Archive for the Impressionists Category

Albert Carroll: Kind of a Drag

Posted in Broadway, Dance, Drag and/or LGBT, Impressionists with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2017 by travsd

Today’s as good a day as any to tell you about Albert Carroll, an extraordinarily talented and well-known guy in his day to have become so obscure in ours. Carroll was a Broadway actor,  dancer, impressionist, female impersonator, lyricist and choreographer. Sources differ as to his birth. IBDB gives ca. 1895-1956, and a 1900 Chicago census seems to bear this out. IMDB gives march 13, 1898 through 1970, although they might be conflating him with another Albert Carroll, possibly the New Orleans piano player, who was African American. To further confuse matters, our subject sometimes rendered his name as Albert J. Carroll.

I’ve gotten some info about his earliest years from F. Michael Moore’s book Drag! Male and Female Impersonators on Stage, Screen and Television. Moore says that Carroll staged an amateur revue in Chicago when he was 16, and that when he got to New York, he performed during interludes in silent movie screenings. About his private life, or how he came to New York I’ve so far found nothing. Since his earliest credits were all with the Neighborhood Playhouse we can make some deductions about he got his start on the stage. The Neighborhood Playhouse was founded in 1915 and had grown out of youth education programs at Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side, which remains a center of theatrical activity to this day. Carroll’s first couple of shows with the company appear to have opened at the downtown theatre and then moved to the Maxine Elliott Theater on Broadway.  He’s about the right age to have been involved with Henry Street’s theatre programs in his late teens and young adulthood, and gotten involved with the company that way. His first professional credit was a show based around visiting British actress Gertrude Kingston in 1916. The next was a play called 39 East by Rachel Crothers in 1919, in which Carroll appeared with Henry Hull and Alison Skipworth. It was made into a silent film the following year with a much of the same cast, including Carroll.

For the next three decades Carroll was to be a star of Broadway, often with Neighborhood Playhouse productions, in over three dozen shows. He was a notable stand-out as performer, choreographer and lyricist in several editions of the revue called the Grand Street Follies, participating in the inaugural 1922 edition, as well as ones in annual editions from 1924 through 1929. Other revues he appeared in included The ’49ers (1922),  The Garrick Gaieties (1930), The Ziegfeld Follies (1931) and The Seven Lively Arts (1944). In these revues he was famous for impersonating famous actors and dancers, many or most of whom were female.  He did impressions of both John and Ethel Barrymore. He also did Pavlova, Irene Castle, Lynne Fontanne, Bea Lillie, Gertrude Lawrence, Laurette Taylor, Groucho Marx, and NYC Mayor Jimmy Walker.   Some photographs of him in character can be found of him on a blog called the Mouse Art Notebooks. He also contributed humor, poems and stories to the New Yorker between 1927 and 1930. He also acted in straight plays and comedies and even classics. His last known credits are musicals with the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in 1946 and 1947. After this he appears to have returned to Chicago, where he passed away about a decade later.

Several sources say the great Southern novelist Thomas Wolfe disliked Carroll, whom he met in the 1920s through the Neighborhood Playhouse’s set and costume designer Aline Bernstein, who was Wolfe’s patron and lover. (He is said to have been uncomfortable with Carroll’s flamboyant and foppish personality, i.e. he was homophobic).

Another interesting tidbit: Carroll’s younger brother Eugene “Gene” Carroll had a vaudeville career, and hosted a local television show in Cleveland for decades.

To find out more about vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. For more on silent  film please see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

Stars of Vaudeville #1012: Norma Terris

Posted in Broadway, Impressionists, Singers, Singing Comediennes, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2016 by travsd

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NORMA TERRIS: THE ORIGINAL MAGNOLIA

Today is the birthday of Norma Terris (Norma Allison, 1904-1989).

