FISKE O’HARA: THE IRISH TENOR
Today is the birthday of Fiske O’Hara (George Russ Clary Fiske O’Hara, 1878-1945). Originally from Rockland, Maine, he started out with regional stock and minstrel** companies, usually in rural or Irish themed comedies, in shows such as Down on the Farm, My Colleen, and McFee’s Matrimonial Bureau. He became prized for his singing and began to bill himself as “The Irish Tenor”. In 1902 he toured as a singer with Gus Sun’s Minstrels. In 1906 he became a Broadway star with Mr. Blarney from Ireland. The following year he played the title character in Dion O’Dare. It wasn’t until 1909 that he went into vaudeville, touring with a sketch called “Captain Barry”. (Legit stars look down on of vaudeville, but the temptations of big time money were too great). In 1915 he headlined at the Palace; vaudeville continued to form a major part of his career.
Fiske was a Broadway star through 1930, the most notable show being The Sidewalks of New York (1927-1928). After this he tried his hand in Hollywood in the mid 1930s, but only managed to secure a handful of bit parts.
For more on vaudeville history, 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.