Archive for the Sister Acts Category

The Moylan Sisters: The Angels of the Airwaves

Posted in Child Stars, Hollywood (History), Radio (Old Time Radio), Singers, Sister Acts with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2017 by travsd

July 16 was the birthday of Marianne Moylan (1930-90). Along with her sister Peggy Joan (1932-2002), she was part of the kiddie act The Moylan Sisters.

All of 7 and 5 when they made their debut on The Horn and Hardart Children’s Hour, the girls were prized for their naturalness and purity. They sang beautifully and in nice harmony, but unlike most kiddie acts they were not precocious and show bizzy. They were real kids, not performing freaks. Their repertoire tells the tale; they did songs like “School Days”, “I Don’t Want  to Play in Your Yard” and “M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I-I.”  Billed as “The Cinderellas of Radio” and “The Angels of the Airwaves”, they also made records, live appearances and  several short films, including The Backyard Broadcast (1936), Starlets (1937), Toyland Casino (1937 — a Vitaphone, which is how I first learned of them), and World’s Fair Junior (1939). In 1939, they were given their own network radio show, which remained on the air through 1945. For a while the show was sponsored by Thrivo Dog Food. The Thrivo jingle which they sang was one of their most popular and well-known numbers. At one point, their show was the second most popular in the country, topped only by The Shadow.

The girls both seem to have retired from the business in the early 1950s. Born and raised in Sag Harbor, New York, the Irish Catholic children of an engraver at a watch factory. They attended school at the Academy of the Sacred Heart. Marianne married a local plumbing contractor in 1953 and became a homemaker, remaining in Sag Harbor. Peggy Joan married in 1955, also choosing the domestic life over a career. She moved to Maine for a time before returning to New York. Both women continued to sing in church after their professional retirement.

The act was parodied in the 1976 Broadway musical Annie as “The Boylan Sisters.”

For everything you need to to know about the variety arts, including kiddie acts, sister acts, and radio variety, see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available wherever fine books are sold.

For National Siblings Day: Some Classic Show Biz Siblings

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Movies, Sister Acts, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 10, 2017 by travsd

The Five Ames Sisters

It’s National Siblings Day, and to my shock I haven’t done a post yet on the countless classic show biz brothers and sisters who either had professional relationships or were in the same industry. Nepotism greases the wheels of show business. It shouldn’t surprise you that there are this many siblings in the highest echelons of entertainment. Uncharacteristically, I’m gonna go all Joe Laurie Jr on yer ass — this post will largely consist of lists of names; just click on the highlighted people to know more. Also, so as not to go crazy, I’m restricting this to the classic era: vaudeville and early motion pictures.


Notable vaudeville teams and acts where the members were all brothers included: The Six Brown Brothers, six brothers from Canada who were saxophone playing clowns; the acrobatic Hanlon Brothers, also six in number; the five Marx Brothers (although usually there were only four in the act at any given time); the melodious Mills Brothers (actually three brothers plus their father); the three virtually identical Ritz Brothers; the Wiere Brothers, also three in all; the Three Stooges, which usually contained at least two of the three Howard brothers: always Moe, and at various times Shemp or Curly); the three energetic Berry Brothers;  the three tap-dancing Condos Brothers; Willie and Eugene Howard (no relation to the Stooges); the wunderkind Nicholas Brothers; the Irish Kernell Brothers; the hilarious Russell Brothers (who were in drag); the Tutt Brothers of black vaudeville; the acrobalancing Rath Brothers; the Rogers Brothers, who copied Weber & Fields; and the gravity-defying Mosconi Brothers.

Al Jolson and Harry Jolson briefly performed in an act together, but later they became, fierce rivals, and later simply enemies, because Harry could hardly be called a rival to Al. Two of Grace Kelly’s uncles were in vaudeville, but separately: Walter C. Kelly was a monologist; George Kelly was an actor who wrote sketches for vaudeville before becoming a Broadway playwright.

And there are many, many more acrobatic brother acts, though it was a convention in circus and vaudeville for acrobats to call themselves “brothers” and “families”, when they weren’t technically related. Although they truly did, in a real sense adopt one another.


