Archive for the Sister Acts Category

Stars of Vaudeville #999: Jane Frazee/ The Frazee Sisters

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

url

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, consulNo 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 #971: The Lane Sisters

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

c3e8d045fde40ff8ce33e58f3a9b4801

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.

safe_image

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

tumblr_m57dj57epI1qd82ewo1_500

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.

imgres

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.

safe_image

Stars of Vaudeville # 883: The Oakland Sisters

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

index
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.

safe_image

 

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 amazon.com etc etc etc

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

Stars of Vaudeville #874: The Williams Sisters

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

1927-Hannah-Dorothy

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.

safe_image

Stars of Vaudeville #67: The Dolly Sisters

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Burlesk, Dance, Hollywood (History), Singers, Sister Acts, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 25, 2013 by travsd

dollysisters_468x356

Originally posted in 2009

Two, two, two Dollies in one! The Duncan Sisters were more talented, the Hilton Sisters were more freakish, but no sister act was more beautiful, or more beautifully outfitted, than this pair of Hungarian identical twins.

Born Yansci and Rozicke Deutsch in Budapest in 1892, the girls moved to Brooklyn at age 5, where they quickly became “Jennie” and “Rosie”. Their mother enrolled them in ballet school; this was to be the full extent of their formal training. A completely unreliable Hollywood movie has them doing Hungarian folk dances in a social club in 1904 to cover their uncle’s gambling debts. The verifiable record has them debuting professionally at Keith’s Union Square in 1909. Legend has it that they chose the name Dolly because a friend said they were as cute as little dolls.

the dolly sisters 1927 - by james abbe

In 1911, Ziegfeld booked them for the Follies, and in so doing created the personae and mystique that was to be the basis of all their future stage (and offstage) success. For their Siamese twin dance routine, Ziegfeld draped them in fabulous costumes of the sort that were to be their mainstay throughout the rest of their careers, accentuating the latent exoticism of their almond-shaped eyes, black hair, and small, svelte bodies, with Asiatic finery, jewels, head-dresses and finger-cymbals. They seemed to be from the Far East, and back then, Hungary was pretty far east. To this reviewer, the whole concept bears an unfortunate resemblance to the miniature twin goddesses in the 1961 Japanese horror film Mothra. “Return the egg! Please, return the egg!”

Throughout their careers, they were as famous for who they were dating, who they were marrying, and how much money they had, as for any stage “accomplishment”. They went around with the likes of Diamond Jim Brady and the Prince of Wales. When they were marrying, they tended to do it tandem, perhaps each independently following the rhythmic imperatives of their identical DNA. In 1913, Rosie married Jean Schwartz, author of the Jolson hit “Rock-a-bye Your Baby (With a Dixie Melody)”. The next year, Jenny married Harry Fox, inventor of the Fox Trot.

Jenny and Fox made a sort of team for awhile, appearing at the Palace and Hammerstein’s Victoria together and in revues like the 1915 Stop! Look! Listen! Jenny and Dolly starred in separate films in 1915, Rosie in D.W. Griffith’s The Lily and the Rose, and Jenny in The Call of the Dance. In 1916, they were back as a permanent team again, starting a relationship with the Palace that was to last many years, and co-starring in the Far East espionage thriller The Million Dollar Dollies.

79b243db71b9c785a0beac56ba9a02eb

The Dollys not only had twin marriages, they had twin divorces. Jenny divorced Fox in 1920; Rosie and Jean Schwartz split up in 1921. In the 20s, Paris became their home base, becoming the toast of the town with engagements at the Folies Bergere and the Casino de Paris. Their last American engagement was the Greenwich Village Follies of 1924.

Like Josephine Baker and Peggy Hopkins Joyce, the Dolly Sisters became closely identified with the spirit of the 20s, the opulence, the decadence, the frippery and the frivolousness. They mattered not for how they sang or danced, but how they looked while doing it. Nor did they have any desire to be artists. It was clear that, to them, the stage was just a means to an end. Once they were well fixed (by the late 20s), they retired, and spent all their time dating royalty and gambling in Monte Carlo.

rdirvingn-1932221-copy

Rosie and Nechter

In 1927 Rosie married tobacco heir Mortimer Davis, whom she traded in for department store heir Irving Netcher in 1931. In 1933, Jenny was involved in a major auto accident with her fiance, the French aviator Max Constant. She endured 15 separate operations to restore her once matchless face, selling off her jewelery in the process. In the end, it was futile; her looks were forever gone. It is said that she regretted having survived without her beauty. In 1941, she proved it by hanging herself.

6a00d8341c630a53ef01538ed5e849970b

In 1945, George Jessel made the lives of the Dollies into a preposterous bio-pic starring June Haver and Betty Grable. The film was a huge hit in its day – but it has nothing to do with the Dolly Sisters. In 1962, the seventy year old Rosie unsuccessfully attempted suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills. She was to live on in ignominious old age for another eight years.

 

To find out more about vaudeville past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. To learn about silent and slapstick comedy 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 #756: Elsie St. Leon

Posted in Acrobats and Daredevils, Animal Acts, Circus, Sister Acts, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2013 by travsd

4836_photo

Elsie St. Leon (1884-1976) was one of the pre-eminent equestriennes of her day, a star of both circus and vaudeville. A third generation member of an Australian circus dynasty formed in the 1850s, she arrived in the U.S. in the 1890s with her parents and siblings. Elsie started off performing as a juggler at age seven, and later worked as an aerialist and rider with her family for Ringling Bros and Sells-Forepaugh in the early years of the 20th century. It was said that Elsie was the only woman who could turn a somersault unattended whilst riding a horse bareback. Her horse was named “Swipe”. She and her family had a cameo in the 1913 film The Whimsical Threads of Destiny essentially playing themselves as circus riders.

While Elsie and her sister Vera were sometimes billed as the St. Leon Sisters, they are not to be confused with another pair of performing St. Leon Sisters, Elsie and Maude, dancers and comediennes on the New York stage in the 1860s.

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.

safe_image

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

chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500

%d bloggers like this: