Stars of Vaudeville #841: Morton Downey (Sr.)

Singer Morton Downey

Today is the birthday of Morton Downey, Sr. (1901-1985). Those of us of a certain age remember his hellish spawn, who almost single-handedly destroyed television by bringing right-wing talk show pyrotechnics to unprecedented lows in the 1980s, paving the way for the atrocities to be committed by Fox News a few years later. We will not hold Downey pere accountable for the sins of Downey fils. But it is sad that the garbage and filth produced by Morton Downey, Jr. lives to besmirch the family name, and few now remember the relatively benign cultural contributions of his father.

Downey was an Irish tenor (billed as “The Irish Nightingale”) who got his start in vaudeville in the early 1920s. For a time he was the featured vocalist with Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra. He began cutting records in 1923, and by the thirties was a major star of radio. He toured big time vaudeville as late as 1932, performed in night clubs throughout the US and Europe and opened his own successful nightclub The Delmonico in New York, from which he did his own starring radio broadcasts. He was also a prolific songwriter, appeared in a small number of films, and was a frequent presence on television in the late 1940s and 1950s. His first wife was Barbara Bennett (sister of Constance and Joan and daughter of Richard….and mother of — ugh — Morton Downey, Jr.)

As I happened to be flying over the River Shannon only yesterday, I thought this clip most apropos:

To find out more about vaudeville consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from etc etc etc


2 Responses to “Stars of Vaudeville #841: Morton Downey (Sr.)”

  1. Todd S. Jenkins Says:

    Very interesting! Despite my love of Paul Whiteman I wasn’t aware that Downey had been with the band. BTW, you might want to fix Downey’s death date (it says 1905).

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