Archive for acts

Stars of Vaudeville #1037: Charles Chaplin, Sr.

Posted in British Music Hall, Charlie Chaplin, Singers, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 18, 2017 by travsd

Born on this date in 1863: Charles Chaplin the Elder: the father of his better known namesake, comedian and movie star Charlie Chaplin. It’s not as well known today that in his time the elder Chaplin was a fairly successful performer in his own right.

The son of a butcher, Charles Senior was still a teenager when he went on the stage. It is said that he met Charlie’s mother Hannah Hall (a.k.a. Lily Harley) while performing in a sketch called “Shamus O’Brien” in the early 1880s. In 1885 he married her, despite the fact that in the intervening months she had taken up with another man and given birth to a child. Chaplin gave the boy his surname; he became Sydney Chaplin. By ’87, Charles Senior had worked up a music hall act and began getting bookings in the halls, with a repertoire of sentimental and comical songs. In 1889, his son Charlie was born.

So far so good, eh? Unfortunately (for the family) not long after that, Chaplin’s career began to take off — and so did he. By 1890, he was popular enough to tour America (notably, he played the Union Square Theatre in New York — this was his own foray into American vaudeville. The following year he ran out on Hannah and the boys for good.

Chaplin was popular enough by this stage that his name and visaged graced the covers of the published sheet music of songs he had made popular, such as “The Girl Was Young and Pretty”, “Hi Diddle Diddle” and the comical, suggestive “Eh, Boys!”

It’s a well known story by now. While Charlie the elder was cavorting and carousing in music halls, living the carefree life, Hannah (also an entertainer, and by her son’s account a brilliant one, the one he took after) went slowly insane and couldn’t work. Chaplin offered no financial support, even when the two children were packed off to workhouses.

By the end of the decade (and the century) Chaplin had become an alcoholic and was no longer working himself. Significantly, this was the juncture when he first seems to take an interest in his namesake. In 1899, he got ten year old Charlie his first proper show business job by getting him into an act called The Eight Lancashire Lads. The younger Chaplin was about to embark on an incredible life’s journey; the older one was just ending his. By 1901, Charles Chaplin, Sr. was dead of cirrhosis of the liver.

But his mark is there for all to see in Charlie Chaplin’s life and art. An alcoholic, performing dad is something Charlie had in common with Buster Keaton. But there are contrasts. You could say that Joe Keaton’s drinking hurt his career, but it didn’t end his life. And Buster followed in his footsteps, becoming a problem boozer himself. Whereas the elder Chaplin ended both his life and career through alcohol abuse. And Charlie, Jr. only ever drank in cautious moderation. But I find it significant that he played hilarious comic drunks on stage and screen for decades. And there is also the subject of Chaplin’s relations with him. For a good long while, like his father, he put his work first and neglected his women (following periods of intense wooing). This cycle was only broken when he finally married Oona O’Neill, quite late in life, when he only worked occasionally and chose to devote all of his energy into family life…as though he were making up for lost time.

To find out more about vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. For more on early  film 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

Frank Buck: Brought ‘Em Back Alive

Posted in Animal Acts, Circus, Hollywood (History) with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2017 by travsd

March 17 isn’t just St. Patrick’s Day; it also happens to be the birthday of Frank Buck (1884-1950). What an interesting American character!

Born and raised in Texas, Buck started out his working life as a cowpuncher. At the age of 17 he traveled with a herd by rail to the stockyards in Chicago, and decided to remain in the big city. While working as a bellhop at the Virginia Hotel he met lady drama critic Amy Leslie, 29 years his senior, and the pair married. (The arrangement seems to have worked out for both of them — they remained hitched from 1901 to 1913).

In 1911, Buck took his winnings from a poker game and used it to finance an excursion to Brazil. While there, he trapped some exotic birds, which he brought back to New York and sold for lucrative sums. Trapping and caring for animals is something he had done for fun as a boy. Now he he began to do it in earnest. With the profits from the Brazil trip, he next went to Singapore, and then other parts of Asia, capturing all manner of creatures and bringing them back to sell in the U.S.

