Stars of Vaudeville #911: Harry Hershfield


Today is the birthday of Harry Hershfield (1885-1974), known in his day as “the Jewish Will Rogers“.

Iowa native Hershfield started out as a teenage cartoonist for Chicago newspapers, before moving to New York and working for the Hearst syndicate and other papers there. His strips included “If I’m Wrong, Sue Me!” and “Meyer the Buyer”. Very progressive!

From cartooning, Hershfield branched out into being a toastmaster and master of ceremonies. Many prominent cartoonists (e.g. Rube Goldberg, Winsor McCay) worked in big time vaudeville. Hershfield is known to have brought his comedy to the Palace Theatre, the biggest vaudeville house of all.

In the 40’s he worked in radio, on such shows as One Man’s Opinion, Abie the Agent, Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One and Can You Top This? In the early 50s, he was a frequent guest panelist on television as well.


The Hilton Sisters feeding some of their birthday cake to Marcus Loew (left) and Harry Herhfield (right)

For more on 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. For more on silent and slapstick film history 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 etc etc

2 Responses to “Stars of Vaudeville #911: Harry Hershfield”

  1. Love seeing the pic and the info on Harry Hershfield! Allow me to elaborate on the comic strip side of his life, ‘cos it was really more prominent than your thumbnail would suggest. He did a lot of strips, as bullpen artists did back in those days, but his Abie the Agent strip was a massive hit, running from 1914 to 1940! If you check out the strips (link below), it’s easy to see why. You crack wise on his “progressivism”, and it’s true that he played to the ethnic humor that was ascendant in his time. But Abie is remarkable for its maturity and constraint; it’s often cited as the first strip squarely aimed at adults, rather than a juvenile or mixed audience. If it uses aspects of stereotypes, it avoids their pernicious edges and uses only what feels true to the character–and funny!

    So yeah, I’m an Abie fan, for sure. In fact, Abie the Agent was the first strip that I scanned and posted on the blog that would eventually become Barnacle Press! AND, to bring it all home, it was Harry Hershfield who provided that name to our site!

    Around the turn of the century, Hershfield was cartooning for some paper or other, and the editor announced that from here out, stories would be accompanied by bylines for the first time (a journalistic practice that was just starting to catch on). Hershfield asked if that meant that he’d get a byline for his cartoons, too, and the editor rolled his eyes and told Hershfield that bylines were for *newspapermen*. Indignant, Hershfield asked, “Well, I work at the newspaper, don’t I? So ain’t I a newspaperman?”

    The editor whirled back on him, growling, “Is a barnacle a SHIP?!”

    • Thanks! this enhances his footprint here immeasurably — my bailiwick is usually show biz (mostly vaudeville and films), so I didn’t have time for more than a short nod. Thanks again! I want to explore him further!

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