Archive for July, 2013

Trav S.D. Presents the Coney Island Bathing Beauties One Week From Today!

Posted in BROOKLYN, Burlesk, Comedy, Coney Island, Contemporary Variety, ME, My Shows, PLUGS, Silent Film with tags , on July 31, 2013 by travsd
Drawing by Carolyn Raship
Drawing by Carolyn Raship

Wednesday, August 7 at 9pm at Coney Island USA:

Trav S.D. (American Vaudeville Theatre) and a High Kicking Chorus of Cuties recreate burlesque as it was in Coney Island’s early 20th century glory days, and a salute to Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties. Water Nymphs, Wisecracks, and Whatever Floats Yer Boat –

Featuring…

Your host: Trav S.D.

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The Bathing Beauties:

Helen Pontani!

Grace Gotham!

Kat Mon Dieu!

Kita St Cyr!

Edie Nightcrawler!

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All the Way from St. Louis: Sammy Tramp!

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Authentic Eastern Belly Dancing by NEON NYC!

A special birthday tribute to MATA HARI!!!

Plus comedy sketches inspired by old time burlesque and silent movies featuring Trav S.D., Bob Greenberg (first place winner, this year’s Coney Island Talent Show), Gregory Levine with additional nuts TBA!

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Copies of CHAIN OF FOOLS will be on sale purchase and signing, in that order

And for swell official Bathing Beauties merchandise designed by our Royal Court Artist Carolyn Raship go here:

http://society6.com/cavigliascabinet/Trav-SD-and-The-Bathing-Beauties_Print

See more at: http://www.coneyisland.com/event/trav-sd-presents-bathing-beauties#sthash.MwttAopv.dpuf

 

A Silent Film By Sammy Tramp!

Posted in Burlesk, Clown, Comedy, Contemporary Variety, Dance, Movies, Movies (Contemporary), Silent Film with tags , , on July 31, 2013 by travsd

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The last chapter of our book Chain of Fools talks about contemporary performers who are making original silent comedy films. And, lo and behold, Sammy Tramp, whom we’re presenting a week from today August 7 in our Bathing Beauties show at Coney Island USA, has made one. It’s called A Doughnut in the Park. Check it out!

Stars of Vaudeville #205: Kolb and Dill

Posted in Comedy, Comedy Teams, Hollywood (History), Jews/ Show Biz, Movies, Sit Coms, Television, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2013 by travsd

Originally posted in 2010

You’ve undoubtedly seen  Clarence Kolb (born this day in 1874) more than once in your movie watching history without knowing it.  He was a popular character actor in films of the 30s and 40s, including Carefree with Astaire and Rogers, His Girl Friday with Cary Grant and Hellzapoppin with Olsen and Johnson, as well as a regular on the television show My Little Margie. Before that though, he was one half of the team Kolb and Dill, among the top Weber and Fields copy-cat acts of their day. Kolb and his partner Max Dill grew up together in Cleveland, where they began performing together as boys. So excellent were they at doing Weber and Fields type schtick they were hired by the famous team to play themselves in the west coast tour of their 1901 show Fiddle-Dee-Dee. Thereafter, they were San Francisco based. They enjoyed success for many years in the theatre. During the silent era they made a few comedies, but didn’t click with audiences. When talkies happened, Kolb got work, Dill didn’t. Dill passed away in 1949, Kolb in 1964.

To find out more 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.

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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 amazon.com etc etc etc

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Stars of Vaudeville # 766: Mousie Garner

Posted in Child Stars, Comedy, Comedy Teams, Music, Nuts and Eccentrics, Sit Coms, Television, TV variety, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Paul “Mousie” Garner (1909-2004). He started out in vaudeville at the age of four with his family’s act. As a young adult Garner was hired by Ted Healy as a substitute stooge in the early 30s when Healy and Moe/Larry/ Shemp were on the outs, and thus got a taste of the big time. Later he became a member of Spike Jones’ band. Ironically this presented him from becoming a legitimate member of the The Three Stooges; Garner was Larry and Moe’s first choice for a replacement when Shemp died in 1955. But Jones wouldn’t let Garner out of his contract, thus enabling the public to become acquainted with the prodigious talents of Joe Besser and Curly Joe De Rita, the fifth and sixth stooges, respectively. Garner finally got his chance in the 1970s, but only ever so briefly and not really. By then Moe and Larry were also dead, and the only “legitimate” stooge was De Rita, who’d only been with the team himself since the late 50s. This sad experiment was short lived.

Garner got plenty of work over the years as a character actor in walk-ons on sit-coms in the sixties, and guest shots on tv variety shows. His book: Mousie Garner: Autobiography of a Vaudeville Stooge is a great resource for information on the early years of show biz. His last credit (posthumous) is in The Onion Movie. 

