The Mulligatawney of Leslie Sarony

Tribute today to the delightful music hall performer Leslie Sarony (Leslie Legge Frye, 1897-1987), who kept audiences tickled for a remarkable SEVEN decades.

Our subject was from an artistic family. His father was a painter and photographer. His mother, Mary Sarony, was born in New York, so I’m very tempted to wonder if she is a relation of the great show biz photographers Napoleon Sarony and his son Otto. (I’ll leave it to others to verify or debunk that granule of minutiae). Leslie took to the stage circa 1911 with a group called Park Eton’s Boys. He next appeared in a revue called Hello Again in 1913, and then served in World War One for the duration.

Throughout the ’20s Sarony appeared in music hall, pantomimes, revues and musicals, striking it big towards the end of the decade, when he later added records, radio, and film to the mix. His first movie was a silent musical novelty called On with the Dance (1927), headlined by Laddie Cliff. Whether a record was intended to be played along with this silent film, or a live band to play with it, is lost information, although at least one battered copy of the film is known to survive. 1928 was Sarony’s big year. He appeared in the West End production of Show Boat, and released several novelty songs, including “Don’t Be Cruel to a Vegetabuel”, “Don’t Do That to the Poor Puss Cat” and “Forty-Seven Ginger Headed Sailors”. He also recorded two Deforest Phonofilms that year, Hot Water and Vegetabuel and Clonk! In 1929 he recorded “Jollity Farm”, later to be covered by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band on their 1967 record Gorilla, as well as “I Lift Up My Finger (and I Say ‘Tweet, Tweet’)”, later used in the 1952 horror comedy Mother Riley Meets the Vampire. In 1930, he was in the West End production of Rio Rita.

Sarony then appeared in the films Soldiers of the King a.k.a. The Woman in Command (1933), Rolling in Money (1934), and Where’s George? a.k.a. The Hope of His Side (1935). From 1933 through 1947 he was teamed with Leslie Holmes in an act called The Two Leslies. The pair appeared together on records, radio, live performance and films such as Sunshine Ahead (1936) and When You Come Home (1947).

After the 1950s, most of Sarony’s work was in television. He had regular roles on shows such as Nearest and Dearest (1969) and I Didn’t Know You Cared (1979), and made guest appearances on programs like Steptoe and Son. A couple of his last performances were in quite high profile films. He was one of the old men in The Crimson Permanent Assurance, Terry Gilliam’s opener for Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983). And the following year, he had a small role in Paul McCartney’s Give My Regards to Broad Street. Leslie Sarony’s last screen credit was in 1985, the year of his death at age 88!

To find out more about the history of vaudeville and music hallconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.