Today is the birthday of the late great juggler Lester “Larry” Weeks (1919-2014). Weeks is one of the very few bridges between the original vaudeville business and the phenomenon of “New Vaudeville” that emerged decades later. As a kid he grew up attended (and later performing in) local vaudeville theatres in the Bronx. His big shot came in Irving Berlin’s Broadway show and movie This is the Army, a rally-the-home-front extravaganza during World War II in which Weeks had a show-stopping number juggling potatoes while on K.P.
After the war he continued to tour with the USO and then played nightclubs and put on special shows in New York City schools. From 1966 to 1979, he produced the quarterly Big Apple Convention, which featured full-on vaudeville shows, lectures by magicians, film clips of old acts, and vendor tables selling magic equipment. This of course is the link to New Vaudeville and the present. The Big Apple shows were an opportunity for younger generations of performers to meet old timers and learn from them, and to ply their trade before new audiences, some of whom might be inspired to carry on the tradition themselves — just as Larry had been back in the 1920s.
Check out the Daily News‘ coverage of his 90th birthday here. Mr. Weeks passed away in 2014. Addendum: to my astonishment, five years after having written this post, I came across this business card in my rolodex, reminding me (ulp!) that I actually met Mr. Weeks years earlier and hadn’t remembered!
To find out more about vaudeville 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.