Archive for February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine’s Day from the Littlest Lovers: Tom Thumb & Lavinia Warren

Posted in BUNKUM, Dime Museum and Side Show, Little People, STEAMPUNK/ VICTORIANA, Valentine's Day with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2017 by travsd

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“There’s someone for everybody” goes the old matchmaker’s expression, and perhaps no words rang truer on February 9, 1863, the day that professional little person Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton) married Lavinia Warren at Grace Church, New York. (I believe that’s Lavinia’s sister Minnie Warren as Maid of Honor; and Commodore Nutt as Best Man). This little stunt, the “Fairy Wedding” by the press, lightened people’s hearts during the depths of the Civil War. We present it to you in the same spirit today.

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It wasn’t just a publicity stunt, however; the two were a real couple. But even so, their boss P.T. Barnum was probably not too unhappy when the big event resulted in coverage like this:

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“I love you completely, my own, my all. But above all, I love this front page coverage in Harpers!”

Stuart Erwin: Lummox, Lover and Bumpkin

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Sit Coms, Television with tags , , , , , , , on February 14, 2017 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of actor Stuart Erwin (1903-1967). Originally from Squaw Valley, California, Erwin had a little stage experience before being cast in a small role in his feature feature film, Fox’s first talkie Mother Knows Best (1928). His second film was a Hal Roach comedy short A Pair of Tights (1929) with Anita Garvin, Marion “Peanuts” Byron, and Edgar Kennedy. Throughout the 30s he was frequently cast a goofy juvenile or romantic lead in comedies, usually with a kind of wide-eyed naif quality. He appeared in the original Big Broadcast film (1932), co-starred with Susan Fleming in He Learned About Women (1932), was in the ensemble of International House (1933), and stars in Judy Garland’s first film Pigskin Parade (1936), for which he was Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actor. He continued to appear in pictures throughout the 1940s, in films like Our Town (1940) and Blondie for Victory (1942). Then he launched his television show The Stu Erwin Show a.k.a Trouble with Father (1950-55), on which his wife, actress June Collyer also appeared (they had married in 1931.) In later years he appeared in Disney films such as Son of Flubber (1963).

For more on comedy film history please see my book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,  released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

Stars of Vaudeville #1031: Florence Roberts

Posted in Broadway, Melodrama and Master Thespians, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , on February 14, 2017 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Florence Roberts (1871-1927). This is yet another Florence Roberts, quite a different one from the professional old lady we wrote about here. This Florence Roberts was a San Francisco based trouper in melodrama and vaudeville, known for her Shakespearean acting. Her one Broadway credit was a 1906 show called The Strength of the Weak. In 1912 she appeared in a film version of the stage sensation Sapho. The following year she appeared on a bill at the Palace Theatre, the very first week it was open. In the late teens she toured South Africa with a production of Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch. She was the step-grandmother of actresses Joan, Barbara and Constance Bennett. 

For more on vaudeville historyconsult 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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Stars of Vaudeville #1030: Aida Overton Walker

Posted in African American Interest, Broadway, Dance, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2017 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Aida Overton Walker (1880-1914). singer, dancer, actor, choreographer, comedienne and “Queen of the Cakewalk”.

Born Ada Overton (she later embellished the spelling for professional reasons) in Greenwich Village, Overton was the daughter of a waiter and a seamstress. Her dancing talent was so evident from a young age that her parents provided her with formal training. She was only 15 when she joined John Isham’s Octoroons, an all-black minstrel show in 1895. In 1896-97 she was a member of the legendary Black Patti’s Troubadours.  In 1898, the comely chorine answered a call to model for an advertisement for Walker and Williams vaudeville revue at Koster and Bial’s. This led to her joining the show in the chorus, which then led to her being a featured performer with her partner Grace Halliday. Overton and Halliday performed as the Honolulu Belles in the first of the Walker and Williams musicals The Policy Players (1899).

That year, she also married George Walker and attained star status in the company, essentially becoming a third partner in the most celebrated African American act of the era. Overton was to choreograph all the Walker and Williams shows, as well as Cole and Johnson’s 1911 show Red Moon. The  Walkers became the most celebrated cakewalking couple in the country. Overton was to gain inroads into white society by teaching the dance at private functions. Meanwhile, she was in the process of becoming the top female African American stage performer of her day. In The Sons of Ham (1900) she made a hit with “Miss Hannah from Savanna”.  In Dahomey (1902) was the show that turned the decades-old cakewalk into a dance craze with whites as well; it toured as far as London, where the company gave a Command Performance for King Edward VII. Next came Abyssinia (1905) and Bandanna Land (1907). The latter show featured Overton’s tasteful, refined take on the Salome dance craze then sweeping the nation.

