Archive for the Tin Pan Alley Category

Stars of Vaudeville #1020: Uke Henshaw

Posted in Music, Tin Pan Alley, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , on January 13, 2017 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Charles Robert “Uke” Henshaw (1896-1969).

Originally from Wheeling, West Virginia, where his family had lived for many generations, Henshaw also spent some of his childhood in Columbus and St. Louis. By his early twenties he had already established himself on the vaudeville circuits as one of the top ukulele performers and his likeness was already being printed on sheet music. By 1920 he was already playing Paris — international stardom was to follow. For a time, his first wife Vera Van Atta was partner in his act. Most descriptions of his playing mention his uncanny ability to make his uke mimic other musical instruments. When vaudeville passed from the scene, he continued to play on radio, toured with the USO, and appeared in films and on television. His name was also used to market a brand of ukuleles. Much more detail about the performer can be found here, including appearances he made in films as an extra which aren’t mentioned on IMDB.

Henshaw was the second cousin of the famous singer Annette Hanshaw and Frank Hanshaw, a successful show biz agent. Uke’s third wife was the popular singer and actress Deane Janis.

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 #1009: Lewis and Dody

Posted in Comedy, Comedy Teams, Music, Singers, Tin Pan Alley, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , on October 25, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Sam Lewis (1885-1959), today best remembered as a tin pan alley songwriter, who co-wrote such classics as “How You Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?”, “My Mammy”, and “Sitting on Top of the World”. At a certain point he was partnered with a guy named Jack Altman, but for most of his career he was teamed with dialect comedian Sam Dody. Lewis and Dody were also billed as The Harmony Boys and The Two Sams.  They starred in a show called Hello, America on the Columbia Burlesque wheel in 1918. In vaudeville they introduced the Bert Kalmar and Harry Puck songs “Kiss Me (I’ve Never Been Kissed Before)” and “Where Did You Get That Girl?”(both 1913)  and the 1917 patriotic number “Homeward Bound” by Johnson and Goetz.  They are best known for a single novelty song “Hello Hello Hello”, which became their signature. They placed the Palace with their act in the mid 1920s.

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 #962: Anatole Friedland

Posted in Broadway, Music, Tin Pan Alley, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Anatole (sometimes spelled Anatol) Friedland, although there is some disagreement about the year, claims ranging from 1881 to 1888. He died in 1938. Born in St. Petersburg (Russia, not Florida) he was educated at private schools in his native contrary, then emigrated to the U.S. with his family sometime around the turn of the century. He studied architecture at Columbia University, while composing music for amateur shows at night.

He enjoyed performing his own songs, and often performing them in vaudeville. In 1911, he got his first Broadway show, writing the tunes for The Wife Hunters starring Lew Fields and Emma Carus. Then he wrote songs for the Shuberts The Passing Show and Broadway to Paris (1912), with Gertrude Hoffman, Louise Dresser and Irene Bordoni. Starting in 1913, his frequent songwriting partner became L. Wolfe Gilbert, with whom he wrote many hits. He continued to perform in vaudeville as a solo, as a duo with Gilbert, or as the producer of tab musicals with full choruses with names like Anatol’s Affairs of 1924, earning him the nickname “the Ziegfeld of Vaudeville”. Barbara Stanwyck and Mae Clarke were among those who performed in these choruses. As vaudeville began to fade, he continued to mount these revues in the big presentation houses that gradually replaced big time vaudeville house, presenting his shows as the opening acts for movies. During prohibition he also ran a speakeasy named Club Anatol, which also featured his floor shows.

To learn more about 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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Stars of Vaudeville #898: L. Wolfe Gilbert

Posted in Music, Tin Pan Alley, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , on August 31, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Tin Pan Alley songwriter L. Wolfe Gilbert (1886-1970). Born in Odessa, he moved to the U.S. in his youth and broke into vaudeville in the first decade of the twentieth century as part of a singing quartet. While performing in Coney Island he was spotted by English producer Albert Decourville and brought over to Britain to tour music halls as part of the Ragtime Octet. In 1912, he co-authored (with Lewis Muir) one of my favorite vaudeville era songs “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee”. This song was recorded and performed by nearly every singer of the era, and but Gilbert on top. In 1917 he played a week at the Palace with his then-partner Anatole Friedland. Other songs from Gilbert’s catalog include “Down Yonder”, “Ramona”, and “Jeannine, I Dream of Lillac Time”. His later decades were spent working in film, radio and television and he was a director of ASCAP from 1941 through 1944.

