have written homages to frequent contestant The Unknown Comic and frequent celebrity guest Arte Johnson on this blog. Without a doubt I’ll write a lot more about other aspects of the show as time goes on. I would be very shocked to learn that I did not watch every episode of this show when it was on. It was just my cup of my Pennyroyal tea. It’s essentially an electronic age version of Miner’s Bowery Theatre.
After this, there was The Bobby Vinton Show which we blogged about here, and Rip Taylor’s own $1.98 Beauty Show which we blogged about here. By the 80s, he was burned out, and eventually cashed out his media empire, although he did pen the highly Barnumesque 1984 “autobiography” Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, in which he claimed to be a hit man for the CIA, which was made into a terrific movie by George Clooney in 2002.
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