To find out more 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.

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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 amazon.com etc etc etc

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The Man Who Built the Orpheum Circuit

Posted in Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, Broadway, German, Impresarios, Jews/ Show Biz, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , on July 30, 2013 by travsd

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Originally posted in 2010

Once upon a time, a young Czech performer named Martin Beck had been touring the Americas with a German singing and juggling troupe. Stranded by his company in Chicago, he took a job as a waiter in music halls, working his way up to bartender, and finally to booker. (Because of this trajectory he was sometimes referred derogatorily as “Two Beers” Beck.) By the late 90s, Beck was managing Schiller’s Vaudeville, a touring company, which brought him out to San Francisco, where he next began to manage the Orpheum theatre for Morris Meyerfeld, playing Albee to his Keith. (This same Orpheum is immortalized in the 1899 Frank Norris novel McTeague. It, and every other San Francisco theatre, would be destroyed in the great 1906 earthquake). Under the Orpheum rubric, Beck and Meyerfeld  began snatching up theatres throughout the west at a rate that rivaled F.F.  Proctor.

Beck’s technique was to partner with local businessmen in theatres for each market. These collaborators would have important inside knowledge about the best local contractors, how to go about getting necessary permits, and what palms would need to be greased to move the enterprise forward.

Beck was an unusual character among the vaudeville managers. In a field dominated by predictable men of reserve, Beck managed to become one of the most successful despite an erratic, volatile personality. He was simultaneously known for being insulting and cruel to those under him, and for his openness and generosity. The perfect example merging those two traits was an occasion when he learned an acrobatic trio booked for his circuit had accepted the low sum of $175 for a week at one of his theatres. Beck proceeded to publicly deride the act, insisting that they ought to be ashamed of themselves and not take less than $350. No act on his circuit was going to go around like a bunch of bums.

Beck’s other major eccentricity was that he had highbrow pretensions. One of the best bookers in the business, the owl-like, multilingual Beck also stubbornly insisted on booking opera singers, classical musicians, and ballet dancers, even if sometimes he was the only one in the audience who appreciated them. He considered it his responsibility to educate the audience.

He also had a fine instinct for crowd-pleasing, however, as evidenced by two of his early major discoveries: Harry Houdini and W.C. Fields. In 1899, Houdini and his wife Bess were just barely eking out a living in circuses and dime museums when Beck booked him for the Orpheum circuit. Under Beck’s management, Houdini went from being a fairly run-of-the-mill magician to the Handcuff King, vaudeville’s premier escape artist, loved by audiences for his uncanny ability to work his way out of handcuffs, shackles, knotted ropes, straight-jackets, locked trunks, bank vaults, and jail cells. In a matter of months, Houdini’s weekly salary went from $25 to $250 (and ere long would be ten times that).

The following year, a young W.C. Fields was still bumbling around small time vaudeville and burlesque. In 1900, Fields was one of any number of “tramp jugglers”, silent clownish entertainers in hobo garb who worked the circuits, keeping as many household objects aloft as they knew how. One of the best in the business, Fields would juggle hats, cigar boxes – anything he could get his hands on. Beck took him onto the Orpheum at almost twice his current salary and shipped him out to San Francisco, where he performed on a bill with the magician Howard Thurston and Mr. and Mrs. Sydney Drew. Fields’ Orpheum travels brought him also to Denver, Omaha and Kansas City – evidence of Beck’s reach even at that early stage.

When the big time vaudeville managers formed a combine (the Vaudeville Managers Association, or VMA, Beck would end up running the entire western half of the country for something like a dozen years, from his office in Chicago.  But long about 1912, he took a mind to expand. He worked up plans for a grand new Chicago theatre called the Palace, that would act as an anchor for the Orpheum circuit, but Beck also decided to build an entire new circuit in the East. His flagship for that circuit, also to be called the Palace, could only be located in one place. Exploiting a loophole in the VMA agreement with Hammerstein to keep out of Times Square (Beck was only part of the Western Vaudeville Managers Association), he set about building a grand new vaudeville temple right up the street from Hammerstein’s Victoria.

