Archive for the Nuts and Eccentrics Category

Frank Whitman: The Dancing Violinist

Posted in Music, Nuts and Eccentrics, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 29, 2017 by travsd

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Frank Whitman was often billed as  as “The Dancing Violinist”, “The Stepping Violinist”, “The Wizard of the Violin” and in 1926 his Loew’s Circuit billing was “The Fiddler of Infinite Surprises”. There are references to him performing his act as early as the mid 1890s; he seems to have retired or passed away around 1930.

In his performances, Whitman would bow the violin with various objects, including a bottle, and a horn which he simultaneously tooted. As his name suggests, he would dance while he fiddled. He also told jokes in his patter and for his big finish, bowed the violin through his legs in a most suggestive manner — we might think it more innocent if he weren’t leering and winking at us like a creep while he did it. His 1928 Vitaphone short Frank Whitman: That Surprising Fiddler, in which we can see him do all these things, is his main legacy today.

If he is the same “celebrated violinist” named Frank Whitman mentioned in the April 30, 1921 issue if Billboard, he was the half-brother of Charles A. Trexler, long time property manager for Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus, and probably originally from Reading, Pennsylvania.

To learn more about vaudeville history including performers like Frank Whitman, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

Bob Burns (The Arkansas Traveler): Inventor of the Bazooka

Posted in Comedy, Crackers, Hollywood (History), Movies, Music, Nuts and Eccentrics, Radio (Old Time Radio), Stand Up, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2013 by travsd

bazooka_fToday is the birthday of Bob Burns (1890-1956). Burns was just an Arkansas teenager playing in local brass bands when he invented his own humorous looking trombone-like instrument out of plumbing supplies which he dubbed “the bazooka.” Decades later, when Burns and his instrument were famous, U.S. army personnel were to nickname their well-known hand-held anti-tank weapon the bazooka because of the resemblance. Burns himself served in World War One entertaining troops. Following the war, he toured in night clubs, carnivals and vaudeville as the Arkansas Traveler, telling folksy, homespun stories and playing tunes on his bazooka. From 1930 through the mid 1940s he was frequently in films and on the radio. The film appearances were initially walk-ons and cameos playing his bazooka, and the radio initially local. But in the mid 30s he broke through in a big way, when he became a regular on Kraft Music Hall with Paul Whiteman and then with Bing Crosby, and was also regularly on The Fleischmann Hour with Rudy Vallee. At that point he started getting lead roles in feature films, usually playing hillbilly characters. He also got his own nationally syndicated humor column which ran in 250 newspapers from 1936-1940). (The timing of this is interesting — he seems to have filled a gap left when Will Rogers passed away). In the forties he had his own starring radio series, The Arkansas Traveler (1941-1943) and The Bob Burns Shows (1943-1947). His last film was The Windjammer (1945). After this he made the occasional tv variety appearance, but for the most part he retired and lived on his investments. From 1936 through 1939 he was married to Judy Canova. 

Here’s a little slice of Burns from the WWII era:

To find out 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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And check out 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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Mousie Garner: Substitute Stooge

Posted in Child Stars, Comedy, Comedy Teams, Music, Nuts and Eccentrics, Sit Coms, Stars of Vaudeville, Television, TV variety, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Paul “Mousie” Garner (1909-2004). He started out in vaudeville at the age of four with his family’s act. As a young adult Garner was hired by Ted Healy as a substitute stooge in the early 30s when Healy and Moe/Larry/ Shemp were on the outs, and thus got a taste of the big time. Later he became a member of Spike Jones’ band. Ironically this presented him from becoming a legitimate member of the The Three Stooges; Garner was Larry and Moe’s first choice for a replacement stooge when Shemp died in 1955. But Jones wouldn’t let Garner out of his contract, thus enabling the public to become acquainted with the prodigious talents of Joe Besser and Curly Joe De Rita, the fifth and sixth stooges, respectively. Garner finally got his chance in the 1970s, but only ever so briefly and not really. By then Moe and Larry were also dead, and the only “legitimate” stooge was De Rita, who’d only been with the team himself since the late 50s. This sad experiment was short lived.

Garner got plenty of work over the years as a character actor in walk-ons on sit-coms in the sixties, and guest shots on tv variety shows. His book: Mousie Garner: Autobiography of a Vaudeville Stooge is a great resource for information on the early years of show biz. His last credit (posthumous) is in The Onion Movie. 

