Stars of Vaudeville #752: Percy Oakes
Today is the birthday of Percy Oakes (1900-1997). A West Virginia native, he first performed with an amateur minstrel show as a child. He moved to Chicago and found a job as a printer in the nineteen-teens, taking lessons in dance and guitar. This led to work as a chorus boy in a touring musical, which led to his teaming in a ballroom dance act patterned after the Castles with Pamela Delour, whom he later married. For their showstopper, Oakes would lift Delour twirl her over his head, a spectacular and novel move at the time. Martin Beck caught the act at a nightclub and booked them for the Orpheum Circuit. They became a major big time act, playing the Palace five times and working with all the major headliners of the day, people like Elsie Janis, Frank Fay, Patsy Kelly, Fanny Brice, Jack Norworth, Rae Samuels, and Bill Robinson. At the same time, Oakes began to get his feet wet in management, first handling Sessue Hayakawa, the headliner on one of his bills. By 1930, Oakes had transitioned completely into being an agent, which job he performed for the next several decades.
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