Archive for the Sport & Recreation Category

Stars of Vaudeville #1029: Helen Dauvray

Posted in Broadway, Melodrama and Master Thespians, Sport & Recreation, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2017 by travsd


Helen Dauvray (1859-1923) has a birthday today. A prominent stage actress of her day (and one of the few female actor-managers), today she is best remembered for her private life and a brief connection to baseball.

Dauvray began her career as a child actress under the stage name Little Nell, the California Diamond. A fortunate investment in the Comstock Mine made her financially independent. She went to Paris to study, and performed at the Folies Dramatique in 1884. In 1885 she came to New York and started producing her own stage vehicles, including Mona at the Star Theatre, and at the Lyceum, Dakolar, and then Bronson Howard’s One of Our Girls, which turned out to be a major hit, which she frequently revived and toured across the U.S. and England. She also composed a popular song called “The One of Our Girls Polka”. Other plays she produced and appeared in at the Lyceum included A Scrap of Paper, Met By Chance, Masks and Faces, and Walda Lamar. She also played on variety stages as was the custom of the time.


In 1887, she married John Montgomery Ward, a member of the New York Giants who had recently graduated from law school, and was one of the founders of the first players union. She boasted that he was a “charming and cultured man” who could “speak five languages fluently”. On account of their celebrated relationship, professional baseball’s first championship trophy, instituted in 1888, was known as the Helen Dauvray Cup. (It was known by that time until after the couple divorced. In 1893 it was renamed the Temple Cup.) When the couple first married, Dauvray retired from the stage briefly, causing her to break a contract with Henry Miner, resulting in negative publicity. She and Ward caused a scandal by when they separated in 1890.


In 1896 she married naval officer Albert Winterhalter, who would be the man who first raised the American flag in Hawaii following its official annexation (1898), and would eventually attain the rank of Admiral, commanding the U.S. Asiatic Fleet 1915-1917. Dauvray retired upon her marriage to Winterhalter as well, with the exception of one comeback vaudeville engagement at Proctor’s in New York in 1901. When the reception was not encouraging, the writing was on the wall.

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.


Wheeler and Woolsey in “Hold ‘Em, Jail”

Posted in Comedy, Comedy Teams, Hollywood (History), Movies, Sport & Recreation, Wheeler and Woolsey with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2016 by travsd


Today is the anniversary of the release date of the 1932 Wheeler and Woolsey comedy Hold ’em Jail .

In this one, one of their funnier ones, the boys get their turn at a funny football game, in a feature directed by Norman Taurog. The title is a play on the Ivy League cheer “Hold ’em, Yale!” Here, the boys are framed and sent to prison, then forced to play on the warden’s team (a possible model for The Longest Yard?) The warden is played by the omnipresent Edgar Kennedy, Rosco Ates is one of the players, their frequent foil Edna May Oliver is in it, and it contains an early performance by Betty Grable!

For more on slapstick film history please check out my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc

Stars of Vaudeville #995: Jack Farrell

Posted in Sport & Recreation, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , on July 5, 2016 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Jack “Moose” Farrell (1857-1914). Farrell was a second baseman for such teams as the Syracuse Stars and the Providence Grays before retiring from the field in 1890. Thereafter he kept before the public on the vaudeville stage. He was briefly married to singer Valerie Bergere around the turn of the last century.

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


On the Vaudeville of the Late Muhammad Ali

Posted in African American Interest, OBITS, Sport & Recreation with tags , , , , , , on June 4, 2016 by travsd


Saddened to hear of the passing yesterday of three time World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali. We had been expecting this news not just for years but for many decades. It’s startling to think how young he was when it was first announced that he had Parkinson’s Disease — 42. That was 1984, and ever since that time, 32 years (!) we were expecting some sort of bad news about him. Usually it was, “Did you see Muhammad Ali at x? He looked bad.” But to use a boxing metaphor, he paced himself. He lasted 74 years. That’s essentially nine rounds.

I was between the ages of 9 and 16 during those peak Ali years between 1974 and the end of his career in 1981. I followed sports more than I do now, but you didn’t actually have to do so in order to have him on your radar. He was a show biz personality. His bouts and stunts weren’t just sports news, they made the news news, much like his outlandish contemporary Evel Knievel. He was on variety shows. He had a hit song written about him, “Black Superman (Muhammad Ali)” by Johnny Wakelin, which reached #21 in the pop charts in 1975.  He was constantly horsing around on television with nasal, monotonic ABC announcer Howard Cosell (see above). Howard Cosell and Muhammad Ali (with Cosell as straight man) were a GREAT comedy team.  Ali was always boasting (much more like the culture of pro wrestling than pro boxing) and his public utterances often took a rhyming form, positing him somewhere on the entertainment scale between Nipsy Russell and LL Cool J.  Much anticipating hip hop, he always seemed to be angry (often pretend angry) but he was also screamingly funny. My God! He starred in his own 1977 autobiographical film, titled The Greatest! As far as I am concerned, that was the most inspirational thing he ever did. That inspired the hell out of me.