In 1923, he became on the the first directors of the San Diego Zoo, bringing to the table two Indian elephants, two orangutans, a leopard, two macaques, two langurs, two kangaroos, three flamingos, five cranes, and a python, all of which he had captured in the wild. After a few months, he was dismissed after repeated conflicts with the board of directors.

In 1930 he wrote his best selling book Bring ‘Em Back Alive, recounting his adventures. This was followed by a 1932 film and promotional radio show of the same name. Two other book-and-film projects followed: Wild Cargo (1932, book; 1934, film) and Fang and Claw (1935). He was to co-author five more books over the next decade.

In 1937, he starred in the B movie serial Jungle Menace, the only film in which he acted as a fictional character

In 1938, he and his creatures were the star attraction of the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus. I love how the poster above stresses that the man himself, not just his animals, will be making a personal appearance.

The following year, he brought his animals to the 1939 World’s Fair.

The coming of World War Two prevented him from going out on expeditions during the 1940s but he continued to busy himself by writing more books, and appearing in numerous films as himself. The last of these was Abbott and Costello’s Africa Screams, which is, quite frankly, where I first heard of him and the reason why you are reading this blog post.

After his death in 1950, his fame continued to spread. In 1953, Bring ‘Em Back Alive was adapted into a Classics Illustrated comic book. In 1954, the Frank Buck Zoo opened in his home town of Gainesville, Texas. And in 1982 Bring ‘Em Back Alive became the inspiration for a tv series starring Bruce Boxleitner! Really, this is about as famous as an animal collector can possibly get.

For National Bird Day: The Bird Acts of Vaudeville

Posted in Animal Acts, Burlesk, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2017 by travsd
Rosa Naynon and Her Cockatoos, circa 1907

Rosa Naynon and Her Cockatoos, circa 1907

I’m informed that it’s National Bird Day, which raises the interesting question, “Is it National BIRD Day? Or NATIONAL BIRD Day?” i.e., a day to celebrate all of our avian friends, or just a day to sing the praises of the bald eagle? Well, I know it’s the former, but it does remind me of the old Bob and Ray routine wherein the announcers mistake ground HOG meat for GROUNDHOG meat.

At any rate, I’m sure the intention of today’s observation is supposed to be about naturalism or preservation or something, but I am going to subvert it entirely by celebrating the working beast,the birds who sing for their supper strictly for human entertainment. In his book Vaudeville, Joe Laurie, Jr had this to day about bird acts:

“There were a lot of cockatoo acts (they were easy to train): Swain’s Cockatoo’s, Merle’s Cockatoo’s, Marzella’s, Lamont’s, and Wallace’s. They walked the wire, rang bells, put out a fire in a toy house, etc. Very entertaining. There were Marcelle’s Birds, Camilla’s Pigeons, Conrad’s Pigeons, and of course Olympia DesVall’s was the best bird act of them all. There was also Torcat’s and Flora D’Alizas Educated Roosters, followed by Kurtis’s Educated Roosters.”

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Watercolorist Charles Demuth painted this unidentified “Vaudeville Bird Woman” in 1917:

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Birds were an integral part of C.A. Wright’s Traveling Tent Show. 

Burlesque dancer Yvette Dare worked with macaws and parrots who were trained to undress her to music:

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Dare.

Here’s another one of Madame Marzella, circa 1896

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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.

My 50 Favorite Vaudevillians

Posted in Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , on July 7, 2015 by travsd

Hammerstein's Victoria Theatre, c.1908

To misappropriate Ko-Ko: “I’ve got a little listicle.”

There’s nothing objective about this list. It’s not THE top vaudevillians, but MY top vaudevillians, my favorites, and you will notice a distinct prejudice in favor of comedians, with a few singing singles, musicians, and thespians sprinkled in there. And an almost complete disinterest in the likes of dancers, acrobats, nut acts and magicians. Sorry! At any rate, not many of those make my top 50.

