Today is the birthday of (stage and, briefly screen) star Charles King (1886-1944. Some sources say born 1889).
Not to be confused with the western villain of the same name, THIS Charles “Charlie” King was born in New York and started out in minstrelsy** and vaudeville before working his way up to Broadway in The Mimic World (1908). King was in over two dozen shows, including editions of The Passing Show and George White’s Scandals and George M. Cohan’s Little Nellie Kelly (1922), which made him a bona fide stage star.
Film buffs know him from his very brief stint as a star of MGM musicals: The Broadway Melody (1929), The Hollywood Revue of 1929, and Chasing Rainbows (1930) are all still shown from time to time. But after 1930 his day as a leading man in features was already done. This is often blamed on the passing of the early talkie vogue for musicals, but it goes deeper than that. I’ve seen all three of those movies; King can sing and he’s good looking, but his appeal is limited — he’s not such a convincing screen actor. And I notice that his last starring part is in a drama (Remote Control, 1930), so he was plainly TRIED at non-musicals. At any rate, the stage welcomed him back with open arms and he performed there and in night clubs until his early death in 1944 of pneumonia. (He was performing in London at the time — murder by climate!)
The Broadway Melody has terrific vaudeville/ tin pan alley scenes. Here’s Charles King at work:
To learn about 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.
**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.