Sister acts were also a major staple of vaudeville and early show business. The Seven Sutherland Sisters were like something out of a fairy tale — Snow White’s Dwarves mixed with Rapunzel. One of the most notorious of all vaudeville acts was the five Cherry Sisters (they dwindled in number as time went on), reputed to be the worst act ever. The five Barrison Sisters had a very naughty act. There were four Lane Sisters, although they tended to pair off into duos and later all went solo. There were also the Gale Quadruplets, although they were actually two sets of twin sisters. The four Whitman Sisters were stars of black vaudeville. Gracie Allen started out in an act with her sisters called The Four Colleens. The most famous sister trio is undoubtedly the Andrews Sisters.  Other trios included the Boswell Sisters, the Brox Sisters, and the Three X SistersThe Gumm Sisters were also a trio, the youngest of whom became Judy Garland. Singing sister duos were an entire vaudeville specialty: among the biggest were the Duncan Sisters, others included the Frazee Sisters, the Oakland Sisters, and the Williams Sisters. The Watson Sisters were unusual in being low comedians; the Ponselle Sisters were opera singers; the Cameron Sisters were balletic dancers. Twin sister acts included the Dolly Sisters (famous clothes horses), the French Twin Sisters and the Fairbanks Twins.   The Hilton Sisters were conjoined!

The Hovick Sisters had performed together in a kiddie act; they later became famous separately as Gypsy Rose Lee and June Havoc. 


A couple of sister-and-brother acts spring to mind, both dance teams:  Fred and Adele Astaire, and Vilma and Buddy Ebsen.  Josie and George M. Cohan performed with their parents in the Four Cohans. Most common was for several brothers and sisters to be in larger family acts together (frequently Irish), such as the Seven Little Foys, the Five Kellys (featuring Gene Kelly), the O’Connor Family (featuring Donald O’Connor), the Quillans (featuring Eddie Quillan)The Four Fords;  the Lake family act (with Arthur Lake and Florence Lake);  and the Morris family act (including Chester Morris). Fanny Brice’s brother Lew Brice was also in vaudeville, although the two performed separately.


An interesting phenomenon: when the top silent comedians made it big, They often found work for their brothers, some of whom made good for themselves, some of whom didn’t.

Charlie’s Chaplin’s older half-brother Sydney Chaplin is one of those who did make good. He actually taught Charlie much of what he knew and got him his job with Karno’s Speechless Comedians. A true talent in his own right, he was a star himself in the teens and twenties. Charlie’s other half-brother Wheeler Dryden also showed up at certain point, and made himself useful in the family business, though he was never a star. Likewise, Buster Keaton put his parents and his brother Jingles and sister Louise into his films, not surprising, since they had performed in vaudeville together. Harold Lloyd put his brother Gaylord Lloyd into films, but he didn’t click. Lupino Lane and Stanley Lupino both came from the same family of British music hall clown/acrobats. Both starred in shorts at Educational Pictures, although the former fared better than the latter. And then there the brothers Parrott: Charles (better known as Charley Chase) and Paul, both prodigious talents both before and behind the camera. And then there are great comedy produce/director brothers Jack White and Jules White.


Notable producing brothers include the Ringling Brothers of the circus world, the Minskys of burlesque; the Shuberts; the Frohmans; and the Lemaire brothers of Broadway; the Warner Brothers; Jack and Harry Cohn of Columbia; the Schenck Brothers, and Cecil B. Demille and his brother, director/screenwriter/playwright William DeMille. Broadway comedian and producer Lew Fields’s three children Joseph, Herbert and Dorothy were important Broadway creators, sometimes collaborating; the Gershwin brothers were one of the great songwriting teams.


Some famous acting siblings included John, Lionel and Ethyl Barrymore; Mary Pickford and her brother Jack; Lillian and Dorothy Gish; Wallace and Noah Beery; the Talmadge Sisters; Joan, Constance and Barbara Bennett; and Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine.

Director John Ford got into films because his brother Francis was a movie star. Director Raoul Walsh’s brother was the actor George Walsh. Dustin and William Farnum were both actors, and their brother Marshall, a director.

Okay, I have to post this now before the day’s half over. I’m certain I’ll be adding to it!


Jane Frazee: Of The Frazee Sisters and Joe McDoakes Shorts

Posted in Child Stars, Hollywood (History), Movies, Singers, Sister Acts, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Westerns, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2016 by travsd


Mrs. McDoakes. 

