On Some Other Whitings and Others of Vaudeville

The title of this post is devised because its core subject is no apparent relation to either George Whiting or Jack Whiting, each of whom we have profiled, and it will concern not only songwriter Richard A. Whiting (1891-1938) but also many of his partners and relations who also figure in show biz history. The photo above is from the official Richard Whiting website. And if you do not know the name, you almost certainly know his songs.

Whiting was initially trained in music as a boy in his hometown of Peoria, Illinois. His first show biz venture was a vaudeville act with school chum Marshall “Mickey” Neilan (1891-1958). The pair toured the U.S. for about a year, performing their original songs. Upon splitting up, Neilan went into the legit theatre as an actor, and then film, where he initially acted, but soon became a successful director, producer and screenwriter. Neil wrote gags for Ham and Bud, acted in and directed films with Mary Pickford, married Blanche Sweet, whom he also directed in films, and also directed things like Taxi 13 (1928) with Chester Conklin, The Vagabond Lover (1929) with Rudy Vallee, Chloe Love is Calling You (1934, Olive Borden’s last film), and a couple of pictures with Pinky Tomlin, among other things. His last credit was a small supporting role in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957).

Meanwhile, Whiting had moved to Detroit where he became a song plugger and manager for the publishing house of Joseph H. Remick, playing piano with a local “Hawaiian” band on the side. One of his discoveries was George Gershwin, with whom Whiting had a fast friendship. Like Gershwin, Whiting would die young (in Whiting’s case, of a heart attack). But he also got a young start, which meant that he managed to squeeze a quarter century of professional activity into that short life. He began writing for songs for Broadway shows in 1919, and for Hollywood movies in 1929. Whiting’s many songwriter partners included Ray Egan, Gus Kahn, Johnny Mercer, Buddy DeSylva, and others. Songs he co-wrote included “It’s Tulip Time in Holland” (1914), “Til We Meet Again” (1918), “Ain’t We Got Fun?” (1921), “Ukulele Lady” (1925), “On the Good Ship Lollipop” (1934, associated with Shirley Temple, of course) and the perennial “Hooray for Hollywood” (1937). His tunes were used in revues like The Passing Show and George White’s Scandals and many others. His tunes were also used in dozens of movies, and he scored numerous movies besides.

Whiting was married to Detroit native Eleanor Youngblood who managed acts like Sophie Tucker. Eleanor’s sister was singing comedienne Margaret Young (Margaret Youngblood, 1891-1969), a vaudeville performer and recording artist associated with tunes like “Hard Hearted Hannah”, “Lovin’ Sam, the Sheik of Alabam'”, and “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans”.

The Whitings had two daughters, Margaret (1924-2011) and Barbara (1931-2004), whom those of a certain age may remember from a sitcom they starred in together called Those Whiting Girls, produced by Desilu, which ran as a summer replacement series from 1955 to 1957. Each of the Whiting sisters had separate show biz careers. Margaret was a popular singer who sometimes acted; Barbara was more of an actress who could sing.

Margaret Whiting was a big band and cabaret singer and recording artist of the ’40s and ’50s. She was a featured singer on Eddie Cantor’s radio show and others. On TV she, appeared on Faye Emerson’s Wonderful Town, The Bob Hope ShowThe Colgate Comedy Hour, The Tony Martin Show,  The Ed Sullivan ShowThe George Jessel Show, The Texaco Star Theater, The Nat King Cole ShowThe Red Skelton HourThe Steve Allen ShowThe Ford Show Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The David Frost Show, The Merv Griffin Show, and The Mike Douglas Show. In later years she was a popular trainer of cabaret singers.

Barbara Whiting started out as a child actress on radio shows like The Great Gildersleeve and The Bing Crosby Show. She had a supporting role in the movie Junior Miss (1945) starring Peggy Ann Garner. When it was adapted into a radio show in 1948, Whiting played the lead character. She also had supporting roles in the films Centennial Summer (1946), Home Sweet Homicide (1946), Carnival in Costa Rica (1947), City Across the River (1949), I Can Get it for You Wholesale (1951), Beware My Lovely (1952), Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder (1952), Dangerous When Wet (1953), and Paris Follies of 1956, which paired her with her sister Margaret. After the TV movie The Sergeant and the Lady (1958), Barbara Whiting married and retired from acting.

And for more on vaudeville and show biz history, please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,