As Salome

As Salome

In 1909 George Walker collapsed while they were still performing Bandanna Land, incapacitated by late-stage syphilis. Overton took over his role in the show in addition to her own, an indication of the scope of her talents. Walker passed away in 1911,but Overton remained in the limelight. She appeared in and choreographed Cole and Johnson’s Red Moon (1909), co-starred with J.S. Dudley in the Smart Set Company’s production of His Honor the Barber (1910). And she toured Big Time Vaudeville. In 1912 she performed her Salome dance at the Victoria Theatre. The following she returned at the head of an entire troupe. She also donated her time organizing benefit shows charities.

When she died suddenly and mysteriously of kidney failure in 1914 it was mourned as a great loss throughout the African American community. She was only 34. Bert Williams would pass away only 8 years later.

For more on vaudeville historyconsult 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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Stars of Vaudeville #1029: Helen Dauvray

Posted in Broadway, Melodrama and Master Thespians, Sport & Recreation, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2017 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of actress Helen Dauvray (1859-1923). A prominent stage actress of her day (and one of the few female actor-managers), today she is best remembered for her private life and a brief connection to baseball.

Dauvray began her career as a child actress under the stage name Little Nell, the California Diamond. A fortunate investment in the Comstock Mine made her financially independent. She went to Paris to study, and performed at the Folies Dramatique in 1884. In 1885 she came to New York and started producing her own stage vehicles, including Mona at the Star Theatre, and at the Lyceum, Dakolar, and then Bronson Howard’s One of Our Girls, which turned out to be a major hit, which she frequently revived and toured across the U.S. and England. She also composed a popular song called “The One of Our Girls Polka”. Other plays she produced and appeared in at the Lyceum included A Scrap of Paper, Met By Chance, Masks and Faces, and Walda Lamar. She also played on variety stages as was the custom of the time.

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In 1887, she married John Montgomery Ward, a member of the New York Giants who had recently graduated from law school, and was one of the founders of the first players union. She boasted that he was a “charming and cultured man” who could “speak five languages fluently”. On account of their celebrated relationship, professional baseball’s first championship trophy, instituted in 1888, was known as the Helen Dauvray Cup. (It was known by that time until after the couple divorced. In 1893 it was renamed the Temple Cup.) When the couple first married, Dauvray retired from the stage briefly, causing her to break a contract with Henry Miner, resulting in negative publicity. She and Ward caused a scandal by when they separated in 1890.

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In 1896 she married naval officer Albert Winterhalter, who would be the man who first raised the American flag in Hawaii following its official annexation (1898), and would eventually attain the rank of Admiral, commanding the U.S. Asiatic Fleet 1915-1917. Dauvray retired upon her marriage to Winterhalter as well, with the exception of one comeback vaudeville engagement at Proctor’s in New York in 1901. When the reception was not encouraging, the writing was on the wall.

For more on vaudeville historyconsult 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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Family in 50 States #26: Oregon

Posted in AMERICANA, ME, My Family History with tags , on February 14, 2017 by travsd

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This new series of posts came out of the realization that I have relatives and roots in all 50 U.S. states. My ancestors lived in 14 of them (all on the eastern seaboard or adjacent), and I have already written about many of those folks. But the siblings and cousins of my ancestors kept going west, and this is an attempt, in the spirit of Whitman, to celebrate my connection to every corner of the country. And when I’m done with that, I’ll celebrate all the countries of the world in similar manner. 

Oregon was admitted to the Union on February 14, 1859. Serious settlement began with the opening of the Oregon Trail 1842-43. I had some relatives among the earliest settlers.

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My first cousin 5x removed Nancy Hale (1823-1881) was originally from Jefferson County, Tennessee. She married a farmer named John Baker in Illinois, and they moved on to Oregon in 1848 where they raised their large brood.

Ephraim Stout (1775-1852), my first cousin 7x removed was a Quaker from the community at Cane Creek NC. He moved thence to Tennessee, where he was excommunicated for a time for bearing arms. Later he moved to Missouri, and finally to Salem, OR where he died in 1852.