Today is the birthday of Jane Frazee (Mary Jane Frehse, 1918-1985). Jane started out in show business at age six in a vaudeville act with her older sister Ruth called the Frazee Sisters. In addition to vaudeville, the pair appeared together in nightclubs, on radio, and in several movie shorts released between 1935 and 1939. At this juncture, the pair both took screen tests. Jane passed; Ruth didn’t.

In 1940, Jane began her career as a solo movie actress in the B movie musical Melody and Moonlight.  She appeared in around 40 feature length pictures through the end of the 1940s, including several more Moonlight musicals, the Abbott and Costello hit Buck Privates (1941), Olsen and Johnson’s Hellzapoppin (1941), and numerous western musicals with the like likes of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. After this she appeared on television for a few years, and co-starred in the “Joe McDoakes” shorts from 1954 through 1956.

Jane Frazee was married four times; the best known of her husbands was silent movie star and director Glenn Tryon. 

For more on vaudeville history and acts like Frazee Sisters, consulNo Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

The Lane Sisters

Posted in Ballroom/ Big Band/ Swing, Broadway, Hollywood (History), Movies, Radio (Old Time Radio), Singers, Sister Acts, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2016 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Rosemary Lane (Rosemary Mullican, 1913-1974), one of a brood of performing sisters  known as the Lane Sisters. Writing about them is a bit of a tangle, as they all had separate solo careers in addition to working together, and the line up in the group changed over time, but I shall make the attempt.

Five daughters were born to dentist Lorenzo Mullican: Leotabel (Leota), Martha, Dorothy (Lola),  Rosemary and Priscilla. Martha was the only one who did not perform or join the act. The girls were raised in Indianola, Iowa and encouraged to sing and learn musical instruments by their mother, a frustrated performer. Lola is said to have played piano in a local movie house by the time she was 12.

The older two girls got their start in Gus Edwards’ vaudeville act , and later appeared in the Greenwich Village Follies. Edwards was the one who changed their professional name to Lane. The two older girls began to get parts in Broadway shows in 1928 and 1929. Lola would prove to be the more successful; she went to Hollywood and began to get cast in films in 1929. Leota’s career would proved to lag far behind those of the other three.

The younger two sisters made their professional debut in 1930 as part of the vaudeville show accompanying a film Lola was appearing in called Good News, at the Paramount Theater in Des Moines. By 1932, the mother had moved to New York with the younger daughters and gotten them jobs singing with Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians. The girls’ parents divorced the following year. Rosemary and Priscilla appeared regularly on Waring’s radio show, becoming stars in their own right. Soon they were signed to movie contracts, even as their older sister Lola continued to act in films. This culminated in a projected vehicle for the four of them. Unfortunately, the studio didn’t think much of the acting ability of the oldest sister Leota, so her part was played by the actress Gale Page. Page and the Lane Sisters appeared together in three movies: Four Daughters (1938), Four Wives (1939), and Four Mothers (1941).

As for their separate lives and careers:

Priscilla Lane, a gifted comedienne, would prove the biggest movie star. Her career, which lasted from 1937 to 1948, included leading roles in such well known films as Alfred Hitchock’s Saboteur (1942), Jack Benny’s The Meanest Man in the World (1943), and Frank Capra’s Arsenic and Old Lace (1944). She ended her film career on a high note with the gritty noir film Bodyguard (1948).

Rosemary Lane’s film career was not negligible either. She starred in over two dozen movies, including Gold Diggers in Paris (1938), The Oklahoma Kid (1939) and The Boys from Syracuse (1940). Her last film was Sing Me a Song of Texas (1945). 

Lola Lane married five times. Her famous husbands included Lew Ayers and Roland West. Her film career lasted from 1929 through 1946. She starred in dozens of movies, mostly B pictures. She is best known for having played the pin-up character of Torchy Blane, and for having inspired the character of Superman’s Lois Lane. Her last film was Deadline at Dawn, penned by Clifford Odets. 

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.


The Barrison Sisters: Don’t Call it Vaudeville

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Burlesk, Sister Acts, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2016 by travsd


I’ve dithered about this post for a long while, but ultimately decided it can’t go in my Stars of Vaudeville series, for the simple reason that there’s no way in hell that you could ever call this act “vaudeville”. The reason for the quandary: the word appears next to their name wherever it is rendered on the internet. In typical fashion, once an error like that gets out there in gets replicated ad infinitum, and then bounced around forever like a pinball in a machine.


