I first came across the name Hassan Ben Ali in Joe Laurie’s Vaudeville book, where the author calls Ali and his troupe “the best of the alley oop acts” — meaning the best of the acrobatic risley acts.
Hailing from from Morocco, Hassan Ben Ali began performing in the U.S. in 1884 at Tony Pastor’s and other venues. He returned with his troupe in 1893, first presenting a lavish “Moroccan wedding” at New York’s Park Theater based on Thomas Moore’s orientalist book-length poem Lalla Rookh, complete with a a Bedouin, Moors with red tunics, a singer and poet from Tangier, and Moorish officers. Ali, the impresario behind the event, officiated. The troupe then moved on to their main destination, the World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair). In collaboration with Nageeb Arbeely, editor of New York’s Kawkab America (America’s first Arabic language newspaper), Ali brought to the fair a group of Moroccan dwarfs, a transplanted Moroccan village, and a dramatic reenactment of the capture of Africans by Arab slavers. Before and after the fair, he and his twelve-member “Royal Moorish Troupe” performed in New York vaudeville houses, with acrobats, contortionists and gun spinners. As the poster below reveals, they also performed with Sells Brothers circus. Renaming his company “Hassan Ben Ali Arabs Co.,” he took his act to Coney Island around 1900 and they continued to play on vaudeville stages well past Ben Ali’s passing in 1914.
To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,