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

 

Mousie Garner: Substitute Stooge

Posted in Child Stars, Comedy, Comedy Teams, Music, Nuts and Eccentrics, Sit Coms, Stars of Vaudeville, 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 stooge 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 vaudeville and comedians like Mousie Garnerconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold, and also please check out my 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

 

Martin Beck: 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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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. Sidney 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 vaudevilleand managers like Martin Beck, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

William Powell: The Acquisition of Polish

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

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.

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.

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.

Thelma Todd: Fetching Funny-Lady Who Was Maybe Murdered

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Comediennes, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of every classic comedy lover’s principal heart throb Thelma Todd (1906-1935). Originally trained to be a schoolteacher, Todd also participated in beauty pageants, competing for the title of Miss America in 1925 as Miss Massachusetts. The exposure from the national pageant attracted movie producers. Her first film was a supporting role in the 1926 feature Fascinating Youth; her first comedy was the 1927 film Rubber Heels with Ed Wynn and Chester Conklin.

While Todd continued to appear in non-comic films to the end of her career, the most famous of these being the original version of The Maltese Falcon (1931), her lasting reputation was to be as a comedienne, and she co-starred with an unusually long list of the top funny men of her day. Her immense utility arose in the rare fact that she was stunningly beautiful, possessed of grace and charm, yet funny. And she was equally adept at playing vamps and “nice” girls. She had a sort of “game” quality; she seemed willing and able to interact with the comedians at their own level, on their own terms, creating a kind of magic in their scenes together.

She could be anything: the girl next door; an angry wife; a socialite; a gun moll, or even a vamp

While she had appeared in a number of silent comedy features, such as 1928’s Vamping Venus with Charlie Murray and Louise Fazenda, it was in the early sound era that she made her permanent mark. Starting in 1929, Hal Roach cast her in shorts opposite Charley Chase, Harry Langdon and Laurel and Hardy. She was so popular in these that she was a natural choice when Roach decided to form an all-female comedy team in 1931, hoping to recreate the success he’d had with Laurel and Hardy.(Initially she was paired with Zasu Pitts, later with Patsy Kelly).

While these comedy shorts were being regularly cranked out, she also appeared in features, such as her two with the Marx Brothers, Monkey Business (1931) and Horse Feathers (1932); two with Joe E. Brown, Broadminded (1931) and Son of a Sailor (1933); Speak Easily with Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante (1932); Palooka with Durante and Lupe Velez; two with Wheeler and Woolsey, Hips, Hips Hooray and Cock-Eyed Cavaliers (both 1934); and features with Laurel and Hardy such as Fra Diavolo 1933 and The Bohemian Girl (1936). And there were also ensemble comedies and musicals like Sitting Pretty (1933) with Jack Oakie, Jack Haley and Ginger Rogers; and The Poor Rich (1934) with Edward Everett Horton, and Edna May Oliver. 

In 1931 she worked on the pirate picture Corsair with director Roland West. The two were to become lovers and co-owners of a successful restaurant called Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Cafe. Unfortunately Todd’s young life was cut short in late 1935 when she was found dead in her car of carbon monoxide poisoning. Because there was some evidence that she had been roughed up (and she had little motive for suicide) there was some suspicion of foul play, with suspects including West, her ex-husband Pat DiCiccio (a movie producer), and some shady mob backers of her club. But the mystery was never solved, although some claim West confessed on his death bed. The story has many of the qualities of the many whodunits Todd starred in and West directed.

Her joint, the Sidewalk Cafe

For more on silent and slapstick comedy film history please check out my 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

Skeets Gallagher: Supported Great Comedians

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Irish, Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Richard “Skeets” Gallagher (1891-1955). Trained as a civil engineer and a lawyer, the Indiana native went into vaudeville with a one act playlet, which led to a half dozen Broadway shows. The first was Up in the Clouds (1922) with book and songs by Will and Tom Johnstone of the Marx Brothers’ I’ll Say She Is!

Then came roles in silent movies such as W.C. Fields’ The Potters and Frank Capra’s first post-Langdon feature For the Love of Mike (both 1927). In the very earliest days of talkies Gallagher was often teamed with Jack Oakie; he co-stars with Joe E. Brown in Polo Joe (1936). He was much in demand as a character actor through the mid 30s at which point the frequency of his film appearances tapers off, although he still appeared in the occasional high profile “big picture” such as the 1939 adaptation of Robert Sherwood’s Idiot’s Delight. By the 40s he is down to just a handful of pictures, some of them uncredited, some of them extra roles. He had a couple of tv parts in 1952 (including the Burns and Allen Show), and then passed away of a heart attack three years later.

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, 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 etcactor

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