Archive for the Romani (Gypsy) Category

Hall of Hams #79: Maria Ouspenskaya

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, Romani (Gypsy), Russian, The Hall of Hams, Women with tags , , , , , , on July 29, 2014 by travsd

Maleva_(Universal)_001

Today is the birthday of the great Russian actress Maria Ouspenskaya (1876-1949). Film buffs know her well as the mysterious Gypsy fortune teller in The Wolf Man (1941) and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). What I did not learn until recently was that she was instrumental in bringing Stanislavski’s “Method” to American shores. A member of the Moscow Art Theatre, she decided to remain in the U.S. during the company’s 1922 American tour. She settled in New York and taught acting at the American Laboratory Theatre until she founded the School for Dramatic Art in 1929. More about her influence on American acting can be found here. 

In the mid 1930s she went to Hollywood. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the film Dodsworth (1936). Other major films she appeared in included Waterloo Bridge (1940) and The Shanghai Gesture (1941).

To find out more about the history of show business, please consult my critically acclaimed book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other fine establishments.

safe_image

And don’t miss 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.W. Griffith’s First Movie

Posted in Hollywood (History), Movies, Romani (Gypsy), Silent Film with tags , , , , , , on July 14, 2014 by travsd

dollie-ad

Today is the anniversary of the release date of D.W. Griffith’s first movie as director The Adventures of Dollie (1908)

The film contains all of the qualities in utero that we associate with his best known masterwork, The Birth of a Nation: advances in story telling, sentimentality, and unfortunate racial attitudes.  The Adventures of Dollie concerns a band of Roma (then called Gypsies) who snatch a pretty little white girl for the purposes, apparently, of slavery. Yet the climax to The Adventures of Dollie is the sort of contrivance that audiences loved best about Griffith’s brand of cinematic melodrama, and the reason why it was so successful at the box office (and still is, in an updated form). The little girl is placed by the bad guys in a barrel, which then falls into the river, where it naturally makes a beeline for a waterfall. Such hair-pulling finishes were a Griffith stock in trade.

Incredibly it’s still extant for us to look at — here it is!

For more on silent and slapstick comedy don’t miss 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 etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500For 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

Charlie Chaplin in “The Vagabond”

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Romani (Gypsy), Silent Film with tags , , , , , , on July 10, 2014 by travsd

 tumblr_lnzhqtAsJ91qbaielo1_500

Today is the anniversary of the release date of Charlie Chaplin’s The Vagabond (1916).

The Vagabond was a great leap forward in terms of Chaplin’s story telling artistry, yet he didn’t follow up on its promise in a sustained way until a couple of years later. It is one of the first of his Mutual Shorts, but for most of the time on his Mutual contract Chaplin perfected his slapstick with little attempt to venture into pathos. That would start to happen in a serious way with A Dog’s Life (1918).

There is a lot to love in The Vagabond.  One, is that it is one of the first movies in which Chaplin is a literal tramp, the first having been, well , The Tramp (1915). The saloon in The Vagabond‘s first scene hearkens back to Charlie’s earliest days at Keystone in films like The Face on the Bar-Room Floor.  Now he’s a violinist (and Charlie could really play), trying to play for tips. Unfortunately a brass band comes and steals his thunder. The Vagabond collects money on “their behalf”  but really for himself. Caught in the act—a melee ensues.

Edna Purviance plays a gypsy slave. Eric Campbell is the Gypsy King. When we first meet Edna she is scrubbing clothes. Charlie approaches and plays his fiddle for her. A funny bit where she scrubs at the same (fast) tempo at which he plays. Then, enraptured by the music, she just listens. The Gypsy King comes and whips her for not working. Charlie clocks Edna’s captors with a two-by-four and rescues her.

In a scenario that presages A Dog’s Life, The Kid and Modern Times, the Vagabond takes care of the girl, cleans her up, loves her. Then a dashing young artist shows up and paints her. They fall in love, but the artist leaves, and shows his painting of the girl in a gallery – -where her likeness is recognized by the mother from whom she was stolen. The mother and painter go back and take Edna away, leaving Charlie all by himself. And then a twist — which makes the end somewhat happier. All of Chaplin’s future career summed up in a nutshell. Yet his next film? One A.M. — an entire comedy about a man coming home drunk.

