It being May Day, today we honor an important figure on the labor side of the vaudeville story, Harry Mountford (James Henry Walsh, 1871-1950). Originally from Dublin, Mountford was initially a music hall entertainer. He seems to have made little enough mark in his early career as a performer. I find a reference to him and his wife Maud Walsh in the Scottish Midlothian from 1896. There is an ad for them in a Welsh newspaper The Evening Express in 1903. He also wrote and co-wrote many plays and sketches for the stage, such as Death or Victory (a “military play”, 1896) and an adaptation of East Lynne (1899).
We begin to learn more about him in the context of labor organizing. He helped start the Variety Artistes Federation in London in 1906. He was expelled the following year during the so-called Music Hall War, and moved to the U.S. with his wife. The January 4, 1908 edition of Variety contains this historic item “Harry Mountford and Maud Walsh, the English cross-fire talkers, are having their first engagement at the Novelty, Brooklyn, this week.”
Even so, labor organizing seemed to be his main bailiwick. Around the same time, he was made executive secretary of the White Rats, the vaudeville performers’ union, presumably based on his experience in England. In 1910, he secured a charter from the American Federation of Labor for the White Rats. He resigned from the union the next year to serve on the editorial board of Vanity Fair (see above). But labor kept calling. He returned to union leadership in 1915; then served in World War One (as he had served in the Boer War a decade earlier); then returned to serve as international executive and secretary of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America. He later worked as a booking agent and wrote some plays for radio. In 1921 he married former stage and screen star Lottie Briscoe. Their papers are available to scholars at the New York Public Library.
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.