Jerry Austin (Jerry Albro, 1892-1976), was often billed as “Little Jerry” on stage and screen, for he stood 3’6″ in adulthood. Born in Odessa, he is known to have appeared in Michael Strange’s Clair de Lune (based on Hugo’s The Man Who Laughed) with John and Ethel Barrymore in 1921 (Strange was Barrymore’s wife. Yes she was a woman named Michael). Austin is thought to be the “knife throwing dwarf” in Tod Browning’s Freaks (1932). In 1938 he returned to Broadway for Here Come the Clowns, which also featured Eddie Dowling and Madge Evans. He’s also in the movies Saratoga Trunk (1945), Adventures of Don Juan (1948), The Loveable Cheat (1949), and Samson and Delilah (1949), and did a spot on the tv show Mohawk Showroom in 1950.
And, as this Christmas card clearly indicates, he in the early 1920s he formed a team in vaudeville with Gene Laymon (1889-1946), who clearly had drag in his repertoire. Laymon (more frequently spelled “Layman”) was not a little person as this card accidentally suggests, but quite the opposite, a large and portly fellah, and one of the many performers who went by the name of “Fatty” in imitation of the successful Arbuckle. We can pinpoint it the early ’20s because the teaming clearly took place after Austin’s appearance with the Barrymores in 1921 but before Layman began starring in his own self-produced comedy shorts in 1926 with Charles Dorety. And Austin and Layman are recorded as having sailed to London in 1923, no doubt to work the music halls there. Layman was in 20 movies, one of which was Are Golfers Cuckoo? (1926) which we wrote about here. After his brief experiment in self-production, Layman appeared in several “McGinnis and Jones” comedies (based on the comic strip “Keeping Up with the Joneses”) for the Stern Brothers through 1928. He then has supporting parts in four talkies: White Renegade (1931), Men of America (1932, with William Boyd and Chic Sale), Twisted Rails (1934), and The Way of the West (1934). The production of Good Morning Judge which the Christmas Card refers to was in 1919.
Happy Holidays to all! And for related reading, please check out my books: No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube and Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People in Vaudeville.