For National Sisters Day: The DeMarco Sisters

Happy National Sisters Day! This is an especially auspicious day to peruse our section on the sister acts of vaudeville and other entertainment forms, where you will find over 50 posts.

Today, we add to it with a look at the DeMarco Sisters, originally from Rome, New York, later, of Brooklyn. The sisters were five in number: in order of seniority, Antoinette (“Anne”), Jeanette (“Gina”), Gloria, Terri, and Arlene. Naturally sister quintets were rare; the novelty of their number provided added value, although it was no means unprecedented: just on this blog we’ve written about the Locust Sisters, the Barrison Sisters, the Cherry Sisters (such as they were). The King Sisters (to whom the DeMarcos were often compared) were at one point a sextet.

Anyway, the act started out as a trio, featuring the three oldest girls. They broke into radio in 1935 on Uncle Charlie’s Tent Show, hosted by brother-sister performers Jack Clemens and Loretta Tupper. The same year, they appeared with Jack and Loretta, as well as Borrah Minevitch’s Harmonica Rascals. This attention led to a 1936 date on Paul Whiteman’s show, and a spot in the 1937 Vitaphone short Home Run On the Keys with Babe Ruth. Educational’s Loser Take All (1938) was their last movie short.

At the same time the two younger sisters joined the group, and they continued to get booked on radio and cut records throughout the ’30s and ’40s, culminating with a prominent regular spot on The Fred Allen Show, which lasted four years (1946-49). There’s something kind of nutty, kind of overkill about a whole quintet of singers — kind of “freak show”, which I think appealed to Fred’s surreal sensibility. For a time on the show they were often featured in segments with boy singer Bobby White (son of the Masked Singer Joseph White), who was kind of the “Laurie” to their “Little Women“.

From the late ’40s and well into the ’50s the DeMarco Sisters were a regular fixture on top television variety shows like Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town, Texaco Star Theatre (a.k.a. The Milton Berle Show), The Colgate Comedy HourThe George Jessel ShowThe Jackie Gleason ShowThe Kate Smith Show, Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge, The Red Buttons Show, The All Star Revue with Jack Carter, The Larry Storch Show, et al. They were also in the 1952 Esther Williams movie Skirts Ahoy!

Ironically, the last two sisters to join the act were the first to leave it. Arlene married Keefe Braselle; Terri married actor Murray Hamilton. The group’s last TV appearance was in 1956. They made their last record in 1957.

For more on show business history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.