For more on silent and slapstick comedy don’t miss 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 etcchain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500For 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 Slapstick #90: Charlie Chaplin

Posted in British Music Hall, Charlie Chaplin, Clown, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Romani (Gypsy), Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 16, 2013 by travsd

-charlie-chaplin-31776270-345-498[1]

Born into unimaginable poverty and obscurity, by his mid-twenties Charlie Chaplin was one of the richest and most famous men in the world. One of capitalism’s great success stories, he was ejected from the United States (forty years after his arrival) for being a communist sympathizer. This was gross myopia on the part of the government, for, as his old colleague Stan Laurel liked to point out (a little too shrilly sometimes) Charlie was never anything more than a clown.

He was born to be in music hall. Both of his parents were performers, and there is evidence to support the theory that both were at least part Gypsy. His father, Charles Chaplin, Sr., had the most success, having reached the status of headliner and even touring the U.S. in 1890. His mother, performing under the name Lily Harley, had almost no success at all. Unfortunately for Charlie and his half brother Sydney, Charles Chaplin, Sr. was a drunkard and philanderer and he ran out on Lily when the boys were quite young. Lily gradually went insane, leaving the two boys to fend for themselves.

0f96b2a4591aec6ea325379c76adc8fd

Fortunately, Charlie was a prodigy. He could jig, sing and do impressions almost as soon as he was out of diapers. He claimed to have made his debut in an amateur night, singing “Jack Jones’ and being showered with coins. With Charles Senior’s help, he was hired by William Jackson for an act called 8 Lancashire Lads that had him doing clog dancing and mimicry in exchange for room and board and a tiny pittance. He was with this act for 2 ½ half years, until his mother pulled him out (for “health reasons”), evidence of her growing insanity. She had no other plan for feeding him.

Eight-Lancashire-Lads-clog-dancing-troupe

As his mother was placed in and out of institutions, and his brother went abroad for several months, Charlie learned to fend for himself on the streets. (In 1903 Mrs. Chaplin was permanently committed; she never regained even the brief periods of lucidity she had displayed in her declining years.) Between the ages of twelve and fourteen, Charlie worked full time in factories. When Sydney returned and discovered this pitiful state of affairs, he set to work managing Charlie, securing work for him in a play called Giddy Ostend at the London Hippodrome in 1900. Other boy parts followed. He played the lead in Horatio Alger’s From Rags to Riches. For three years he toured with a major production of  Sherlock Holmes.

Charlie in "Sherlock Holmes"

Charlie in “Sherlock Holmes”

Following a show with the promising title A Romance of Cockayne, Charlie began to be too old to play the childs’ roles. Out of necessity, he began to work burlesque, which was a bit of a comedown from the West End productions he had been in throughout his late childhood. Here he did his first sketch and solo comedy. With a group called The Ten Loonies, he played an inept plumber’s assistant in a sketch called “Repairs”. With a combination of naiveté and ingrained anti-Semitism, he amassed fake whiskers, “Jewish” clothes and jokes from Madison’s Budget and presented himself as “Sam Cohen, the Jewish Comedian”. Having no idea that the act was offensive, he proceeded to debut the act in a Jewish neighborhood, where he rapidly learned. With a group called Casey’s Court Circus, he performed an impersonation of famous electrical charlatan Dr. Walford Bodie.

Chaplin as Dr. Bodie

Chaplin as Dr. Bodie

At age 17, Sidney got a job with Fred Karno doing slapstick, mime, tumbling, juggling, singing, and dancing. He immediately set about trying to get Charlie hired as well, being aware of his rare gifts. Karno didn’t want to hire Charlie at first. He seemed to be too shy and “worthless for comedy”. When he was finally hired, no one in the troop liked him. He kept to himself most of the time, never socializing with the other performers. In his off hours, he preferred to endlessly practice the violin. But his gifts rapidly elevated him to the status of the company’s star, a state of affairs his fellow performers no doubt resented. As Stan Laurel once characterized him  “He was a shy, timid man who kept getting up the courage to do the most wonderful, adventurous things.”

Roy Export Ltd.

Roy Export Ltd.