To find out more about  the history of vaudeville and comedians like Mousie Garnerconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold, and also please check out my 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

 

Peaches Browning: Famous for Being Famous

Posted in Nuts and Eccentrics, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , on June 23, 2013 by travsd

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Peaches Browning (Frances Belle Heenan, 1910-1956) was born on June 23.

In 1926 (do the math — she was 16), the young girl met (through a classified ad) and married (within weeks) real estate tycoon Edward “Daddy” Browning. Within a matter of months, an acrimonious divorce trial ensued which became one of the tabloid sensations of the era. Weird details came out. She wouldn’t consummate the marriage. He threw acid on her. He kept a live goose in their bedroom. When the smoke cleared, Peaches used her newfound fame to launch a lucrative vaudeville career. She married three more times.

To find out about  the history of vaudeville, including performers ripped from the headlines like Peaches Browning, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

 

The Vaudeville of Chuck Barris

Posted in Amusement Parks, BUNKUM, CAMP, Impresarios, Jews/ Show Biz, Nuts and Eccentrics, Rock and Pop, Television, Tin Pan Alley, TV variety with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2013 by travsd

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Visionary show biz entrepreneur Chuck Barris (1929-2017) was a June 3 baby.  We celebrate him for many reasons today. In chronological order:

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His uncle Harry Barris was a member of the Rhythm Boys, the 1920s group in which Bing Crosby got his start. Harry wrote such songs as “Mississippi Mud” and “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” and sings, acts and/or plays piano in over 50 films made between 1930 and 1950. He married bandleader Paul Whiteman’s daughter.

Surely Harry’s example was an inspiration to Chuck who started off his career by penning “Palisades Park”, an awesome paean to a New Jersey amusement park, and a #3 hit for Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon in 1962.

Following his hit game shows of the late 60s/ early 70s, The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game, Barris went on to create The Gong Show (1976-1980), one of the pre-eminent survivals of vaudevillianism in those years, which mixed elements of the amateur hour, a variety show and a game show, the acts ranging from the professional to the absolutely freakish. I wrote about it some in No Applause, and have written homages to frequent contestant The Unknown Comic and frequent celebrity guest Arte Johnson on this blog. Without a doubt I’ll write a lot more about other aspects of the show as time goes on. I would be very shocked to learn that I did not watch every episode of this show when it was on. It was just my cup of my Pennyroyal tea. It’s essentially an electronic age version of Miner’s Bowery Theatre.  

After this, there was The Bobby Vinton Show which we blogged about here, and Rip Taylor’s own $1.98 Beauty Show which we blogged about here. By the 80s, he was burned out, and eventually cashed out his media empire, although he did pen the highly Barnumesque 1984 “autobiography” Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, in which he claimed to be a hit man for the CIA, which was made into a terrific movie by George Clooney in 2002.

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

Herb Williams and His Breakaway Piano

Posted in Comedy, Music, Nuts and Eccentrics, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , on May 22, 2013 by travsd

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Herb Williams’ (Herbert Schussler Billerbeck, 1884-1936) whole act revolved around a trick piano that fell apart like Harry Langdon’s automobile, but also was the source of many other surreal gags. Ironically, he was a legitimate, trained pianist (he studied at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music). His partners over the years included his first wife Hilda Woofus, his second wife Jean Halpin, and Tom Kennedy (a different one, I think, from the Keystone comedian). By the mid 20s Williams was a big time headliner, who played the Palace several times. Broadway appearances included Earl Carroll’s Vanities of 1930 and The Farmer Takes a Wife (1934). He was just beginning to break into films when he passed away in 1936.

And now, here he is:

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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For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out 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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Vasco the Mad Musician

Posted in British Music Hall, Music, Nuts and Eccentrics, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , on January 31, 2013 by travsd

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Vasco ( 1871-1925) was a British music hall entertainer known for his flamboyant showmanship (he would often drive around town in a car adorned with signs advertising his act). Billed as the Mad Musician, he could (and did) play 28 different musical instruments during his act, with a sprinkling of comedy and acrobatics in between. He acquired his musical skills at the British Army Academy, and toured with circuses and appeared in opera as well as music hall. He appeared in American vaudeville numerous times, starting with his first appearance at the Alhambra Theatre in 1897.

To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.

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