This gender bending performer is one we are presenting in a series to celebrate NYC Pride Week.
Gilbert Sarony (sometimes rendered Saroni) was remembered as one of the earliest and funniest of the vaudeville female impersonators. He sprang out of minstrelsy** (where the minstrel “wench” was a popular specialty.) As late as 1882 we encounter him playing a role like “Senator Johnson, an Aged Negro”. By the 90s he was convulsing audiences in vaudeville however, usually in the character of a talkative old crone known for the catchphrases “I thought I’d die!” and “Goodness, girls, was I embarrassed!”
From 1901 through 1904 he appeared in several short comedy films for the Edison Company in the character of “The Old Maid”, with titles like “The Old Maid in the Drawing Room”, etc. He died in 1910.
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. And 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.