Archive for the Sport & Recreation Category

These Are The Baseball Comedies!

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Sport & Recreation with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2017 by travsd

It’s MLB opening day; time finally for our survey post on baseball centered movie comedies. It is meant to a part of a series on sports comedies; we did one on football, and one on golf…I imagine we’ll eventually get around to them all if we live long enough, although you may want to tune out before we get to curling.

Over the Fence (1917)

Harold Lloyd’s first “boy in glasses” comedy. He and co-star Snub Pollard play two store clerks who are butting heads over the same girl (Bebe Daniels). When Snub steals Harold’s baseball tickets and brings Bebe to the game himself, Harold one-ups him by sneaking into the locker room, suiting up, and pitching a winning game. For good measure, he beats up Snub and the entire baseball team, and, needless to say, wins the heart of Bebe.

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Speedy (1928)

Harold Lloyd plays a soda jerk and rabid Yankees fan who wants to help save his girlfriend’s dad’s endangered business: the last horse drawn trolley line in New York. Two special highlights: a cameo by the actual Babe Ruth (Harold gets fired from the soda fountain and becomes a tax driver and has to rush Babe to a game).

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The Cameraman (1928) 

One of the highlights of this Buster Keaton comedy is a scene where news photographer Buster goes to Yankee Stadium to cover a game…but it turns out to be an “away” day. Undaunted, he mimes an entire baseball game by himself, an homage to the famous circus clown Slivers Oakley.

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Joe E. Brown‘s “Baseball Trilogy”

Joe E. Brown had actually been a professional baseball player in his youth (in the summer, when vaudeville theatres were closed). It was inevitable when he became a huge comedy star that he do some baseball comedies. The three films he made with baseball settings are informally known as the “trilogy” only because there are three of them; they don’t tie together in any way, and weren’t meant to.

Fireman, Save My Child (1932)

In this one, Brown plays a small town fireman who loves his job. He has invented a new “fire extinguishing bomb” (containing a chemical that smothers fires) and needs dough to manufacture it — and not incidentally to marry his fiancé. He takes a job as a baseball player just so he can better spot fires (the ball field is on top of hill) and becomes quite successful at the sport at the professional level. Meanwhile a femme fatal is working on him so she can take his money. Obviously this makes the girl he really loves unhappy.  Anyway, of course he puts everything right in the end. And wins the (right) girl.

Elmer the Great (1933)

This one was based on a stage play by George M. Cohan and Ring Lardner, it stars Brown as a terrific but vain baseball player from rural Indiana. His team-mates get revenge by hiding his hometown sweetheart’s letters, causing him to fool around with a beautiful actress and get involved in gambling. As always, he saves the day in the end. One of his best comedies, with a bast that includes Sterling Holloway, Douglas Dumbrille, Frank McHugh, J. Carrol Naish, George Chandler and Gale Gordon.

Alibi Ike (1935)

Based on a short story written by Ring Lardner. Brown as a terrific bush-league pitcher who joins the Chicago Cubs (coached by William Frawley). His nickname comes from his crazy excuses for foibles like lateness and irresponsibility. A very young Olivia de Havilland, in one of her first roles, plays his exceedingly fetching love interest. The main theme  is that he insists he has no time for women but he totally falls for de Havilland – -and the other guys in the club keep razzing him and trying to catch him out. Then some crooks purporting to be the “Young Men’s High Ideals Club” want him to throw the game. The couple are about to get married but then she hears him boasting to the guys that he doesn’t really want to, he’s just doing it because he feels sorry for her. She leaves town in a huff.  Unhappy about it, Ike loses a game. The team management is suspicious that he threw it.  Being Alibi Ike, he claims that he was alright, so that makes them even more suspicious. Then the crooks hand him money—they think they threw it too. He is fired from the team. Then they relent but now he’s mad and won’t come back. He wants to get his girl back. But he has to play again so people won’t think he’s crooked. Meanwhile the criminals think he’s going to throw another game. Learning that he really doesn’t mean to, they kidnap him. He escapes, and goes to his usual crazy lengths to make it to the field and win the big game. A funny one, and a big hit with audiences in 1935.

