Archive for the Irish Category

Marie Loftus: The Sarah Bernhardt of the Music Halls

Posted in British Music Hall, Irish, Singers, Singing Comediennes, Stars of Vaudeville, Variety Theatre, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2016 by travsd


 Marie Loftus (1857-1940) was known as the “Sarah Bernhardt of the Music Halls” . Born in Glasgow to Irish parents, she grew up near the Scotia Music Hall, which is where she began dancing as a young girl. As a singing single she first appeared at Brown’s Royal Music Hall by age 17. Within three years she had made it to London. Loftus possessed a stout, buxom figure which was of a sort very much in vogue with Victorian audiences at the time. Like many music hall singers, her repertoire contained suggestive material that some frowned upon. But she remained popular in her native Glasgow, even as she became a national star on the London stages, both in music hall and as a Principal Boy in Pantomime. Her fame became international when she began to tour American vaudeville and the halls of South Africa. By the 1890s she was earning 100 pounds a week. Her daughter Cissie Loftus (1876-1943) would prove just as famous.

To find out more about these variety artists and 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.

The Beloved Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy Barry

Posted in Comedy, Irish, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2016 by travsd



Today is the birthday of James Maurice  “Jimmy” Barry (1868-1940). Barry was originally from Boston; his father was a harness-maker who immigrated from Ireland.  Jimmy started out acting in New England stock companies throughout the 1890s. In 1895 he met and married fellow actor Josephine “Josie” Richards, from Plymouth, Pennsylvania. The pair remained on the legit stage until 1899, when they debuted in vaudeville as “Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy Barry”.

For almost 30 years the pair appeared in a series of self-penned sketches with original songs and rural characters and settings. They were said said to perform with an actor’s subtlety, as opposed to broad clowning, and are almost always mentioned in terms of respect as veterans and professionals, one of those “solid” and “popular” acts.

The snippets one finds of them in newspapers tell a story in fragments:

In 1905, they appear at Keith’s in Bronxville in a sketch called “The Skin Game”…

In 1906, an ad in a Bridgeport paper describes their act: ” Care pursuers, in a rip-roaring, rattling sketch entitled “Village Cut-Ups”.What this jolly pair will do to your troubles will be a plenty.”

In 1910, they played Poli’s in Meridien, Connecticut…

After this, though, the references are invariably to Keith houses, strictly big time. They played:

Indianapolis, 1913…

Toronto, 1914, in a sketch called “The Rube”…

Syracuse, 1920…

Portland, Maine, 1922…

The Palace, 1926 they played the Palace. 

They seem to have retired circa 1928 to their home in Dingman’s Ferry, PA. Jimmy died in 1940; Josie in 1958.  Interestingly, her brother William and Jimmy’s sister Edwina were also a stage couple (more on them in a subsequent post). And Jimmy’s brother William was also in the act for a time.

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.



Francis Ford: Western Star and John Ford’s Big Brother

Posted in Hollywood (History), Irish, Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Westerns with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2016 by travsd



Today is the birthday of Francis Ford (Francis Joseph Feeney, 1881-1953).

Born in Portland, Maine to parents from Galway, Feeney served briefly in the Spanish-American War before bumming around doing odd jobs in the theatre, including vaudeville (where one of his first gigs was to supply voices for silent movies).

This led to work in the then-new movie business, for such studios as Centaur, Edison, Al Christie and Melies. By 1910, he was starring in westerns made by Thomas Ince’s Bison pictures and had adopted his stage name (borrowed from the automobile manufacturer). Two years later he began directing his own vehicles. In 1913 he had made the move to Universal, which is where his brother John, twelve years his junior, joined him as an apprentice the following year.


By 1917, John was directing as well, and soon became one of the top directors in Hollywood. Francis would continue directing for another decade, though he never distinguished himself on the level of his brother. The younger Ford, while often belittling and disparaging his brother as a primitive holdover from the cinema’s earliest days, also credited him with teaching him everything he new about film-making. While Francis Ford directed hundreds of films during the silent era, very few survive today.  He continued on as a bit player (often, though not exclusively, in his brother’s films) for another quarter century. His son, Philip Ford, began directing B movies in the mid 1940s, moving over to television a decade later.

Note: Tempting as it may be to conclude otherwise, Francis Ford Coppola is not named after the earlier film pioneer. Composer Carmine Coppola gave his son Francis the middle name Ford after the auto magnate, who had sponsored some of his work.

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.

