Stars of Vaudeville #353: Billy Glason
Originally posted in 2011.
Most sources erroneously give the birth year for Billy Glason as 1904 or 1898, but take it from me, who actually had to do some research because no one knew the death day, singer-songwriter-comic-and gag man Glason came into this world on September 10, 1893. (He’s hardly the first person in show business to make himself out younger). He started out performing in his native Boston when still as a kid, first as a song plugger, then singing along with slides at a local movie theatre. Gradually, he built up enough material for an act, began to work Poli houses, and finally the Big Time Keith circuit, culminating with numerous appearances at top venues like the Hippodrome and the Palace.
His interview in Bill Smith’s 1976 book The Vaudevillians is priceless, rich in anecdote and show biz lingo: (“I was sockeroo!” he crows at one point). He talks about the politics of vaudeville (contrary to established practice, Glason claims many headliners wanted to go on before him because he would frequently stop the show). He talks about rampant theft of material (both gags and songs). He talks about the varying reliability of vaudeville pit orchestras. And he talks about getting pissed on by a performing lion. When vaudeville dried up in the thirties, he worked for the rest of his life as a joke writer for America’s top emcees and comedians (Ed Sullivan, Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Steve Allen, et al). He passed away in 1985. There is a whole chapter on Mr. Glason in the new book A Ph.D. in Happiness from the Great Comedians by Tommy Moore. See my review here.
To learn 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.
To learn more about silent and slapstick comedy please 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