Today we corral vaudeville animal impersonator Fred Woodward (1882-1960).
Yes animal impersonation was a whole sub-specialty in vaudeville! Other animal impersonators we have profiled on Travalanche have included Alfred Latell (best known as Bonzo the Bull Pup) and Will Ferry the Human Frog. This was an era when fairy tales were frequently presented on stage for audiences of children and their families, so it’s not as odd as it may seem at first blush. Woodward’s best known specialty was probably mules, but his repertoire also included parrots, ostriches, frogs, storks, owls, alligators, a teddy bear, and the G.O.P. Elephant!
Originally from Toronto, Woodward worked the big time Orpheum circuit as an opening act for a number of years, before he began to crack musical comedy. He appeared in the Broadway show Mamzelle Champagne (1906), the Ziegfeld Follies of 1912, the touring edition of Weber and Fields’ Roly Poly (1912), and Oliver Morosco’s L.A. production of The Tik-Tok Man of Oz (1913). The Oz connection is how I first learned about him. The stage show led to his appearance as several characters (animal and otherwise) in several L. Frank Baum movies: The Patchwork Girl of Oz, The Magic Cloak of Oz, His Majesty the Scarecrow of Oz, and The Last Egyptian (all 1914) and Violet’s Dreams (1915). In 1917, Woodward played the titular mule in the Universal comedy Mule Mates starring Billy Franey and Gale Henry. Some of his earlier footage was later recycled into other movies
To learn more about vaudeville history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on silent film please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.