Coots and Shirley “Bad Boys from Good Families”

Vaudeville made for strange bedfellows; this post sent me down an unexpected path to say the least. The Sobels’ Pictorial History of Vaudeville informs us that Coots and Shirley billed themselves as “two bad boys from good families”. The team consisted of J. Fred Coots (1897-1985) and Walter T. Shirley (1896-1963). Both boys were from Brooklyn. Shirley served in World War One, where he met Irving Berlin at Camp Upton in Yaphank. After the war, he worked as a song plugger for Berlin and teamed up with piano man Coots, performing songs at nickelodeons and vaudeville houses.

Coots went on to become a songwriter himself, publishing 700 composition, the best known of which is “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (1934). He contributed songs to 18 Broadway shows, including Sally Irene and Mary (1922), Gay Paree (1925), A Night in Paris (1926), and George White’s Scandals (1928).

Meanwhile, in 1922 Shirley decided that he was tired of show business. He worked briefly at a bond brokerage, and then became a millionaire real estate developer. His most lasting legacy is the community of Shirley, on the South Shore of Long Island (Mastic-Shirley stop on the LIRR). Shirley was also a political figure. He was the head of NYC Mayor Vincent R. Impelliteri’s campaign and 1950, and was named New York’s Commissioner of Commerce. Shortly before he died, Shirley was appointed to the board of directors of the 1964 World’s Fair.

To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.