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Oregon Trail started in Missouri

Finally my (4th) great uncle Benjamin Harrison Hale (1809-1870) was originally from Tennessee and then moved to Arkansas with his family. He died in Oregon ca. 1870 but the rest of the family seems to have stayed behind in Arkansas. What brought him up there at the age of 61 remains a mystery.  It is tempting to think he was visiting Nancy (above) but they were not closely related.

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Family in 50 States #25: Arizona

Posted in AMERICANA, ME, My Family History with tags , , on February 14, 2017 by travsd

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This new series of posts came out of the realization that I have relatives and roots in all 50 U.S. states. My ancestors lived in 14 of them (all on the eastern seaboard or adjacent), and I have already written about many of those folks. But the siblings and cousins of my ancestors kept going west, and this is an attempt, in the spirit of Whitman, to celebrate my connection to every corner of the country. And when I’m done with that, I’ll celebrate all the countries of the world in similar manner. 

Arizona became America’s 48th state on February 14, 1912 — the last of the “lower 48” to join. Long a part of New Spain, and then Mexico, its desert climate ensured a sparse population until well into the 20th century, explaining its late entry into statehood despite having been U.S. territory since 1848.

Still its legend looms large, mostly because of the disproportionate attention the state has gotten from western films and televisions shows. When I was a kid, like several generations before me, we played “Cowboys and Indians”. Our idea of “Indians” was invariably the Chiricahua Apache largely because of the fame of Geronimo and Cochise. In the scheme of things they were a minor tribe, but their final defeat came late in the game. The story captured the modern imagination. And the stark desert beauty photographs so impressively. Plus, when you’re telling a story it is helpful to exaggerate. When you want to suggest a harsh, extreme environment for your heroes to have an adventure in, there’s no sense in taking half measures. If you set your story in the Arizona desert, there is no question your hero is suffering an ordeal.

I researched Arizona quite a lot for a screenplay I am writing. I feel I know its landmarks, history and geography quite well. But I still haven’t visited, and I’m dying to!

So I was thrilled to learn I had some Old West relations there.

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Ellison branding a steer on the Q ranch.

My first cousin 4x removed Colonel Jesse Washington Ellison was a substantial Texas cattleman, former Texas Ranger and Confederate veteran who moved his operation to Arizona in July, 1885. From the book Cities of Gold: A Journey Across the American Southwest by Douglas Preston:

…he arrived in Bowie Station, Arizona with a line of railcars containing two thousand head of cattle and horses…He found a good-looking ranch just west of Cherry Creek, which he purchased from the owner. Ellison’s cows had come from Texas with his brand, a “Q”, and his ranch became known as the “Q” ranch. The fact that the previous owner and many of his neighbors had been ruined by cattle rustlers meant nothing to Ellison: it was just one more fight he was willing to undertake – which he did with devastating effectiveness.

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George W.P. Hunt, Arizona’s first Governor, married my 2nd cousin 3x removed Duett Ellison

Ellison had mostly daughters, of which he was very proud. “They were all good ropers and good shots,” he told a newspaper reporter in 1887. “They drove cattle instead of playing bridge and they lived on beans when we could get ‘em.” One of his daughters, Duette, married Arizona Territory’s first governor, George W.P. Hunt becoming the first of Arizona’s First Ladies. She liked to be photographed with a gun.

Here’s another good description of Colonel Ellison.

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Hosea Stout, Jr.

My 3rd cousin 5x removed Hosea Stout, Jr (1851-1918), was the son of the more famous Mormon figure we’ve written about a couple of times. The younger Stout was originally from Salt Lake City. He moved to Pima, Arizona between 1884 and 1886. His occupation on the census is given as “teamster”. He’s also the gent in this other photo, next to the “x”:

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My 1st cousin 3x removed Clara Cady and her husband James Pritchett moved to Tempe, AZ from Nevada  between 1891 and 1903. As we wrote here, the mines at Tuscarora, NV had played out, necessitating a move to greener pastures. But the fact that Clara died at 39 indicates that life in Arizona wasn’t a bed of roses either.

In the 1920s, Arizona started to become a tourist destination, with the proliferation of spas and dude ranches. My great grand father went out there for his health at that time, an indication that he was doing well financially. (His son, my grandfather didn’t fare as well.)

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