Archive for artist

James Montgomery Flagg: Lived Up To His Name

Posted in AMERICANA, Silent Film, VISUAL ART with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 18, 2017 by travsd

Illustrator James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960) was born on June 18. Flagg’s best known work (above) is especially timely — the Uncle Sam/ “I Want You” poster was created one century ago as part of the World War One recruitment drive. It’s so well known and so frequently parodied I used it as the inspiration for a publicity still around the time I was launching my American Vaudeville Theatre around 20 years ago.

Photo by Joseph Silva

Flagg designed a slue of patriotic pictures during the Great War. I liked his rendering of Columbia encouraging Victory Gardens so much I acquired the fridge magnet version:

My wife (herself an illustrator) and myself took in many of his works during our recent pilgrimage to the National Museum of American Illustration in Newport. RI. 

There are other good connections to this blog. For example, from 1903 through 1907, Flagg drew the comic strip Nervy Nat for Judge magazine. Nervy Nat is a tramp character of the sort that was popular at the time, and paved the way in some sense sense for Chaplin’s screen character a decade later

There is a 1904 comedy short called Nervy Nat Kisses the Bride produced by Edison, directed by Edwin S. Porter, and starring Arthur Byron and Evelyn Nesbit, which is clearly inspired by the strip. It is available to watch on Youtube.

Flagg is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. I have visited his marker! (I am not obsessed or anything. I was visiting ALL the stars. Have more to go, too).

Flagg was a prodigy. Originally from Pelham Manor, New York, he was already publishing magazine illustrations by age 12. He attended the Art Students League from 1894 through 1898, after which he studied for a couple of years in London and Paris before returning the the States to pursue his professional career. At one point he was the highest paid illustrator in America. One of his favorite models was Mabel Normand! He also painted portraits of prominent people like Ethyl Barrymore and Mark Twain.

Elise Cavanna: An Artist of Diverse Canvases

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Stars of Slapstick, VISUAL ART, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2017 by travsd



Today is the birthday of Elise Cavanna (Elise Seeds, 1902-1963).

Originally from Philadelphia, Cavanna took art classes at the Pennsylvania Academy before studying dance with Isadora Duncan. She performed in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1925 where she befriended both W.C. Fields and Louise Brooks, fortuitous connections in both cases. After appearing in her second and last Broadway show Morals (1925-26) with Mischa Auer, Wheeler Dryden, and Edward Van Sloan, she got a part in the Louise Brooks film Love ’em and Leave ’em (1926), and It’s the Old Army Game (1926) with both Fields and Brooks.

Fields relished Cavanna’s comic physicality. She was tall and thin, with crazy, long limbs, not worlds away from Charlotte Greenwood. He put her to great use in his classic shorts The Dentist (1932), The Pharmacist (1933) and The Barber Shop (1933), and she also has a bit part in You’re Telling Me (1934). Her appearances in the Fields comedies is what she is best remembered for today.


Cavanna worked steadily throughout the 1930s, sometimes with minor speaking parts, more usually in bit roles. She is in short subjects with great comic stars like Ned Sparks and Walter Catlett, she has a small role in Wheeler and Woolsey’s Hips, Hips Hooray (1934), and she has a fairly decent part in I Met My Love Again (1938) with Joan Bennett and Henry Fonda. In 1939 she parted ways with the film business, although she did return on one occasion to take a walk-on in the movie Ziegfeld Follies (1945) for old times sake.

By then, she was deep into a completely different life. In 1932 Cavanna married Merle Armitage, a man who was at the center of the arts scene in Los Angeles. Armitage was a collector, arts patron, book designer, writer, publisher, and administrator with the WPA. From the time of her marriage, Cavanna’s social set became artists as opposed to the movie colony. She began to paint again, and exhibited her work professionally. This is what she looked like in her other life:


For more on slapstick comedy don’t miss my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc. For 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.

Illustrator Hy Mayer: On the Very First Bill at the Palace

Posted in German, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., VISUAL ART with tags , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2016 by travsd


Today is the birthday of illustrator, cartoonist and animator Henry “Hy” Mayer (1868-1954). Originally from Germany, Mayer began his career as an illustrator in Munich, then worked his way west to Paris, then London, then finally New York, moving to the U.S. in 1886. He illustrated several children’s books, became a political cartoonist for the New York Times in 1904, and chief cartoonist at Puck starting in 1914.

