The Four Mortons: Irish Rough-House Vaudeville Family Act

The Four Mortons were an Irish family act in big time vaudeville, not unlike the Four Cohans or the Three Keatons. The team consisted of the parents, Sam and Kate (“Kitty”), the son Paul, and the daughter Clara. Paul was a dancer, Clara played flute and piano. In later years, Paul and Clara were replaced by younger children Martha and Joe.   Sam’s given last name was Kennedy. He was a garrulous Irish storyteller. He and Kitty formed a duo in the 1880s and she was the feeder, giving him the set-ups for his cocky laugh lines.

The act usually consisted of family arguments that would escalate into roughhousing. Then Paul would dance a reel and Clara would dance a jig. Critics raved about them. Sam was called the best Irish comedian on the stage. The act kept going well into the 1920s, performing stuff that was very much 19th century in tone, subject matter and character, due to the affectionate stereotype. In later years, commentators overlay their write-ups about the act with a good bit of nostalgia for the old saloon days of concert hall variety. 

The family, and individual members of the team, also appeared on Broadway:

The Four Mortons appeared together as a team in the Broadway play Breaking into Society (1905) produced by Percy Williams, and the musical The Big Stick (1908). Paul was in three additional shows the revue Fads and Fancies (1915), Hoboken Blues (1928), and Strip Girl (1935). Sam was in Sidewalks of New York (1927-28).  Kitty died in 1927. Sam died in 1941 at the age of 79; Clara died in 1942.

To learn more more about vaudeville and Irish teams like the Four Mortons please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous , not to mention the Irish neighborhood of Travalanche.

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