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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Al Jolson: April Showers

Posted in Music, Tin Pan Alley with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2015 by travsd

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God forbid we should have any (showers, that is) but it is officially April now, and, well, they have a Tin Pan Alley Song for EVERYTHING. Buddy DeSylva and Louis Silvers wrote this song for the 1921 Broadway show Bombo, starring Mr. Al Jolson. It was to be a staple of Jolie’s act for the rest of his days.

For more on show biz 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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Today on TCM: 42nd Street

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Movies, Tin Pan Alley with tags , , , , , , , , on March 20, 2015 by travsd

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Today on Turner Classic Movies at 1:15pm (EST) the one and only 42nd Street (1933).

A good definition of a classic film is one that you keep coming back to for inspiration and replenishment as though it contained the waters of the Fountain of Youth.

This one ended up becoming the archetypal show biz musical. Four years into the genre, by now the technical difficulties had been worked out, the conventions established, and an entire studio apparatus built up to allow artists to really do their stuff. Directed by silent movie veteran Lloyd Bacon, with choreography by Busby Berkley (whose experience ’til then had consisted mostly of working with the Goldwyn Girls on Eddie Cantor pictures), this Depression Era musical spectacular is glamorous, glittering and magical without ever being bland and idiotic (as so many musicals became in the ensuing decades).  Its memorable tunes (written by Harry Warren and Al Dubin — who actually play themselves in the movie) include the title song (with that weird bluesy dip in the melody), as well as “You’re Getting to be a Habit with Me” and “Shuffle Off to Buffalo”. And the gorgeous, shimmering art deco designs (of sets, costumes and graphics) make the picture so beautiful, one could almost watch it with the sound turned down (or stare at publicity stills from the film for hours and hours, which many folks are wont to do).

He'll say anything he has to in order to get a performance out of her.

He’ll say anything he has to in order to get a performance out of her.

And to top it off the book is constructed of cynical one-liners meant to represent New York showbiz: everyone communicates in world weary, nasty wisecracks. There is a nice double plot, juxtaposing the story of one girl (Bebe Daniels) who is forced to see her long-time vaudeville boyfriend and partner (George Brent) on the sly and take up with a millionaire (Guy Kibbee) so he will back the Broadway show she stars in…with the story of another girl (Ruby Keeler, in her first film role), who, after  fainting with hunger, gets a job in the chorus, and is romanced by the juvenile (Dick Powell), as well as a couple of the other men. When the star (Daniels) gets drunk and breaks her ankle, of course Keeler (who’s never even been on Broadway before) gets her big shot. How do you think it goes?

In addition, the movie features one of my favorite characters, the insane, psychotic, mirthless stage director Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter)…the Captain Ahab of stage directors…ridiculous, way over the top, as extreme as it needs to be. (I thought of him constantly while directing I’ll Say She Is last year. “Oh! THIS is the level of agida!  Previous nervous breakdowns were nothing compared to this! “) The Marsh plot remains gloriously enigmatic. Is he a monster, just a brutal dictator? His inspirational speech — does he mean any of it? Was he once at least partially idealistic? Or was he always a machine? The question lends a darkness and a depth to the script that takes it beyond the realm of glittery entertainment. (BTW, the film was based on a novel — guess I’d better read that sometime soon.)

Not to mention: Ned Sparks! Una Merkel! Ginger Rogers! Toby Wing! Louise Beavers! Lyle Talbot!

For more on early film history 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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For more on show biz 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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Irving Berlin’s America

Posted in Broadway, Music, PLUGS, Tin Pan Alley with tags , , , on February 25, 2014 by travsd

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Just a quick note to plug the new soundtrack CD from Chip Deffaa’s recent show Irving Berlin’s America

Michael Townsend Wright (well known to many of our readers) plays Berlin and, assisted by young Jack Saleeby, he gives us a slew of standards from the Berlin catalog (and a couple of Cohan numbers for good measure). On the bill of fare are “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, “When I Lost You”, “Sadie Salome Go Home”, “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody”, and a couple of dozen others. It’s well worth the outlay for the die-hard fan. Here’s a place where you can buy it: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/chipdeffaa4

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