I first became aware of the team of Henshaw and Ten Broeck when I saw their names amongst the acts that had played the Smith Opera House in western New York.
John E. Henshaw (ca. 1853-1939) hailed from New York State and began performing with minstrel shows** when he was still a teenager in 1871. He was known as an End Man (Tambo, to be precise), and to have performed with Harry Robinson’s Minstrels and the California Minstrels, and to have performed in blackface** comedy teams with gentlemen named “Lawton” and “Ginniven”. At some point early in his career he was stage manager to the seminal proto-burlesque troupe Madame Rentz’s Female Minstrels.
By the early 1890s Henshaw was touring the country with May Ten Broeck as “The Nabobs”, a musical show built around their comedy two-act.
I’ve been unable to unearth less information on Ten Broeck, although her Dutch name causes me to strongly suspect that she too was from New York, and the several cartes de visite I have come across indicate to me that she, too, came out of burlesque (believe it or not, her costumes in the pix above are what passed for burlesque in the late 19th century). Reviewers of the time were already remarking on her growing portliness by 1893, but you should be aware that that wasn’t at all uncommon among the beauties of the time, from Lillian Russell to Billy Watson’s Beef Trust.
After becoming well known as The Nabobs, Henshaw and Ten Broeck were in a succession of Broadway musical productions: The Passing Show (1894), La Belle Hélène (1899), The Man in the Moon (1899), and The Baroness Fiddlesticks (1904). By Old Dutch (1909) he was appearing solo, but shortly afterwards he paired with soubrette Grace Avery, touring in vaudeville and musical comedy throughout the teens. His last two Broadway shows were DeWolf Hopper’s Some Party (1922), and a 1929 revival of The Octoroon. He is buried amongst the other showfolk at Kensico Cemetery, Westchester.
**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.
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For more on vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.
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