Charles B. Ward: The Original Bowery Boy (and Family)

A few words of acknowledgement today for vaudeville performer and songwriter Charles B. Ward (1864-1917).

Ward gave out that he was the first in show business to call himself a “Bowery Boy”, though in reality the term had been in use by decades by then, although perhaps without a specific branding application to any one performer. Today he is best known for having co-written the song “And the Band Played On” (1895).

Most of my info on Ward comes from his own account in this 1896 article in the New York Dramatic Mirror. If anyone wants to climb into 15 different library archives and fact check his claims, be my guest. He claims to have begun his career as a boy singer at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, performing at a place run by one “Fatty” Stewart. Companies he claims to have been involved with over the decades includes those of Edward E. Rice and Henry Dixey, Otis Skinner, Ada Reeve, Lew Dockstader, and Primrose and West. Thus his experience included high opera, light opera, melodrama, and minstrel shows**. At the time of the Dramatic Mirror article he was performing at Proctor’s Pleasure Palace, indicating he had a substantial career in vaudeville as well. He claims to have introduced the song “After the Ball” (and telegraphed Charles K. Harris about how the song went over) and to have consulted Andrew Mack about his onstage costume for singing “My Pearl’s a Bowery Girl”. Go straight to the horse’s mouth here.

From Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory by Brent Walker, I get the information that he was married to Katherine Clare Ward (1871-1938), herself a vaudeville vet who played supporting roles in over 70 films between 1927 and her death just over a decade later. From Mack Sennett silent shorts with comedians like Billy Bevan, Vernon Dent, and Daphne Pollard, she went on to be third billed in Drag (1929) with Richard Barthelmess and Lucien Littlefield. You can also see her in bit parts in The Shrimp (1930) with Harry Langdon, D.W. Griffith’s Abraham Lincoln (1930), 50 Million Frenchmen (1931) with Olsen and Johnson, Bombshell (1933) with Jean Harlow, Son of Kong (1933), 6 Day Bike Rider (1934) with Joe E. Brown, Life Begins at 40 (1935) with Will Rogers, Klondike Annie (1936) with Mae West, Vogues of 1938, and She Loved a Fireman (1937) with Ann Sheridan, her last. Most of her roles were mothers, landladies, and the like.

Off of Walker’s cue, I think it likely that the Wards were the parents of Alice Ward, whose credits with Sennett began around the same time.

To find out more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on silent and slapstick comedy read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube

**Obligatory Disclaimer: It is the official position of this blog that Caucasians-in-Blackface is NEVER okay. It was bad then, and it’s bad now. We occasionally show images depicting the practice, or refer to it in our writing, because it is necessary to tell the story of American show business, which like the history of humanity, is a mix of good and bad.