The title of this post is not hyperbole or even a stretch. If you read my one and only New York Times piece about the boxing and show biz connection, you know that it goes back at least the mid 19th century. And if you read the Sport and Recreation section of this blog, you know that a long string of professional athletes, mostly boxers and baseball players, went into vaudeville back in the day, with actual acts. If vaudeville had still been around I have zero doubt that Ali would have toured the circuits with GUSTO and audiences would have eaten up his act with a fork and spoon. But, as I wrote in the last chapter of my book No Applause, who needs vaudeville when there’s television and radio?

As much as ANYBODY, Muhammad Ali was someone who kept the spirit of vaudeville alive in the modern era, and that’s what we give championship belts for around HERE.


Stars of Vaudeville #982: “Turkey” Mike Donlin

Posted in Sport & Recreation, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , on May 30, 2016 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Mike Donlin (1878-1933). Donlin is probably better known to the wider world for his main occupation — that of professional baseball player. He played for the National League between 1899 and 1914, for seven different teams, most notably the New York Giants, were he was known as “The Pride of Manhattan.” He was especially prized for his hitting abilities, his strutting walk (thus his nickname “Turkey”) his flamboyant show biz style, and his behind the scenes peccadilloes. He was a boozer and partier and hung out with the Broadway crowd and thus…

In 1906 he met and married Broadway star Mabel Hite (whose birthday it also is today, coincidentally). In 1908 Donlin and Hite debuted their big time vaudeville act, a once act play called “Stealing Home”, which they co-wrote themselves and toured with on the circuits through 1911. Hite died of intestinal cancer the following year.

Back on the baseball diamond, Donlin’s disappointing 1914 season convinced him to hang up his cleats and pursue acting full time. That year he also married Rita Ross, formerly of the the team of Ross and Fenton. In 11917 he broke into films asa bit player thanks largely to celebrity friends like Buster Keaton and John Barrymore, in both of whose films he can be seen. His last film was the posthumously-released The Swellhead, with Wallace Ford and Dickie Moore. 

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.


Stars of Vaudeville #981: Bob Fitzsimmons

Posted in Irish, Sport & Recreation, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , on May 26, 2016 by travsd


Today is the birthday of the great pugilist Robert “Bob” Fitzsimmons (1863-1917), a.k.a. “Ruby Robert” and “The Freckled Wonder”.

Contemporary descriptions of Fitzsimmons are vivid — he strikes me as one of the most delightfully barbaric creatures ever to practice the Sweet Science. The reason being, he DIDN’T. (Train or practice, that is). Originally a blacksmith, he developed tremendous arm, chest and shoulder muscles, so much so that his relatively undeveloped legs became a sort of popular joke, and he took to hiding them under thick leggings. And he went down in boxing history for being simply one of the sport’s HARDEST PUNCHERS. Technique, tactics, strategy, he saw no need to bother with that stuff. He simply stood there and punched other men (originally with his bare fists) until they fell down.

Fitzsimmons was born to Irish parents in Cornwall, then moved with the family to New Zealand in his youth. His career took him to Australia, and finally to the U.S., becoming the first three division world champion (middleweight, heavyweight and light heavyweight), and winning against the likes of Jack Dempsey and Gentleman Jim Corbett.

Like those two men, he spent his retirement years touring the vaudeville circuits. Two of his four wives were showfolk: Rose Samnell a.k.a Rose Julia, an acrobat; and Julia May Gifford, a vaudeville singer.

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.


Stars of Vaudeville #973: Cap Anson

Posted in Sport & Recreation, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2016 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Adrian Constantine “Cap” Anson (1852-1922). Anson was one of the first Major League Baseball stars, achieving greatest fame as first baseman and manager of the Chicago Cubs back when they were known as the White Stockings and then the Colts. Over the course of his 27 year professional career he also played for the Philadelphia Athletics, and managed the New York Giants for one season.

While many professional athletes trod the stage during the off seasons, Anson was one of the most successful at that secondary career. In 1888, he appeared in Charles Hoyt’s play A Parlor Match. In 1895, near the end of his pro baseball career, he played himself in a play called The Runaway Colt (a play on the name of the team he was playing for). Later, he toured the vaudeville circuits every year from 1913 until his death in 1922. Not only did Anson deliver monologues as most athletes did in vaudeville, he also sang and danced, and had acts written for him by George M. Cohan, Ring Lardner and Herman Timberg. In later years, his two daughters appeared with him, and he would hit paper-mache souvenir baseballs into the audience, specially made by the Spalding Sporting Goods Company.

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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