By 1910 they had achieved such success that Karno essayed a tour of the U.S. “Mumming Birds” was renamed “A Night in an English Music Hall” for the benefit of American audiences. By the Karno troupe’s 2nd U.S. tour in 1912, Chaplin had become something of a sensation. Groucho Marx, for one recalls seeing him at this time and identifying him as the funniest comedian he had ever seen. In 1913, a scout for silent comedy film producer Mack Sennett, caught the act and an offer was made to Chaplin to join the Keystone company. The film industry was so young at this stage that Chaplin regarded the move as risky and deliberated for quite some time before finally giving his ascent. He joined Keystone in December 1913.

At Keystone, at first he faced a number of the same hurdles he had encountered with Karno. His colleagues regarded him as an outsider, “not a team player”. His comedy style was regarded as “too slow”. But, as at Karno, his methods were rapidly validated (and his personality quickly tolerated) when the audience fell for him in a big way. Within weeks of his starting, there was a national craze for Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” character, with his too-tight clothes, oversized shoes, little moustache, and derby hat and cane. There were songs about Charlie Chaplin, Charlie Chaplin dolls, and Charlie Chaplin “contests” with prizes for the best Charlie Chaplin imitation (which is how both Milton Berle and Bob Hope both got their start). Everyone else at Keystone (even stars like Mabel Normand and Fatty Arbuckle) quickly became a supporting player for Charlie.

3. Charlie, Mabel, Roscoe0001

After 35 shorts with the Keystone company, Chaplin was made an offer at the Essanay company, at a substantially higher salary than Sennet was willing to pay.  Chaplin’s artistry continued to develop during his year at Essanay, turning out fifteen shorts, with a sixteenth patched together from studio out-takes after he had left, a sure sign of his box-office wizardry.

Charlie’s material and artistic progress were rapid.  In 1916, he inked a deal with the Mutual Company at the unprecedented salary of  $10,000 a week. (consider: at the time, this sum would have been a good middle-class salary for an entire year’s work). The year 1916-17 was to be his most creative period, with the greatest output. Over the course of this contract, Charlie executed twelve perfect comedy shorts, as remarkable to watch today as they were revolutionary then. These films (The Floorwalker, The Rink, The PawnshopThe CureOne a.m.The FiremanThe Vagabond, The AdventurerEasy StreetThe Immigrant, Behind the Screen) remain unsurpassed classics of the silent short comedy form.

ONEAMAP1102-charlie-chaplin-one-am-silent-comedy-movie-poster27

His ambition and his price tag grew apace. With each new contract, he set a new record. His 1917 deal was for 8 pictures over 18 months for a total of $1 million. A lesser artist would have taken the money and ran, pumping out the product on schedule and moved on to the next juicy deal. As it turns out, such a policy would have been penny-wise but pound foolish. Chaplin took five years to finish this contract, and while some of them were flops, some were hits on an unprecedented scale, becoming cinematic classics which are no doubt continuing to enrich his estate. The First National films tended to be longer than the previous ones, but the better stories justified the length. With A Dog’s Life (1917) he established the template for most of his features—the Little Tramp meets a buddy (in this case a pooch) with whom he shares a series of life’s ups and downs. The next film Shoulder Arms (1917) was groundbreaking for being the first war comedy. Daring for its time, it was an instant hit, and a popular favorite for the soldiers overseas.

1919 was characterized by growing pains for Chaplin, each of his releases flopping for different reasons, although both of the films are charming in retrospect. In Sunnyside his artistic ambition erred on the side of self-consciousness. The film found the Little Tramp cavorting with fauns and fairies in a fantasy sequence closer in spirit to an amateur ballet company’s conception of “art” than the output of a master comedian. In A Day’s Pleasure, the pendulum swung the other way, casting Charlie in a highly conventional situation comedy of the sort Harold Lloyd was much better at. He hit his stride again with his next picture by revisiting the formula he had worked so successfully in A Dog’s LifeThe Kid is in many ways his best movie – revolutionary for its successful use of high pathos in contrast to his comedy, and broke all sorts of box office records when it was released in 1921. It was also his first “feature length” film, although somewhat short by today’s standards.

url

By now, he was years late to finish his First National contract and was eager to start making films for United Artists, which he had founded in 1919 with Douglas FairbanksMary Pickford and D.W. Griffith. In rapid order, he released The Idle ClassPay Day and The Pilgrim a series of straightforward comedy shorts,to finish out the contract.