E.F. Albee was beside himself with rage at this threat to his own hegemony. The audaciousness of this incursion was akin to Proctor’s pre-emptive actions in the 1890s. But just as he had with Proctor, Albee kept enough wits about him to definitively brake (and break) Beck. He let Beck’s hubris get the best of him. The highfalutin Beck (who reportedly spoke 6 or 7 languages) would travel to Europe frequently to personally book high level acts. While he was away in France negotiating with Sarah Bernhardt for his new Palace, Albee took the opportunity to buy up every other house Beck had intended to comprise his Eastern wheel, including certain Percy Williams properties in Florida. Beck returned to find himself over a barrel. For reasons that an accountant would probably understand best, he preferred to own the Williams theatres, which Albee sold to him, on the condition that the Keith organization would now have a majority stake in the Palace. Beck would still be a major shareholder, and would be in charge of all the booking. Beck took the deal.

Beck went on to become an important producer of Broadway shows, and even had his own theatre, the Martin Beck, which was renamed the Al Hirschfeld in 2003. He died in 1940.

To find out more 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.

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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 amazon.com etc etc etc

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Stars of Vaudeville #204: William Powell

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2013 by travsd

Originally posted in 2010

William Powell (born this day in 1892) was no “star” of vaudeville, but he did do some time there during his years of struggle from the time of his graduation from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1912, to his discovery by Hollywood ten years later. Can his vaudeville training have anything to do with his sparkling personality, expert timing and expertise in filling out a tuxedo, in those scores and scores of Hollywood classics? We think it could!

From vaudeville, he stepped up to Broadway in 1918 in The King, and did four more Broadway shows after that. In 1922, he broke into films, thus spending the first six or seven years of his movie career making silents — a lot of people don’t know that. He was in When Knighthood Was in Flower (1922) with Marion DaviesRomola (1924) with the Gish sisters; the original screen version of The Great Gatsby (1926); and dozens of others. In the talking era he put all that good stage experience to use, in such classics as the Philo Vance series (1929-1933); the Thin Man series (1934-1945), two outings as Flo Ziegfeld in The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and Ziegfeld Follies (1946); My Man Godfrey (1936) and his poignant swan song Mister Roberts (1955). Much like another dashing, good-looking charmer, Powell opted to retire from the screen early, leaving his popular public image intact. He passed away in 1984.

Powell was married to Carole Lombard from 1931 to 1933 (which might explain their special chemistry in My Man Godfrey), and was romantically lined to Jean Harlow from 1935 until her death in 1937.

Here he is as detective Philo Vance in The Greene Murder Case (1929):

To find out more 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.

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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 amazon.com etc etc etc

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Forgotten Shows of My Nonage #49: Mrs. Columbo

Posted in Forgotten Shows of My Nonage, Television, Women with tags , , , , on July 29, 2013 by travsd

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We (and probably you) have been much enjoying Kate Mulgrew’s Russian cookie and cell-block boss lately in Orange is the New Black. I’ve come across much online chatter to the effect of “Who knew Captain Janeway had it in her?” Well, I’m here to tell you that I have a much earlier association with Mulgrew. Indeed when I first saw her on Star Trek: Voyager my first reaction was “Who knew Mrs. Columbo had it in her?”

Mrs. Columbo (1979-1980) was the hare-brained innovation of NBC president Fred Silverman, whom at the time was the KING of harebrained innovations.  Long time fans of Columbo know that the detective’s oft-mentioned “Mrs.” was a constant presence on the show, but NEVER seen. One pictured a dowdy, ethnic, middle-aged housewife stirring tomato sauce in the kitchen and gabbing to her friends on the phone about soap operas. The joke was that she was never seen; to ever show her would be a kind of violation — much like the mythical “Charlie” of Charlie’s Angels. But if she ever WAS to be seen, one would want the kind of Mrs. Columbo that Peter Falk’s character had been alluding to for ten years.  Someone like Maureen Stapleton, which was the Columbo producers’ reluctant choice for the part, if there had to be a choice at all.

Instead, Silverman cast the beautiful 24 year old Kate Mulgrew. By what odd alchemy Lt. Columbo, with his dirty, smelly raincoat and his cigar habit, ever bagged this hottie was not explained. This Mrs. Columbo is a reporter for a local newspaper who goes around solving mysteries in an amateur sort of way. It was Silverman’s attempt to keep the franchise alive after Peter Falk had moved on.

As was to be expected, no one liked the show. Mulgrew was perfectly great in the role, but the deck was stacked against her. Columbo fans felt betrayed (we were a die hard Columbo family and we only bothered with one or two episodes). People checked the show out, were disappointed, and stopped watching. The network responded by edging the show away from its original premise, changing the name from Mrs Columbo to Kate Columbo to Kate the Detective, to Kate Loves a Mystery, and eventually changed her character’s name from Kate Columbo to Kate Callahan. (H’m….the next logical step is that wonderful tv series Mrs. Dirty Harry). By that time, of course, they probably asked themselves, “Why are we making this show again?” After 13 episodes of this nonsense they called it quits.

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