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One Run Elmer (1935)

Buster Keaton short for Educational Pictures. Buster has a gas station (a pump and a shack) in the middle of the Arizona desert. The crux of the film is Buster and a rival gas station owner (and their respective amateur teams) play an unfriendly game in order to win a girl’s hand. A particularly funny sequence has Buster’s shack become entirely demolished from stray balls as the team practices. Naturally, Buster’s team wins.

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“Who’s On First”

Abbott and Costello performed this famous burlesque routine thousands of times on stage, radio and television and in the films One Night in the Tropics (1940) and The Naughty Nineties (1945). It is the teams best known routine, adapted from a pre-existing sketch written by other people.

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It Happens Every Spring (1949)

Ray Milland plays a college professor who invents a solution that repels wood. Thus, when a baseball is covered with it, a bat can’t hit it. Naturally, he uses this power to become a big league baseball pitcher! The lovable lummox Paul Douglas plays his coach. Directed by comedy veteran Lloyd Bacon. 

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Kill the Umpire (1950)

Another one directed by Lloyd Bacon and written by the great Frank Tashlin, this one has the heir of inevitability about it and has a genuinely hilarious premise. William Bendix (who’d plays Babe Ruth a couple of years earlier) is a former baseball player who hates umps so badly he can’t even hold down a jump — of any sort. Then his father-in-law (a former ump) makes him go to umpire school and become an ump! As we all know umpires are among the most irrationally hated people on the planet. There’s something existential about the predicament. Does he learn something about how unfair he was? What do you think? Una Merkel plays his long-suffering wife.

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Angels in the Outfield (1951)

A classic of course! Paul Douglas returns to the dugout as a nasty, mean manager — until an angel arrives and gets him to turn his losing streak around by using sugar instead of vinegar. Janet Leigh plays the love interest, a lady sports reporter.

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Rhubarb (1951)

In this wacky family comedy, a cat inherits a professional baseball team and the manager (William Frawley) is allergic to cats! Fortunately, team publicist Ray Milland is around to smooth down Rhubarb’s fur. (Rhubarb is the cat, named after baseball slang for an on-field argument).

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“You Gotta Have Heart!”

Damn Yankees (1958)

I’m afraid I find it pretty irresistible. As an aging male with a spreading paunch it’s hard not to identify with the couch potato who gets a magical chance to be 22 again and a baseball hero to boot. I have to admit I even really like the song “Ya Gotta Have Heart”. I’m not normally a fan of modern musicals but I have a weakness for this one.

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Bad News Bears and sequels (1976)

The quintessential Little League comedy. It was an important movie of my childhood; I blogged about it at length here.

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The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings (1976)

A comedy about the Negro Leagues, starring Richard Pryor (just when his career was exploding), James Earl Jones and Billy Dee Williams. It was co-produced by Berry Gordy’s Motown productions, a fitting follow-up to Lady Sings the Blues (1972) and Mahogany (1975).

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The Slugger’s Wife (1985)

This one sank like a stone when it first came out and has never been retrieved from the bottom of the lake. Penned by Neil Simon and directed by Hal Ashby (his penultimate feature), it’s a romantic comedy about a baseball player (Michael O’Keefe, best remembered as the unfunny one from Caddyshack) and a singer (Rebecca de Mornay).

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Brewster’s Millions (1985)

Crappy eighties comedy made out of a perennial decades-old stage comedy which I blogged about here. For little discernible reason (other than perhaps Richard Pryor’s resemblance to Reggie Jackson) the story has been transferred to a baseball setting in this scenario, and there are several baseball scenes, but it has little to do with the main plot of a dude who looks to inherit a super-bundle if he can spend a regular bundle. The presence of John Candy is always welcome.

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Bull Durham (1988)

I saw this one when it came out and have always found it pretty inoffensive. It’s a light romantic comedy about a minor league baseball team and a a love triangle involving Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins butting heads over baseball groupie Susan Sarandon. It’s the film on which the latter two, who later married, met, and it’s also the movie that sort of put Robbins on the map and established his screen persona as an amusing jerk. It’s the first movie I noticed him in, although he had been in the earlier Top Gun (1986), which I’d also seen.

