Gus Shy: No Shrinking Violet

Vaudeville and musical comedy star Guy Shy (Augustus Scheu, 1893-1945) made a mark on both stage and screen and was noted for his eccentric dancing and his drunk act, among other turns. His birth year is given as 1903 on IMDB and IBDB, but the gang at Nitrateville did a bang-up job of revealing that he was born a decade earlier and that he was the son of Buffalo’s Commissioner of Public Works.

In 1915 Shy made his Broadway debut in Ned Wayburn’s Town Topics. Starting in 1922 he worked the Great White Way pretty consistently for the next decade, in Elsie Janis and Her Gang (1922), Lollipop (1924), The Matinee Girl (1926), The Wild Rose (1926), Good News (1927-29), New Moon (1928-29), and America’s Sweetheart (1931). In 1932 he directed the dialogue scenes in Ballyhoo of 1932, which featured Bob Hope, Willie and Eugene Howard, Paul and Grace Hartman, Lulu McConnell, and the Albertina Rasch Dancers. 

Good News, which ran for a year and a half, had been his biggest stage hit, and in 1930 Shy was hired by MGM to be in the screen version, which also featured Bessie Love, Cliff Edwards, Delmer Daves (better known as a director), Penny Singleton, and the Abe Lyman Orchestra. Amusingly, the two top billed people in the film, Mary Lawlor and Stanley Smith are nowadays the most obscure people in the cast. There is a clip of a musical number from the film featuring Shy and Love (erroneously identified as a vaudeville act) on Youtube at the present writing.

Shy’s film career lasted but a half-dozen more years, He had supporting roles in four features. The Jenny Lind bio-pic A Lady’s Morals (1930) starring Grace Moore; this was followed by the adaptation of New Moon (1930), in which he had also appeared in Broadway. This one also starred Moore. He’s got a small role in I Sell Anything (1934) with Pat O’Brien. His last picture as a performer was The Captain’s Kid (1936) with May Robson and Guy Kibbee. 

In between the features Shy did comedy shorts. Crazy House (1930) put him in the titular sanitarium with Benny Rubin, Vernon Dent and Polly Moran. He starred in Paul Revere Jr (1933) and Turkey in the Straw (1933) and co-starred in I Scream with Shemp Howard and Lionel Stander. In Two Hearts in Wax (1934) he’s in an ensemble that includes Jay Eaton, Frank Hayes, Sam McDaniel, and Syd Saylor. After this, he worked as a dialogue director for Warner Brothers for a few months, and then retired from performing to become a Hollywood agent. When he died in 1945 at age 52, obituaries mentioned that he had been suffering from a long illness.

To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy film shorts, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.