My 50 Favorite Vaudevillians

Hammerstein's Victoria Theatre, c.1908

To misappropriate Ko-Ko: “I’ve got a little listicle.”

There’s nothing objective about this list. It’s not THE top vaudevillians, but MY top vaudevillians, my favorites, and you will notice a distinct prejudice in favor of comedians, with a few singing singles, musicians, and thespians sprinkled in there. And an almost complete disinterest in the likes of dancers, acrobats, nut acts and magicians. Sorry! At any rate, not many of those make my top 50.

Also: the standings of some of them (practically all of them) are freely enhanced by their POST-vaudeville, or EXTRA-vaudeville work. And, also some folks have made the list although I know them almost entirely only by reputation, but I simply love what I KNOW about them (how could I not include Harrigan and Hart or Tony Pastor)?

The rank is in order of highest to lowest. (in other words, #1 is my top pick, so I’m afraid the list unfolds anti-climactically)

And it’s completely unscientific — I could shift names around all day like cards in a poker hand. After the first three dozen or so, the order is quite random.

Now, you undoubtedly have your own list. Feel free to tell me yours but don’t dare criticize mine. It’s entirely subjective, like all matters of taste, and I’m quite entitled not to give a crap or care about the people you worship. And if you presume to explain these people to me, who they are, what they do, or why they should or shouldn’t be on my list, your comments will be thrown in the trash unread (I was about to say gleefully, but indifferently would be more accurate). Why all the pre-emptive mishigas? I’ve been to more than one barn dance in my time.

Follow the links below to learn more about each artist. And feel free to use the search function of the blog to learn about the other 900 or so vaudevillians we’ve profiled on Travalanche.

1. Weber & Fields

2. Karno’s Speechless Comedians (featuring Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel et al)

3. The Marx Brothers

4. W.C. Fields

5. Will Rogers

6. Mae West

7. Walker and Williams/ Bert Williams

8. Harrigan and Hart

9. Burns and Allen

10. Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy

11. Ed Wynn

12. Fanny Brice

13. Eddie Cantor

14. Jack Benny

15. Bob Hope

16. Fred Allen

17. Smith and Dale

18. Gallagher and Shean

19. Clayton, Jackson and Durante

20. The Three Keatons

21. Savoy and Brennan

22. Joe Frisco

23. Clark and McCullough

24. Beatrice Lillie

25. Bert Lahr (and Mercedes)

26. Ted Healy and His Stooges

27. Frank Fay (with Patsy Kelly)

28. Milton Berle

29. Olsen and Johnson

30. Joe E. Brown

31. Sophie Tucker

32. Eva Tanguay

33. Al Jolson

34. The 4 Cohans

35. Houdini

36. John Philip Sousa and Band

37. Ma Rainey

38. Mamie Smith

39. Bessie Smith

40. Irving Berlin 

41. Enrico Caruso

42. Various Barrymores

43. Nazimova

44. Sarah Bernhardt

45. Olga Petrova

46. Paul Whiteman Orchestra (and the Rhythm Boys)

47. The Gumm Sisters (w/ Judy Garland)

48. Scott Joplin (actually move him up to about #25, I just don’t feel like re-typing)

49. Tony Pastor

50. Ching Ling Foo/ Chung Ling Soo ( a tie)

To learn 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.

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