A tribute today today to a performer I’ve seen billed many different ways: “Ferry”, “William Ferry”, or “Will Ferry”, “The Frog Man”, “The Mystery Man”, “The Human Frog”, “Ferry the Frog”, etc. The book Profiles of African American Stage Performers and Theatre People, 1816-1960 by Bernard L. Peterson, and other sources tell us that he was a person of color. Born circa 1868, he is a rare vaudevillian I wrote about in my book No Applause that I haven’t yet given an entry here on Travalanche. We redress the wrong today!
Ferry was a contortionist and equilibrilist from Philadelphia who performed from around the 1890s through the mid 1940s. Dressed as a frog in dashing evening clothes, he performed his act, which consisted of acrobalance and general amphibian impersonation, against a backdrop painted to resemble a swamp. He jumped into a small “pond” , hopped onto a platform, put his legs behind his neck, and so forth. His wife, Ann “Hattie” Ferry was his musical accompanist. Ferry toured around the turn of the century with McAdoo’s Minstrels and Cakewalkers. For a time he traveled with his own troupe, which also showed early silent movies. In addition to Big Time American and Australian vaudeville circuits, he also performed in circuses (such as Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey), pantomimes, burlesque, and even the legit stage. In 1935 he performed an interpretation of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calveras County” in a special tribute performance for Mark Twain’s 100th birthday at the Waldorf -Astoria. He was still a working professional into his 80s.
For more on vaudeville history, including unique contortionists like Ferry the Frog, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous