Barney Bernard: Such a Potash!

A tribute today to stage and screen actor Barney Bernard (1878-1924). Originally from Rochester, Bernard was a “Hebrew” comic in vaudeville, burlesque, Broadway musicals and silent film. Interestingly he was not related to Sam Bernard of the Weber and Fields company whose specialty was a Dutch (or comic German) act, but who hailed from England, and whose real name was Barnett.

Barney Bernard was a professional performer at least since 1902, a year when he was mentioned in San Francisco papers as “The Realistic Jewish Comedian.” He played with Weber and Fields imitators Kolb and Dill in that town for three years. In 1905 he toured in a comedy called The Financier. 

In 1907 he made his Broadway debut in an operetta called From Across the Pond, playing a character named Moishe Rositsky. He reprised the character a few weeks later in a show called Two Islands, which may have been a reworking of the same show. In 1908 he appeared in a show called The Soul Kiss. Also in that show was a guy named Lee Harrison, a veteran of several Weber and Fields and Rogers Brothers productions. Harrison and Bernard must have hit it off, for they were comedy partners for about four years, both in vaudeville, and in Broadway shows like the Ziegfeld Follies of 1908, The Silver Star (1910), and La Belle Paree (1911). In 1911 Bernard went into the Jolson show Vera Violetta. Also briefly in the cast was a young Mae West, who shared the same birthday with Bernard — August 17. Then came another Jolson show The Whirl of Society (1912) and from Broadway to Paris (1912) with Irene Bordoni, Louise Dresser, Gertrude Hoffman et al.

This is already an impressive resume, yet we still haven’t gotten to Bernard real time in the sun. In 1913 he was teamed with Alexander Carr as the title characters in the stage adaptation of Montague Glass’s Potash and Perlmutter. The two played business partners in the garment industry! The comedy was such a hit it ran two years, followed by Abe and Mawruss (1915-1916), and Business Before Pleasure (1917-1918),

In 1916 Bernard took a little time to dabble in other media. That year, he recorded a version of “Cohen On the Telephone” routine called “Cohen At the Telephone” for Victor He had a small part in D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916), then did the films Phantom Fortune (1916), A Prince in a Pawnshop (1916), and The Mother and the Law (1919).

But his cash cow remained the Potash and Perlmutter franchise. Next came His Honor, Abe Potash (1919-20). and Partners Again (1922). In 1923, he co-starred with Carr in the film version of Potash and Perlmutter.

Sadly, Bernard died pneumonia at the height of his career in 1924, otherwise he undoubtedly would have kept riding the gravy train for several more years as Glass and Carr did. George Sidney played Potash in In Hollywood with Potash and Perlmutter (1924), and the screen version of Partners Again (1926).

Even on his death bed, Bernard was not ready to give up his most famous part. The New York Times reported in their obituary that in his delirium Bernard spoke several of his lines as Abe Perlmutter, the character who had been his life on stage and screen for over 10 years.

To learn more more about vaudeville history including stars like Barney Bernard please read  No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.