Today is the birthday of Henry “Rubberlegs” Williams (1907-1962). The best dope on Williams I’ve been able to find comes from the terrific two volume set Vaudeville Old and New, which tells he started out singing and dancing for coins in a whorehouse at age 10 and then toured with Bobby Grant’s Female Impersonators Revue out of Atlanta. As a teenager, he danced the black bottom and the Charleston and did a legomania act on the TOBA circuit and in tent shows. By the late 20s he was playing Keith time as an overgrown “pickaninny’ in Naomi Thomas’ Brazilian Nuts Show (a tab show), and in the 30s and 40s he appeared in major revues like Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds and major nightclubs and theatres like The Cotton Club and the Apollo in Harlem. Towards the end of his singer he concentrated more on singing, performing with the likes of Fletcher Henderson, Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie.
Here he is in the 1933 short Smash Your Luggage:
To find out more 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