Three Cheers for The Italians in Vaudeville!

Tony Pastor, Father of Vaudeville: Italian-American

It’s St. Joseph’s Day! Which is kind of like St. Patrick’s Day for Italians, except in New York we also have Columbus Day, the Feast of San Gennaro, the Giglio Festival, and about nine or ten other such annual celebrations. Don’t get me wrong. I’m from Rhode Island, where EVERY day is Italian American appreciation day — or ELSE! I was raised to think everyone is Catholic, the tastiest food has red sauce, and the most beautiful women have Mediterranean noses. So sue me! But not with a lawyer from Providence!

So here’s a little shout out to Italians and Italian-Americans in variety and vaudeville.
The roots of course go back to the old country. The origin of much of western clowning and comedy tradition lies in the Italian commedia dell’arte. Italian circus brought American vaudeville countless acrobats . The annals of vaudeville are chock full with acrobats and magicians with Italianate names. Some were real. But the appeal was so great, many artists would fake an Italian name. (And, like every other ethnic group, Italians were the subject of comic ethnic stereotype. The most famous purveyor of what might be called “Italian face” was Chico Marx).
Two of the most important vaudeville impresarios Tony Pastor and Sylvester Poli, were Italian Americans. Important Italian stars from vaudeville included  Jimmy Durante, Robert Alda, Don Ameche, Billy Barty, Rudolph ValentinoJimmy Savo, Joey Faye, Nick Lucas, Rose Marie, Bernardo de Pace, the Ponselle Sisters, Karyl Norman, Miss Patricola, Leopoldo Fregoli, Tess Gardella, the Great Chefalo, Enrico Rastelli, the Roma Brothers, the Mosconi Brothers and Galetti’s Monkeys. Others like Lou Costello and Ann Corio came  from burlesque. For many more, see my Italian-Americans in vaudeville sub-category here.
And for a little squib on varieta, the all-Italian American vaudeville, go here.

To find out more about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


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