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Major League (1989) and sequels

I saw the first one at some point after it came out, and despite the fact that it was a monster office box office success, disliked it pretty strenuously (hence never bothered with the sequels). It’s a film of what I call “the darnedest baseball team ever” genre, about a bunch of misfits going on to win the big game. Such things reply on either/both 1) clever, original gags; and 2) the chemistry of an amazing cast. This has neither. I never wanted to look at Charlie Sheen, and he is the star. If Charlie Sheen is the guy doing the comedy, I’m holding my sides for reasons other than laughter.

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A League of Their Own (1992)

I’m glad this movie (about an all-female baseball league) exists, but don’t find it to be the classic that it’s reputed to be, or deserves to be. Despite the all-star cast, Penny Marshall’s direction is mediocre and facile; it doesn’t offend me particularly, but it’s nothing I ever need to see again, and that’s not a ringing endorsement.

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Mr. Baseball (1992)

A culture clash comedy in which Tom Selleck is traded to a Japanese professional team and “forced to play” in — gasp — Japan!

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The Comrades of Summer (1992)

More baseball culture clash! A tv movie set a few years earlier during the Cold War. Coach Joe Montegna takes a job in the USSR where he coaches the first Soviet baseball team.

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The Sandlot (1993) and sequels

David M. Evans wrote, directed and narrated this nostalgic film, set in 1962, about a bunch of kids, their dog and pick-up baseball games. It owes more than a little to Jean Sheperd’s A Christmas Story.

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Rookie of the Year (1993)

A fantasy comedy in which a 12 year old kid is hired to be a professional big league pitcher because of a freak situation in which his tendons have healed too tightly after an accident, giving him the ability to throw a ball with amazing speed and power. It’s a remake of 1954 comedy called Roogie’s Bump. 

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Angels in the Outfield (1994) and sequel

Disney remake of the 1951 classic starring Danny Glover, Tony Danza, Christopher Lloyd, and a then unknown Adrien Brody and Matthew McConaughey. 

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The Scout (1994)

Albert Brooks is the titular MLB baseball scout in a role originally intended for Rodney Dangerfield. A perfect role for Brooks, though, who helped get it made and contributed to the screenplay. And lots and lots of cameos by real life sports figures. Directed by the one and only Michael Ritchie, who made the original Bad News Bears. 

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Summer Catch (2001)

Freddy Prince Jr. as a Cape Cod minor league player who has a chance to make it to the big leagues. Despite quite a few big names in the cast, this film has only an 8% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Mr. 3000 (2004)

Bernie Mac as a vain, selfish baseball pro who retires when he thinks he has achieved a record-breaking 3,000 hits…but has to get back in the game at age 47 when he learns that, due to a counting error he had only hit 2,997.

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Fever Pitch (2005)

A Farrelly Brothers comedy, with Jimmy Fallon as a guy who’s such a Red Sox fan that his obsession puts his relationship with ultimate catch (Drew Barrymore) in serious jeopardy.

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Bad News Bears (2005)

On the face of it, it sounds promising. Who better than Richard Linklater to make a remake of the Bad News Bears? A whole subplot of his Dazed and Confused (1996) overtly evokes the former film. But then we come back to our first, inevitable question: why attempt to re-make perfection? Nowhere to go but down. So there’s that, and the fact that, in an apparent attempt to update the comedy, Billy Bob Thornton is in his disgusting mode, doing the same gross, objectionable shit he did in Bad Santa (2003). Unaccountably, some people like this kind of thing, but I avoid it all costs.

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The Benchwarmers (2006)

Dennis Dugan directed Rob Scheider, David Spade, and Jon Heder in this critically panned comedy about a bunch of adult nerds who are bad at sports yet for some reason feel compelled to play them. Here on planet earth, the beautiful thing about being a grown-up is you don’t have to do that.

For more on the history of film comedy don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.

Helen Dauvray: The California Diamond

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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 amazon.com etc etc etc

Jack Farrell: Second Basement of the Circuits

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

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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

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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.

 

“Turkey” Mike Donlin: The Pride of Manhattan in Vaudeville

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

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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 one 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 917 he broke into films as a 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.

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Bob Fitzsimmons: The Freckled Wonder

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

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The great pugilist Robert “Bob” Fitzsimmons (1863-1917), a.k.a. “Ruby Robert” and “The Freckled Wonder” was in vaudeville.

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 vaudeville and athletes like Bob Fitzsimmons who performed on its stages, please consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever books are sold.

 

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