Also: the standings of some of them (practically all of them) are freely enhanced by their POST-vaudeville, or EXTRA-vaudeville work. And, also some folks have made the list although I know them almost entirely only by reputation, but I simply love what I KNOW about them (how could I not include Harrigan and Hart or Tony Pastor)?

The rank is in order of highest to lowest. (in other words, #1 is my top pick, so I’m afraid the list unfolds anti-climactically)

And it’s completely unscientific — I could shift names around all day like cards in a poker hand. After the first three dozen or so, the order is quite random.

Now, you undoubtedly have your own list. Feel free to tell me yours but don’t dare criticize mine. It’s entirely subjective, like all matters of taste, and I’m quite entitled not to give a crap or care about the people you worship. And if you presume to explain these people to me, who they are, what they do, or why they should or shouldn’t be on my list, your comments will be thrown in the trash unread (I was about to say gleefully, but indifferently would be more accurate). Why all the pre-emptive mishigas? I’ve been to more than one barn dance in my time.

Follow the links below to learn more about each artist. And feel free to use the search function of the blog to learn about the other 900 or so vaudevillians we’ve profiled on Travalanche.

1. Weber & Fields

2. Karno’s Speechless Comedians (featuring Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel et al)

3. The Marx Brothers

4. W.C. Fields

5. Will Rogers

6. Mae West

7. Walker and Williams/ Bert Williams

8. Harrigan and Hart

9. Burns and Allen

10. Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy

11. Ed Wynn

12. Fanny Brice

13. Eddie Cantor

14. Jack Benny

15. Bob Hope

16. Fred Allen

17. Smith and Dale

18. Gallagher and Shean

19. Clayton, Jackson and Durante

20. The Three Keatons

21. Savoy and Brennan

22. Joe Frisco

23. Clark and McCullough

24. Beatrice Lillie

25. Bert Lahr (and Mercedes)

26. Ted Healy and His Stooges

27. Frank Fay (with Patsy Kelly)

28. Milton Berle

29. Olsen and Johnson

30. Joe E. Brown

31. Sophie Tucker

32. Eva Tanguay

33. Al Jolson

34. The 4 Cohans

35. Houdini

36. John Philip Sousa and Band

37. Ma Rainey

38. Mamie Smith

39. Bessie Smith

40. Irving Berlin 

41. Enrico Caruso

42. Various Barrymores

43. Nazimova

44. Sarah Bernhardt

45. Olga Petrova

46. Paul Whiteman Orchestra (and the Rhythm Boys)

47. The Gumm Sisters (w/ Judy Garland)

48. Scott Joplin (actually move him up to about #25, I just don’t feel like re-typing)

49. Tony Pastor

50. Ching Ling Foo/ Chung Ling Soo ( a tie)

To learn out more about vaudeville consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Pride Week: On Some Queer Vaudevillians

Posted in Drag and/or LGBT, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2015 by travsd

 

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Savoy & Brennan, the Grandmothers of Them All

In celebration of Pride Weekend (now upon us) and today’s Supreme Court decision in favor of same sex marriage, a quick mini-post to connect you quickly to posts on Travalanche about some well-known queer vaudevillians. Just click on the links below to learn more about each act:

Nazimova

Savoy and Brennan

Clifton Webb 

George Kelly

Karyl Norman

Rae Bourbon

Bothwell Browne

Edgar Allan Woolf

Paul Swan

Ella Wesner

Annie Hindle

Tommy Martelle

Vardaman

The above list contains folks we are pretty certain had same-sex proclivities. But of course, the realm of drag is much more ambiguous: the list of drag performers who were either sexually “straight” or we-just-don’t-know is much, much longer, but I think we can all agree that the gender bending nature of cross-dressing qualifies them for the broader category of “queer”. We’ve a whole section on drag on Travalanche, you can browse through it here (a lot of the film clip links are now dead – -I need to do some house cleaning soon).