Chaplin astonished audiences yet again with his first United Artists feature. A Woman of Paris (1923) broke new ground in three ways: it was a drama; Chaplin was not the star (in fact he only made a cameo appearance); and it employed a much more realistic style of acting than any previous Hollywood dramatic film. In its day it was considered a great screen achievement—one of the greatest films up until that point. Its melodramatic story was a sort of cross between the real life story of gold-digging party girl Peggy Hopkins Joyce and Our Lady of the Camillias. Charlie’s return to the screen as the tramp (after a four year absence) was equally innovative.

imgres

In The Gold Rush (1925), he created an “epic” comedy set against the backdrop of the Alaska gold rush, and suggested by the real life story of the ill-fated Donner Party, who, snowed in the Sierra Nevada mountains in 1847, resorted to cannibalism. The grim subject matter, unprecedented in a comedy, made for a rich movie-going experience, and it is among Chaplin’s best films.

The Circus (1928) is sort of a “lame duck” film, released in the last year silence was to dominate cinemas. It broke little new ground. By the following year, talkies were king, and suddenly cinemas were full of…well, nearly every other vaudevillians in this book. Silents didn’t have much use for the Marx Brothers, Jolson, Clark & McCuloughEddie Cantor, Bill Robinson, Paul Whiteman, Mae West, W.C. Fields, Joe E. Brown, etc etc etc, but the talkies sure did. Suddenly, after 15 years on top, Chaplin was at a disadvantage. Keaton, Lloyd and Laurel and Hardy all made the plunge into talkies, with varying degrees of success. Chaplin didn’t take his artistry as a pantomime so lightly. He believed in the craft he had learned at the hand of Fred Karno, the age-old art of English pantomime. It was his special field of endeavor, in which he was king, in the same way that Houdini was king of escapes, and Bill Robinson the king of tap, and Will Rogers the lariat king. He therefore stuck to his guns.

city lights

City Lights (1931) may be regarded as the first “neo-classical” silent film. It is a silent film (with music and sound effects by Chaplin) released three years after the death of silence. Audiences were enchanted by his story of the blind flower girl and the tramp who loves her. Chaplin had triumphed by maintaining his integrity in the face of radical change. Even more astoundingly, he achieved the same feat again with the release of Modern Times (1936), nearly a decade after the advent of sound. With this film, he demonstrated a higher degree of social engagement, clearly critiquing certain aspects of life in America at the height of the depression – poverty, soul deadening work on an assembly line, repressive police, etc. This film, too, was a hit, as was the song that came from it, appropriate for the times, though characteristically Victorian in its sentimentalism.

Smile though your heart is aching,

Smile, even though it’s breaking.

When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by.

If you smile through your far and sorrow

Smile and then maybe tomorrow

You’ll see the sun come shining through for you.

Charlie-Chaplin-in-The-Gr-004

For years, Chaplin had toyed with the idea of doing a film on Napoleon, but the French director Abel Gance had beat him to it with the definitive film in 1928. Fortunately for Chaplin (and unfortunately for the world) there was a contemporary tyrant running amuck in the 1930s who conveniently sported a Charlie Chaplin moustache. In the naïve world of the 1930s, laughter seemed an effective weapon against Hitler. What was he but a big dope, a boor with idiotic theories and preposterous plans to take over the world? This was what much of the civilized world thought of him in the 30s, but by 1941, when The Great Dictator was released, Hitler had taken over almost all of Europe (including Abel Gance’s France) and was daily raining bombs and terror on the last remaining unconquered European territory: England. In retrospect, Chaplin’s Hitler satire seems too mild in the face of the Nazis’ unimaginable atrocities. But, when it was released, the great fear was that it would be too controversial —  a substantial portion of the country had no qualms with Nazism. Nevertheless, The Great Dictator ended up being Chaplin’s biggest grossing film up until that point. A lot of the box office may have been driven by curiosity; it was Chaplin’s first talkie. Ironically, the most eloquent portion of the film, and the most characteristic of Chaplin was completely silent. Chaplin, as Adenoid Hinkel, the demented dictator, does a beautiful, romantic dance with a globe, which was ingeniously painted on a balloon so that it could sail high into the air, and then float slowly back to his waiting arms. Based on this sequence it is impossible not to come to the conclusion that if Chaplin had wanted to, he could have continued to make silent films.