Starting in 1909 Mayer began contributing animations for films to Universal Studios, where he turned out several popular series for over a decade. From 1920 through 1926 he created the “Such is Life” Series for Film Book Offices of America (later to be part of RKO).

Like many cartoonists, Mayer also played big time vaudeville and revues. He was on the very first bill at the Palace in 1913, and was also featured in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1913. His personal appearances seem limited however. Much more often, his popular films would be incorporated into vaudeville bills as attractions themselves.

Mayer also designed many posters and programs for show like the Ziegfeld Follies, and art for sheet music covers.

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.

Pride Week: On Some Queer Vaudevillians

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



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:


Savoy and Brennan

Clifton Webb 

George Kelly

Karyl Norman

Rae Bourbon

Bothwell Browne

Edgar Allan Woolf

Paul Swan

Ella Wesner

Annie Hindle

Tommy Martelle


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.


The Paris of Toulouse Lautrec at MOMA

Posted in EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Frenchy, PLUGS, VISUAL ART with tags , , , , on November 24, 2014 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901).

We recently saw MOMA’s exhibition The Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec: Prints and Posters and since it was so close to his birthday I decided to save this little plug for today. As we said in our earlier post, for theatre lovers, especially lovers of the historical popular theatre, there is no visual artist more associated with communicating every aspect of the live event. He not only designed posters, song sheets, and programs, but he sketched from life and used his observations for paintings and illustrations, capturing audience members, backstage preparations, the shows themselves, and life outside the theatres as well. MOMA has broken the comprehensive new show into five useful and illuminating categories: “café-concerts and dance halls” tells us about the storied venues, especially the famous Moulin-Rouge; another section focuses on performers, many of whom we have written about here, such as Yvette Guilbert and Loie Fuller;  a section on women (particularly ladies of the evening); a section on Lautrec’s creative circle (including contemporaries, imitators and influences); and lastly a section on a broader picture of Paris itself, with an emphasis on the leisure activities Lautrec was so brilliant and industrious at chronicling.


This (“The Box with the Gilded Mask”) was one of our favorites. Her lips are much redder in the original. That is why you must go see these works in person. I’m probably going to go back, in fact. It’s hanging through March 22, 2015. There’s more information here

Rae Bourbon: Raunchy Drag Star

Posted in CAMP, Drag and/or LGBT, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2013 by travsd


This gender bending performer is one we are presenting in a series to celebrate NYC Pride Week.

Ray (Rae) Bourbon (Hal Waddell, 1893-1971) was a modern style drag performer with risque, raunchy comic material and no attempt to disguise the fact that he (like his act) was gay. Consequently, his act was not successful in vaudeville in the 1920s, which had strict rules about propriety. (Initially he was part of a two man act called “Scotch and Bourbon”). Bourbon mainly played night clubs and small time vaud, and was successful through the 1940s. (That is, if you can call an act successful that was constantly raided, shut down, and interrupted by jail stays.) For a time he was a protege of Mae West’s, performing in her show Catherine Was Great. 

With his career slowing down by 1956, he claimed to have gotten a sex change operation (then a new thing and hence newsworthy) in Juarez, Mexico. In 1968 he was convicted of murdering his dog walker (who had killed his 14 dogs because Bourbon’s bill was in arrears. He died in prison three years later.

There is much , much, much more to every phase of this story; read all about it in Kliph Neteroff’s article here:

Here’s a strange little record he made about the “operation”:

To find out 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.


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 etc etc etc


Winsor McCay: Cartoonist in Vaudeville

Posted in PLUGS, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., VISUAL ART with tags , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2010 by travsd

Born this day (according to some, including himself) circa 1867-1871, cartoonist Winsor McCay is much revered today for his highly whimsical, dreamlike comic strips like Little Nemo in Slumberland and Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend. More to the point here, starting in 1911, he toured vaudeville with short animated films using his characters like Gertie the Dinosaur and others. McCay would lecture and magically interact with the films. My friends from the Silent Clowns screening series have shown some of these — get on their list, and they’ll tip you off the next time it’s on one of their bills! After about 10 years of touring the circuits, McCay began to concentrate on editorial cartoons. He passed away in 1934.

Now here’s his creation “Gertie the Dinosaur” in a film from 1914. The titles are lines the cartoonist would have spoken to the animated film as part of his vaudeville act. The scenes at the end are a recap of the framing device that begins the film (available in a different youtube clip) in which fellow cartoonist George McManus bets him that he can’t make such a film.

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.


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