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.

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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

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Stars of Vaudeville #754: Adgie and Her Lions

Posted in Animal Acts, Circus, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2013 by travsd

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Anthony Slide lists Adgie and Her Trained Lions as one of vaudeville’s top animal acts. The photo above, which demonstrates that part of her act was to do a ballet dance amongst the big cats, was taken in 1897.

Born Adelaide Castillo in New Mexico, her father was a full Mexican and her mother a Pueblo Indian, according to an interview she gave to the San Jose Evening News in 1907. The father ran a store and kept an informal menagerie of animals. She started out by training dogs and performed with them initially in circus. Then she moved up to lions. She was at the top of her field in her day, and had performed with Hagenbeck-Wallace and Barnum & Bailey circuses in addition to big time vaudeville.

All was  not skittles and beer. The New York Times of March 30, 1897 reported that in Omaha “Adgie the lion tamer, a beautiful Spanish girl, who has been exhibiting here with a cage of trained lions, has had trouble with her manager. He came to-day with officers to levy upon the animals, but Adgie put up a determined fight, attacking the manager personally and driving him from the field. The officers then attempted to levy, when the woman caught hold of the cage door and prepared to let out her pets, which were growling savagely. The officers fled, leaving her mistress of the situation. ”

The October 11, 1904 of the St. John [New Brunswick] Sun gives this account of Adgie’s performance at the York Theatre: “The sensation of the evening was kept for the last, and Adgie and Her Lions held the undivided attention of the big audience. The feeding was also interesting and the way the brutes ate the huge pieces of meat suggested ugly possibilities for anyone in the cage.” A reminder: billed last. That’s the haircut act. Ah, Canadians. The headliner was probably Sophie Tucker. 

 

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This photo, taken at Luna Park in Pittsburg in 1905, shows the act was playing there (when you magnify the photo, the placard to the right of the colonnade bills them. If you can’t blow it up on this page, try here, which is where I saw it).

In 1914, tragedy struck when her assistant (who also happened to be her fiance) was killed by one of the lions in a railway baggage car. Whispers followed her thereafter to the effect that Adgie had left a cage open out of jealousy when the man put her down for a rival.

Adgie’s last days as a performer were sad. We know this chiefly from the account of acrobat Tiny Kline who worked with her in the Santos-Artigas Circus in Cuba in 1929-30 and writes about the experience in Circus Queen and Tinker Belle: The Memoir of Tiny Kline. She says that by this point Adgie, after trying her luck through South and Central America was a wizened old lady and down to just three very scrawny, underfed cats. By 1932 when Kline bumped into her again in New York, all three cats had died and Adgie was working as a cleaning woman in flophouses. A sadly typical vaudeville story.

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.

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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

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Stars of Vaudeville #752: Percy Oakes

Posted in Dance, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Percy Oakes (1900-1997). A West Virginia native, he first performed with an amateur minstrel show as a child. He moved to Chicago and found a job as a printer in the nineteen-teens, taking lessons in dance and guitar. This led to work as a chorus boy in a touring musical, which led to his teaming in a ballroom dance act patterned after the Castles with Pamela Delour, whom he later married. For their showstopper, Oakes would lift Delour twirl her over his head, a spectacular and novel move at the time. Martin Beck caught the act at a nightclub and booked them for the Orpheum Circuit. They became a major big time act, playing the Palace five times and working with all the major headliners of the day, people like Elsie Janis, Frank Fay, Patsy Kelly, Fanny Brice, Jack Norworth, Rae Samuels, and Bill Robinson. At the same time, Oakes began to get his feet wet in management, first handling Sessue Hayakawa, the headliner on one of his bills. By 1930, Oakes had transitioned completely into being an agent, which job he performed for the next several decades.

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.

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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

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