Unfortunately, the tide began to turn against Chaplin shortly thereafter. His anti-Nazism was unfortunately tied to a pro-Soviet tendency. Just prior to the war he spoke at many rallies, urging American  involvement to relieve the Russians who were heroically fighting Germany at that point. Throughout the war, he vociferously defended them as our allies, and, after the war, when the Soviets drew their iron curtain across Europe, he was unable to see the writing on the wall.

verdoux

In 1947 he broke new ground for the last time. Having realized too late his naiveté in The Great Dictator he appeared to attempt to make up for it in Monsieur Verdoux, the first black comedy ever to be produced in Hollywood. The tale is a sort of modern retelling of the Bluebeard legend, which Charlie adapted at the suggestion of Orson Welles. The allusions to Nazi atrocities in the film (in particular, the depiction of a crematorium) are unmistakable. American audiences hated the film. Charlie’s lovable tramp is nowhere in evidence in the film; instead “Charles Chaplin” plays a serial killer – one who very eloquently defends his bloodthirsty crimes. This was not the sort of thing moms could take their children to. Adding fuel to the flame was Charlie’s dismal record as a husband. Over the years he had deflowered, married and divorced a seemingly endless parade of teenage girls (and been involved with god knows how many others). A blind eye could be turned toward this tendency so long as he kept America laughing in an old-fashioned, wholesome way. Now, however, it seemed to occur America all at once that Charlie was a pervert, a red, and a sicko. His star fell very fast indeed.

limelight

He had one more American film, the 1952 Limelight which revisited his music hall origins, and co-starred Buster Keaton, but unfortunately dwelt again on the issues of death and suicide. Having recently married the 18-old Oona O’Neill (against her father Eugene O’Neill’s wishes), Charlie was a true anathema in the U.S. After a trip abroad in 1952, he was informed to gain re-entry into the country he would have to undergo an interrogation by the Immigration Department to “answer charges of a political nature and of moral turpitude.” Charlie refused on principle and selected instead a life in exile. He was to live the remainder of his life with Oona and his large brood of children in Switzerland. Cut off from the audience that had formerly sustained him, he made only two more movies, both fairly atrocious: A King in New York (1957) and A Countess from Hong Kong (1967). Charlie passed away in 1977. Like something out one of his own black comedies, grave robbers stole his remains shortly thereafter,though they were later caught.

Addendum: for my review of the recent book Charlie Chaplin: The Tramp’s Odyssey, go here.

For more on silent screen comedy  please check out 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

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

To find out about  the history of vaudeville, consult 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

Django Reinhardt: The Sheik of Araby

Posted in Frenchy, Jazz (miscellaneous), Music, Romani (Gypsy) with tags , , , , on January 23, 2013 by travsd

django[1]

Today is the birthday of Jean “Django” Reinhardt (1910-1953), one of the greatest jazz guitarists of all time and considered the first important jazz musician to come out of Europe. Belgian by nationality and Romani (Gypsy) by birth, he learned to play banjo and violin as a child, later switching to guitar. Remarkably, he lost partial use of two of his fingers in an accident; those amazing solos he played were done with only two fingers. His style is instantly recognizable, even to jazz dilettantes like myself. Here’s one of his best known recordings, his quintet’s 1937 version of that old 20’s classic “The Sheik of Araby”. Djang’s solo starts right after the one-minute mark.

Stars of the AVT #87 & 88: Dawn the Faun and Mia Theodoratus

Posted in American Vaudeville Theatre, Music, Rock and Pop, Romani (Gypsy), Women with tags , , , , on July 21, 2011 by travsd

This post is one of a series profiling the hundreds of performers I’ve presented through my American Vaudeville Theatre in celebration of its 15th anniversary. Don’t miss the American Vaudeville Theatre’s 15th Anniversary ExTRAVaganza in the New York International Fringe Festival this August!

A rare double post now, on account of these two quite different performers spring from a single source. In the mid 90s in Williamsburg I used to see this amazing band Vardo play. The word “Vardo” is Romany; it refers to a certain kind of Gypsy wagon. There is surprisingly little about this amazing, theatrical band online, but I did find this clip of their song “Flesh Carnival”, posted in honor of the death of their bass player:

And now here are the two Vardo members who played the AVT:

Photo by Todd Zimmer

DAWN THE FAUN

In 1997, Vardo’s singer Dawn McCarthy, left New York and moved to the Bay Area. There was a brief transitional time however when she made return trips to NYC and it was on one of these I believe that I had her play at at the American Vaudeville Theatre at Surf Reality in 1998. Since ’97, though her main project has been Faun Fables, a west coast band that has gotten quite a lot of attention. She is quite a remarkable performer, tapping into all sorts of primal folk forms, in addition to doing more modern covers and her own tunes. The LA Times said of her: “[She] is possessed with a voice that’s part goddess, part animal, rooted in the deepest parts of the forest where hypnotizing rituals occur by moonlight”.