Here’s the thing: the Danish born Barrison Sisters (Lona, Sophia, Inger, Olga and Gertrude) had a dirty act. Like many sister acts of their day, they performed cute musical numbers. But the Barrison Sisters were said to have discovered the path to success through sexy double entendres. Their most notorious routine is said to have consisted of the girls asking the audience “Do you want to see my pussy?” — at which point they would flip up their skirts to reveal kittens strapped to the front of their vajayjays. In the 1890s. Though the great vaudeville circuits were just in the process of being created the tone of the industry was already well established by Tony Pastor, Keith and Albee, F.F. Proctor, Sylvester Poli, Percy Williams and others. Vaudeville was clean. If you did an act of this description in vaaudeville you’d be shown the door before your act was even finished.

So this act can only be said to have been in vaudeville in the broadest, broadest possible use of the term. Perhaps as they might use it in some place like Paris or Moscow, to mean something equivalent to “varities”. In fact, it even sounded too dirty for 1890s burlesque to me. My guess would have been saloon variety, as it might be seen at Koster and Bial’s or on the Bowery or someplace, or your local wild west saloon. But then I went to my go-to reference for early burlesque, the must-own Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture, by Robert C. Allen. There, he mentions a strip act by Lona Barrison in burlesque, being reported on in the Police Gazette in 1896, in which she disrobed completely, which back then meant down to her underwear. And really that’s all you gotta know, friends. The Barrison Sisters were not vaudeville but burlesque, friends, and were even getting busted there. 

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.


The Oakland Sisters

Posted in Hollywood (History), Movies, Sister Acts, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2014 by travsd

Today is the birthday of Dagmar Oakland (Edna Andersen, 1893-1989), one half of the vaudeville team the Oakland Sisters. Her sister Vivien is better known today — she’ll get her own post here in due course, for she was in many classic comedies. The girls initially performed in vaudeville as the Anker Sisters, then changed their name to “Oakland” as a tribute to their home town. For a time they performed with the Boston Juveniles, later billed as the Juvenile Bostonians. In 1915, their careers were assured when they made it all the way to the Ziegfeld Follies, along with Ed Wynn, W.C. Fields, Bert Williams, Leon Errol, Ina Claire, Olive Thomas, Ann Pennington and many others.

This is the point where the team split up. Vivien went on to her film career. Dagmar remained on Broadway for another 15 years, with great parts in eight shows, notably The Student Prince (1924-26), Show Boat (1927-1929), and The Wonder Bar (1931). Then she joined her sister in Hollywood, where she worked for another 15 years, although with much less success. She normally had walk-ons and bit parts. One notable exception was her part as the pretty manicurist in The Barber Shop (1933), with her old Follies co-star W.C. Fields.

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.



To learn more about comedy film history 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 etc etc etc


The Williams Sisters

Posted in Ballroom/ Big Band/ Swing, Child Stars, Music, Singers, Sister Acts, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2014 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Hannah Williams (1911-1973). Along with her older sister Dorothy, she began performing in a singing dancing kiddie duo in the vaudeville theatres around their native Scranton in the late nineteen teens. By the mid 1920s they were fronting the Scranton Sirens, Charley Straight and Ben Pollack Orchestras in night clubs and dance halls, and being featured in George White’s Scandals of 1924.

Hannah was featured as a solo in  the Billy Rose revue Sweet and Low (1930) , and then married a succession of very public husbands; band leader Roger Wolfe Kahn (1931-1933), boxer Jack Dempsey (1933-1943) and an actor named Thomas J. Monaghan (1950-1951). She made one Vitaphone short The Audition (1933), then retired from performing, although she did occasionally appear in radio and was in the 1937 Broadway show Hooray for What but cut from the show  before it opened. Dorothy replaced Hannah in Sweet and Low when she left to marry Kahn (his father the famous impresario Otto Kahn didn’t want his son married to a showgirl). Dorothy was briefly married to the jazz cornetist Jimmy McPartland. 

Thanks to the Keep it Swinging blog for some of this info!

The Williams Sisters made very few records, but here’s one of them:

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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