Today is the birthday of Mike “King” Kelly (1857-1894).
Irish-American Kelly was one of the first sports stars to go on the vaudeville stage. Baseball right fielder, catcher and manager Kelly played for the Cincinnati Reds, the Chicago White Stockings, the Boston Beaneaters, the Boston Reds, the New York Giants, and Cincinnati Kelly’s Killers. Kelly first went on the vaudeville stage with the encouragement of Nat Goodwin when he was playing for various Boston teams in the late 1880s. Billed as “King Kelly, the Monarch of the Baseball Field”, he would make his appearance in ill-fitting, mismatched clothes. Critics and audiences praised him as a natural comedian. One of his acts was to recite a butchered version of “Casey at the Bat”.
In fact, vaudeville may be said to have been responsible for Kelly’s early death at age 36. He caught pneumonia while traveling by ferry to an engagement at the Imperial Theatre in Boston with the Gaiety Girls in November, 1894. But he lives on in the 1889 tin pan alley song about him “Slide, Kelly, Slide”. And there was a 1927 silent comedy film based on the song, directed by Eddie Sedgwick.
To learn more about 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.