Some Vaudeville Fathers


It being the annual day given to honor Paternal Progenitors it seemed appropriate to look at a few with a vaudeville connection, as we had done with Mothers previously. We have already blogged about all of these fellers. Just follow the link to read more about the gents in question.

And vaudeville fathers DESERVE a special tribute. You know who sucks? NON-vaudeville fathers. So many of our great stars FLED from stern, domineering, controlling male parents who disapproved of their career choice and their life style, only to be appropriately scorned for their obtuseness by the annals of history. There was Al Jolson’s father, the cantor, later dramatized in The Jazz Singer. W.C. Fields’ father, the produce grocer. Ed Wynn’s father, the dealer in hats. These men all wanted and expected their sons to go into the family business, tried to force the issue, and later got their noses rubbed in it. Joe Frisco’s father threw his dancing clogs into a woodburning stove. Such parenting techniques rarely work out.

Much more to the purpose are the show biz dads, who groomed their kids to join them in the family business. Here are a few:


Eddie Foy

Eddie Foy was the ultimate of course. That is why we put him at the top, and place his picture as the header of the posts. The proud papa paraded his seven kids across the nation’s vaudeville stages, showing off their talents, and turning them into a mini-industry. The act was so well-loved it was later memorialized a bio-pic starring Bob Hope. 


Gerry Cohan

Equally deserving of the top spot! If you’re like me, your view of the famously gentle, indulgent father will be forever shaped by Walter Huston’s loving portrait in Yankee Doodle Dandy. My mother thanks you, my father thanks you…


Joe Keaton

Okay, maybe the famously alcoholic, short-tempered and violence prone father of Buster Keaton doesn’t deserve a mug that says “World’s Greatest Dad”, but I think the fact that Buster never disparaged him, and remained close to him, and even cast him in his movies, speaks volumes.


Sam “Frenchy” Marx

Far from disapproving of his sons’ chosen career, he was often the designated audience plant whose job it was to cue laughter during their early days in vaudeville.


Lew Fields

One half of vaudeville’s greatest comedy team Weber and Fields, Fields later became an important Broadway producer in his own right, and instilled in his children Dorothy, Herbert and Joseph such love of the theatre that they all became important Broadway creators in their own right.


Arthur “A.J.” Jefferson

Stan Laurel’s father, a man of the regional U.K. theatre himself. He built Stan a toy theatre when he was a kid, and got him some of his first jobs.


Charles Chaplin, Sr.

Okay, Charlie Senior was the textbook definition of a deadbeat dad…but he was pretty crucial to Charlie’s career in the early years, and without a doubt provided him with a useful cautionary example of the evils of drink.


Danny Lewis

Is there any doubt that if the Lewises hadn’t grossly neglected their famous child by touring the vaudeville and nightclub circuits he wouldn’t be the man he is today. Jerry Lewis is a man who needs a LITTLE attention. The picture above shows three generations of performing Lewis men. The youngster is Jerry’s son Gary, who with his group The Playboys had some hits in the mid-60s.

To learn more about vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


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