Today is the birthday of George Beban (1873-1928). The son of Dalmatian and Irish immigrants, Beban began performing professionally in his native San Francisco at age eight, singing with Reed and Emerson Minstrels** as “The Boy Baritone” and acting with stock companies. By the time he attained majority he was appearing on Broadway and in (old school) burlesque with and for the likes of Weber and Fields, Marie Cahill, Sam T. Jack, George M. Cohan and Trixie Friganza.
For a number of years Beban was typecast as a stereotypical stage Frenchman. After that he switched to a stereotypical stage Italian! He developed a headlining sketch for the big time circuits called “The Name of the Rose” in which he portrayed an Italian immigrant character. It became so popular he developed it into a full length Broadway play in 1911. In 1915, he brought his Italian and French delineations to film, beginning with The Italian, then The Alien (an adaptation of The Sign of the Rose), and then 17 more (many of which he directed and produced as well) through 1926. He died in 1928 after being thrown off a horse.
To find out more about the 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. 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.