Originally from Kansas, Terris started out in vaudeville performing singing celebrity impressions, an act that sounds not unlike that of Elsie Janis. I see it claimed in various places that she was featured in the Ziegfeld Follies, however my own Follies resources (bills for each year) and IBDB don’t reflect that. She may have been a replacement, or toured with the show. However, she was definitely featured doing her impersonation specialty in two Shubert revues A Night in Paris (1926) and A Night in Spain (1927). This lead to her best known theatrical credit: she was the original Magnolia and Kim in the first productions of Show Boat (1927-1929 and 1932). She was tried in two Hollywood features, Married in Hollywood (1929) and Cameo Kirby (1930), but apparently she did not click in pictures; when films were made of Show Boat in 1929 and 1936, she was passed over.

She starred in a couple more short-lived Broadway shows (her last was in 1938), then sang for ten seasons with the Municipal Opera Company in St. Louis. After this she retired to Connecticut with her husband. Ironically, it is her activity during this “retirement” for which she may be best known today, for she became heavily involved, both as a singer and a benefactor, with the Goodspeed Opera Company, which named one of its theatre buildings in her honor.

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

Stars of Vaudeville #954: Miss Juliet

Posted in Broadway, Impressionists, Singers, Singing Comediennes, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Miss Juliet (Juliet Delf, 1889-1962). She appears to have been a musical impressionist in the mold of Elsie Janis and to have begun her career in the 1910s. She was a popular big-time act who played the Keith and Orpheum Circuits. She played the Palace the first year of its existence (1913) and played there again as late at 1928 — this is a meat-and-potatoes vaudevillian. She was also in the Cohan Revue of 1916. She appears in a Vitaphone short called Not for Me from 1928 and another called Rushin’ Art made in 1936

She was the older sister sister of Harry Delf, himself a vaudeville and Broadway performer who went on to be a prolific writer of Broadway musicals and revues and a dean of the Friars Club.

Harry’s grandson maintains a marvelous blog devoted to his illustrious relatives, including some younger ones who were also in show business. The photo above came from his blog. To peruse it go here. 

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Stars of Vaudeville #888: Harry Tate

Posted in British Music Hall, Comedy, Impressionists, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2015 by travsd

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July 4, 1872 was the birthdate of Harry Tate (Ronald McDonald Hutchinson), star of the British music hall, who also made some tours of America and Australia. His stage name was taken from his former employer Henry Tate & Sons, Sugar Refiners. Tate began his career in music hall in 1895, doing impressions of George Robey, Dan Leno and other major stars of his day. But he became best known for a series of comedy sketches, based on and centered around particular fads and trends, e.g. “Billiards”, “Fishing”, “Motoring”, “Running an Office”. In so doing, he became a major influence on W.C. Fields who was to develop a series of similar sketches for the Ziegfeld Follies and other Broadway revues. Between 1927 and 1937 he appeared in 18 motion pictures. He passed away in 1940, a much beloved British institution.

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Also don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

Stars of Vaudeville #882: Daws Butler

Posted in Comedy, Impressionists, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 16, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of one of the greatest cartoon voice-over actors of all-time, Daws Butler (1916-1988). Butler got his start as a teenager in the last days of vaudeville (post-vaudeville to be accurate) doing impressions in amateur shows to get over his shyness. But he was successful, winning contests, which led to professional engagements at theatres. In the late 30s, he was part of a radio and nightclub comedy trio called The Three Shortwaves, until Butler dropped out to serve in World War Two.

In the late 1940s he began to get his first cartoon voice-over work (Chilly Willy was one of his first notable characters), and to supply the voice of Beany in the puppet show precursor (1949-1954) to the later animated Beany and Cecil. With the formation of the television animation studio Hanna-Barbera in 1957, Butler really got the chance to make his mark, creating the characters of Yogi Bear, Snagglepuss,  Wally Gator, Quickdraw McGraw and his sidekick Baba Looey, Huckleberry Hound, Elroy Jetson and countless others. His was also the voice of advertising mascots such as Cap’n Crunch and Quisp. In later years he became a teacher, his most notable pupil being Nancy Cartwright (a.k.a Bart Simpson).

