Today is the birthday of John Swor (1877-1965). Like his brother Bert Swor, he started out as a blackface** minstrel, performing in the companies of Lew Dockstader, Honey Boy Evans and others. He was Charles Mack’s first partner in the vaudeville act Two Black Crows, the most famous incarnation of which came later, as Moran and Mack. Swor later took the stage name John Moran, which compounds the confusion (he appeared in small parts in a half dozen Broadway shows with this name). Yet he still performed in minstrel shows, surely one of the last to ply this increasingly embarrassing trade, into the 1920s. For a while he was with an act called Swor and Conroy. In the 1930s he played bit parts in a half dozen movies billed as John Swor. His last credit was a Vitaphone short called Minstrel Days in 1941. After this he retired to his home state of Texas.
For more on 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 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 amazon.com etc etc etc
**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.