 MIA THEODORATUS

As unique a singer as Dawn is, a large part of the strong visual and aural impression Vardo made was due to the harp-playing of Mia Theodoratus. I consider it mind-boggling that my shoe-string show has presented no less than two harp players (the first was Daphne Helman Shih). Do you know how big a harp is? A harp is bigger than you. And yet these two ladies would lug these huge instruments wherever they went. Mia still does, more than ever, judging by her web site. (Daphne, sadly, is no longer with us).  Mia and I corresponded quite a lot around the late 90s, and she played by show more than once during that era. She is a positive, good-natured collaborator and she makes beautiful music with her ginormous instrument. Is she rock and roll’s only harpist? She may well be.

To learn more about vaudeville past and presentconsult 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 the AVT #57: David Jenness & Co.

Posted in American Vaudeville Theatre, Art Stars, Comedy, Music, Rock and Pop, Romani (Gypsy), Stand Up with tags , , on July 12, 2011 by travsd

This post is one of a series profiling the hundreds of performers I’ve presented through my American Vaudeville Theatre in celebration of its 15th anniversary. Don’t miss the American Vaudeville Theatre’s 15th Anniversary ExTRAVaganza in the New York International Fringe Festival this August!

Like Citizen Kane’s Mr. Bernstein, David Jenness was “there before the beginning” and will likely outlast us all. He has been a staple of the alt-comedy scene for, like, ever.

I first became aware of him in the mid 90s when I saw him do his “Barry Agida” character, an inept motivational speaker, at Rev Jen’s Anti-Slam at Collective: Unconscious and at Faceboyz Open Mic at Surf Reality. Before that, he had done another character, a fast talking salesman named Jet Pepper at the Comic Strip, Catch A Rising Star and on the college circuit in the 1970s and 80s. This was when Jim Moore, the man behind the camera at Vaudevisuals first knew him and collaborated with him.

David’s first play, “Oddman’s Logic,” won honorable mention in the Kennedy Center’s New American Play Festival and brought him to New York City in 1978.

He often mixes comedy with music. I got to know him in 1997, when we were part of a consortium of producers at Surf Reality, and we would often collaborate on variety shows, His main project at the time was a comedy-music group called the Sacred Clowns. David played bass and fronted the band, which would back up guest comedians from the alt-comedy circuit who would improvise lyrics over the band’s backing. I always way too terrified to participate; seemed like jumping off a high dive!

While we had co-produced many shows (with others) and appeared on the same bills and so forth, David and company first appeared in one of my own shows per se in 2001 at a post 9-11 benefit show I organized at the Kraine Theatre. By this time, he had moved on from the Sacred Clowns, and had a new project. Initially called the Gypsy Bellhops, it consisted of himself and his wife Andrea and her brother George, who are from Hungary – playing and singing David’s adaptations of actual Gypsy tunes, and Andrea’s impressive folk-dancing. Later, he expanded the project into a full-on musical which he first called Under the Highway . He generously cast me in the production in 2002 (as a sucker who gets taken in by the Gypsies), and I was quite frankly as terrible as I have ever been in my life. Sometime after this, David renamed his project Viva Patshiva. I booked them under this name for a special vaudeville show I produced at Elridge Street Synagogue in 2006. Viva Patshiva  subsequently performed in the NY International Fringe Festival and had an extended off off-Broadway run at the Interart Annex in 2009. Preparations are underway for an Off-Broadway production.

David is a jack-of all-trades. He has also produced humorous video segments for NBC’s “Today Show”, and written sitcoms, (“I-40 Paradise”), game shows (“American Rock”), and dramatic comedies, (“American Family”). He has had several screenplays optioned, and written articles for Good Housekeeping, Self, Elle, Travel & Leisure, Signature, and Parade. He is co-author of the book, America On Display (Facts On File), a 50 State compendium of unusual museums and collections.

I think I need to get that book.

To learn more about vaudeville past and presentconsult 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

%d bloggers like this: