George Ali: Critter for Hire

That’s George on the left

April 26, 1947 was the death day of animal impersonator George Ali (George Bolingbroke, born ca. 1866). Thank you, Matt Brady for suggesting him! (BTW, I don’t ordinarily take requests. Let this one be a rare exception). Coming hard on the heels of Fred Woodward, we are now officially all animal impersonators, all the time.

Ali seems to have been from England and to have begun his career playing animals in pantomimes in London. By 1892 he was in Chicago performing his donkey specialty in the the extravaganza Ali Baba Jr., or Morgiana and the Forty Thieves. On Broadway he worked on the Weber and Fields shows Whirl-i-Gig (1899), Fiddle-Dee-Dee (1900), and Hoity Toity (1901), playing various roles. In The Wild Rose (1902), he played a baby. In George Lederer’s Mid-Summer Night Fancies (1903), a black bear. In The Jersey Lily (1903) he was cast as a parrot. He had the plum role of Tige the Dog in the 1905 show Buster Brown (see photo above). After this he toured the U.S. and Britain with Buster Brown for a couple of years, and then remained in England for several more years, performing in pantos, as well as touring music halls with Fred Karno.

In 1924 he was cast in Herbert Brenon’s silent screen version of Peter Pan, which is still the best one, in mine ‘humble opinion. Ali played the roles of Nana and the Crocodile. In 1926 he returned to Broadway in the Philip Barry show White Wings, in which he played a horse. As White Wings were the insignia of street cleaners, I’m going to go ahead and intuit that Ali’s character involved polite poo humor (back then horse droppings were a street sweeper’s primary concern). Next came the Lew Fields show Chee-Chee (1928), in which he played a character named San Toy. His last known credit was the 1935 musical Parade in his signature role of a Jackass.

For much more detail see this article on Daily Mirror, the blog of Larry Harnisch. 

To learn more about show biz 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.

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