To learn more about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Bartolomeo Bosco

Posted in Impressionists, Italian with tags , , on January 3, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Giovanni Bartolomeo Bosco (1793-1863). Bosco was a magician so popular and influential that many others later appropriated his name. He is mostly commonly mentioned in connection with the Cups and Balls routine, and for seeming to be able to switch the heads of live birds. A native of Turin, he served in the Napoleonic wars, briefly studied medicine and then embarked on his magic career which took the courts of the rulers of Russia, France, Prussia and Sweden.

To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Forgotten Shows of My Nonage #62: Keep on Truckin’

Posted in Comedy, Forgotten Shows of My Nonage, Impressionists, Television, TV variety with tags , , on October 6, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of late funny-man/ impressionist Fred Travalena (1942-2009). Travalena was someone I recall seeing constantly in the 1970s on programs like the Merv Griffin Show and The Tonight Show, his perky, peppy presence a half tic hipper perhaps than the paleolithic Rich Little (Little’s repertoire seemed to consist entirely of 1940s movie stars; Travalena at least did Lennon and McCartney.) But still SNL with its edge (and its facial prosthetics) seemed to wipe this old school type thing off the map overnight.

Travalena was only 33 in 1975. Why didn’t he, too, try a hip, youth oriented variety show? The short answer is that he did, he did! And frankly I was vastly much more aware of it at the time than I was of Saturday Night Live when it premiered just a few months later (mostly because the latter show was on after my bed time). Travalena’s show (which he shared with a couple of dozen other cast regulars) was called Keep on Truckin’ and I was a big fan of it. Despite the fact that I remember it so well, it has been a JOB OF WORK excavating stuff about it. Written record there is some, but trying to find any visual record was an Odyssey…I finally tracked down that promotional photo above from a copy of the Lakeland Ledger, a local Florida newspaper. That was the only pic online. Why? Because far from keeping on trucking, the show only ran from July 12 through August 2, 1975, a total of four episodes.

Like SNL, Keep on Truckin’ was an attempt to recapture the same kind of youth-oriented appeal that Laugh-In had had in the late 60s, early 70s. But whereas SNL appealed mostly to young adults, college students, people who listened to FM radio and long-playing rock records and comedy albums, Keep on Truckin’ followed the Laugh-In format a bit too slavishly, and retained all the phony glitz and showbiz one associated with prime time variety shows. The cast was an unaccountable hodgepodge ranging from established celebrities to later-to-be-established semi-celebrities. In addition to Travalena, the show had Dick van Dyke, Billy Crystal, Mike Lookinland of The Brady Bunch, Anson Williams and Scott Baio (both soon to be famous from Happy Days), Jack Riley from The Bob Newhart Show, Wayland Flowers and Madam,  Gailard Sartain from Hee Haw, Didi Conn, soon to gain her greatest fame in Grease,  Charles Fleischer later of Welcome Back, Kotter and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?; tall toothy Rhonda Bates (later a regular on CPO Sharkey), Marion Ramsey (later of Police Academy movies) and about ten others. Amazingly enough, the host was to have been Rod Serling, but he died shortly before the first episode. 

My clearest memory of the show was a regular sketch they did that was a parody of the popular cop show S.W.A.T. Called S.C.A.T. (Special Comedy and Tactics), it was a squad of police officers who used classic comedy to catch crooks. One of them was a Groucho impressionist; one of them was Charlie Chaplin, which is why I remember this bit so well. It was some of my first exposure to references to classic comedians.

At any rate, it’s less than a blip now. Fat chance finding clips of it online. But it really happened, I swear! (I considered posting a clip of Travalena instead, but frankly every clip I found was too revolting).

To find out more about show business past and present (including tv variety), consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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