Barney Williams (born Bernard Flaherty, 1823-1876), was an Irish actor, comedian, singer, minstrel** and magician.
Born in Cork, Ireland he moved to New York with his family as a child. By age 12, he was already performing at Bowery Amphitheatre in a singing and dancing turn, although, while he performed as a supernumerary in plays for years, he was said to make his true debut at 16, performing clog dancing in a play called The Omnibus. Throughout the 1840s, he appeared with several minstrel companies**, and took dates at Barnum’s Lecture Room, Castle Garden and others, and for a time managed the Vauxhall Gardens. By 1850, he was recognized as the pre-eminent Irish delineator of his time and known as “The Irish Songster”. He began to leave off on the blackface**, concentrating on Irish parts as the public demanded. With his wife Maria Pray (always billed as Mr. & Mrs. Barney Williams) often as co-star for the next quarter century he starred in such vehicles as The Irish Boy and a Yankee Girl, Ireland As It is, Shandy McGuire, Connie Soogah, The Emerald Ring, etc etc. For more on this once beloved New York figure, check out http://irishsongster.wordpress.com/. Today is his birthday.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, 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 don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.
**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.