Tap Dancing Around “Cagney”

Posted in Broadway, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Dance, Hollywood (History), Irish, Movies, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2016 by travsd


For weeks the subway and tv ads for the musical Cagney have been unavoidable. I had a chance to see it a few weeks back; my review is in the current Chelsea Now (read it here).

A couple of afterthoughts I wanted to add. I mention the bio-pic genre in the review. Having seen scores of them I think I’m fairly expert on the topic (see my monster three part blogpost series which begins here). It seemed too much of a digression to include in the review, but some examples of musical bio-pics that work better as art by focusing on an aspect of the story (rather trying to tell every goddamn thing) include Walk the Line (2005), which concentrates on Johnny Cash’s efforts to win the heart of June Carter by kicking drugs; and (more to the purpose) Gypsy (1959 stage; 1962 movie), which focuses on Gypsy Rose Lee’s problematic relationship with her domineering stage mother.

That said, one important aspect of Cagney’s life that got short shrift in this musical (another tangent) was his relationship with the most important person in his life, his wife and former stage partner Willie. I can’t imagine telling Cagney’s story WITHOUT making it about that relationship. It was the most important one in his life personally, professionally and even politically, and she was there with him as his primary confidante and adviser from the Alpha to the Omega. But in this musical, she is introduced and then forgotten, becoming no more than (as the Mad Marchioness and I like to joke about June Lockhart on Lost in Space) “The Woman Who Performs the Important Function of Bringing the Sandwiches”.

For my biographical essay on Cagney the vaudevillian go here. For my review on the new musical go here. 

O’Neill (Unexpected) at the Metropolitan

Posted in Broadway, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Indie Theatre, Irish, Melodrama and Master Thespians, Playwrights, PLUGS with tags , , , , , , on June 9, 2016 by travsd


As I blogged here, I am an enormous fan of the playwright Eugene O’Neill.  If I had to draw up a short list of a half dozen favorite playwrights, he would be on it, and near the top. He’s got his faults, but he’s got many more virtues. Unlike most people, I am more excited by his early work than his later stuff. The usual rusty old canard is that The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey Into Night are his great works, and everything else is so much embarrassment. Well, I have read everything — and by that I mean everything published — by O’Neill (and I’m here to tell you it’s a lot), and I am frankly much more excited by his Expressionistic work of the 1920s, and his very early experiments in naturalism…things like the Sea Plays, Anna Christie and the very obscure stuff that came before.

To my great joy Alex Roe is presenting a couple of those early plays at Metropolitan Playhouse even as we speak. I had the privilege of sitting in on a rehearsal the other day and I learned tons just by being in the room. I think Roe is one of the smartest theatre directors in Indie Theatre and he does work I place great stock in. The Metropolitan “matters” to me more than almost any other company I can name. Read more about the the O’Neill gems they have on the boards now in my feature in Chelsea Now here. 

Bob Fitzsimmons: The Freckled Wonder

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


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.


Laurette Taylor

Posted in Broadway, Irish, Melodrama and Master Thespians, Stars of Vaudeville, The Hall of Hams, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2016 by travsd


Today is the birthday of the influential 20th century actress Laurette Taylor (Loretta Helen Cooney, 1883-1946). By rights, she rates inclusion in my “Hall of Hams” series, which I must constantly point is about great actors, not bad ones. But a vaudeville connection always takes precedence here, and she has one, so we include her in the Stars of Vaudeville series, along with the likes of Bernhardt, the Barrymores and many many others.

Cooney married her first husband Charles Taylor in 1901, hence her professional name. Her Broadway career launched in 1909 and took off immediately; she divorced her husband the following year. She starred in 30 Broadway productions, her heyday lasting all the way to the end of the ’20s. She was associated with many hit plays. Alias Jimmy Valentine (1910) ran six months. Peg o’ My Heart (1912), written by her second husband J. Hartley Manning, ran for a year and a half, then was revived again in 1921 and made into a 1922 film starring Taylor as well.

Taylor appeared in vaudeville at the Palace twice. In 1913, she appeared in a minor role supporting Sarah Bernhardt in a one-act play. And she returned to headline an old-timer’s bill in 1925, apparently causing many headaches for the management with her demands.

Taylor worked far less through the 1930s, often blamed on her alcoholism and her crazy temperament (which her friend Noel Coward sent up in his play Hay Fever). Today she is best known for her spectacular comeback as the Mother in the original production of The Glass Menagerie (1944-46).

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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