Archive for big time

Eddie White: “I Thank You”

Posted in Comedy, Jews/ Show Biz, Singers, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2017 by travsd

Eddie White (Michael Weintraub, 1898-1983) was born on May 18.

White comes to the attention of modern buffs almost entirely from his 1928 Vitaphone short called I Thank You, after his oft-repeated (by him) catchphrase. When you’ve seen a whole mess of Vitaphones, you easily lump them into categories. Some, like Burns and Allen, and Rose Marie, are folks we already know. Some, maybe most, are folks we don’t know and leave little impression. And a discrete handful are folks we don’t know and make a huge impression: a great act, big talent, a vivid or eccentric personality, sheer weirdness, or whatever. Those are everybody’s favorite Vitaphones and I think those end up being the ones we see for a reason; the screenings are almost always curated by the savvy Ron Hutchinson of the Vitaphone Project, who has the ears, eyes, nose, bones, brains, and guts of an old time vaudeville producer, which also means knowing what contemporary audiences will respond to.

At any rate, I Thank You is just such a short. Eddie White is one of the memorable ones. Tall, thin, and lanky, with a scrawny neck, enormous ears, and a high-pitched voice, you’d swear in watching the film that he was an adolescent, no more than about 15 years old. That was the impression I took away the first time I saw the film several years ago: that he was a precocious, talented teenager, probably from New York’s Lower East Side. The ethnic jokes and the crowd pleasing song set, featuring, “Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella (on a Rainy Day)”, “Get Out and Get Under the Moon” and the show-stopping “Mammy”, probably planted that idea. But I was off.

As we see from his birthday year, the young man was actually 30 when this Vitaphone came out. Its national release was probably the high point of his long career, which was mostly East Coast based, concentrated in Philadelphia, Atlantic City and New York. Born in South Philly, he debuted as a young man at the Old Norris Theatre in Norris, Pennsylvania and was using the stage handle “Eddie White” by 1920.

In the 20s he seemed an up-and-comer. He was a big time Keith’s act by mid-decade, one sees references to him playing important big time houses like New York’s Hippodrome.

He became associated with the famous 1932 song “Sam, You Made The Pants Too Long”, though Milton Berle had written the parody lyrics and Joe E. Lewis had the 1933 hit record. Vaudeville was dying around this time and the path of White’s career is hugely instructive about what the hustling performer did to fill the time with bookings. A small announcement in a 1936 issue of Billboard seems pivotal. The item describes White as a vaud vet who would now be officially turning his attention to night cubs. And thereafter he seemed to work pretty steadily as an m.c. and entertainer at night clubs and resorts, most especially the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, although one continues to find references to him playing dates farther afield in places like Pittsburgh and Ohio. Part of White’s legend is that he became a figure in the career of the Jersey-based burlesque comedians Abbott and Costello, when he saw them performing and put them on at the Steel Pier, where they first began to attract more widespread notice.

White produced and hosted a variety revue called The Zanities of 1943 in Philadelphia that got good notices. He headlined in the Palace Theatre revival in 1955. He retied from show biz in 1959.

I had the thrill of talking to White’s only child Jay Weintraub (b. 1933) the other day, and he helped add texture for White’s later years. He said the family moved to Chicago for three years, where White had a steady gig at a night club. He said his famous friends included Berle (who’d given him “Sam” to sing), Judy Garland, Red Buttons, Henny Youngman, and of course Abbott and Costello (Weintraub recounted an anecdote where Costello flew the family out to spend a few days with him in Hollywood). And he said the William Morris Agency tried unsuccessfully to book Eddie for the Ed Sullivan Show, but he was rejected for being too “ethnic” — he did a lot of Jewish dialect humor, which might not come across to wider audiences (and might have offended some others).

But mostly, says Weintraub, “He was a family man. His main interests were his brothers and my mother and me. He would go off and do his dates for a few days but then he would always come home.”

Most intriguingly, Mr. Weintraub mentions an enormous scrapbook of clippings in his possession and THIS would be the great resource of information on Eddie White. Hopefully some day an intrepid researcher will gain access to it and convey its contents to the wider public.

Special thanks to the one and only Mr. Chuck Prentiss for connecting me with Jay Weintraub!

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.

Mayer and Evans: The Cowboy and the Girl

Posted in Broadway, Dixieland & Early Jazz, Hollywood (History), Music, Singers, Singing Comediennes, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2017 by travsd

April 24 is the birthday of big band and jazz piano player Ray Mayer (Ray Maher, 1901-1949). Originally from Lexington, Nebraska, he started out in circuses and in some bands organized by trombonist and songwriter Larry Conley. In 1928, he teamed up with singer Edith Evans, whom he seems to have met while recording sides for Brunwsick Records. They were both high profile enough that they were able to play the Palace that year, and be featured in the Vitaphone shorts When East Meets West and  The Cowboy and the Girl, which is chiefly what they are known for today. The act is sort of like Blossom Seeley and Benny Fields, but if Fields were much more like Will Rogers — a gun-chewing, wisecracking country bloke in chaps. And the gag is that Evans is more urban and sophisticated. It’s a good act, but 1928 was a terrible time to start a vaudeville act. Vaudeville was dead by 1932. The following year, the pair got married and retired the act.

Evans appears to have left the business at this point, but Mayer worked steadily. He appeared in scores of films until his death, often B movie westerns, mostly bit parts. And he’s in half a dozen Broadway shows from 1940 through 1946, including the original production of Louisiana Purchase and Eddie Cantor’s Banjo Eyes. Mayer died in 1949 while on traveling to a performance. More about the pair can be learned at JazzAge20s.com

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 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

The Revelers: A Popular Quintet

Posted in Radio (Old Time Radio), Singers, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2017 by travsd

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The Revelers were a popular and influential vocal group of the Jazz Age. The act consisted of a vocal quartet plus a pianist. The quartet, originally known as The Shannon Four, began performing together in 1918. They added the pianist in 1925 and began calling themselves The Revelers. The line-up was:

Franklyn Baur (tenor, later replaced by Frank Luther, then James Melton)

Lewis James (tenor)

Elliot Shaw (baritone)

Wilfred Glen (bass)

Ed Smalle (piano, later replaced by Frank Black)

The group was popular in big time vaudeville, enjoyed several hit records, were popular on radio (1927-1931), and made two Vitaphone shorts in 1927, which is how I first came to know of them. Starting in the late ’20s they were also enormously popular on European stages. Their hits included “Baby Face”, “The Birth of the Blues”, “Dinah”, and “Old Man River.” For a group so fun and playful and so essentially “pop”, the members were seriously skilled singers: Baur was a third generation vocalist and principal tenor at the Park Avenue Baptist Church who also had a flourishing career and performed with numerous popular orchestra; Melton (one of his replacements) sang with the Metropolitan Opera; and Glen had a range of two and a half octaves and sang at Carnegie Hall.  The group also performed as “The Singing Sophomores” and “The Merrymakers”.

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

Leonore Ulric: Belasco’s Beauty

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 21, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Leonore Ulric (1892-1970). Ulric was a creature of both stage and screen, zigzagging between both throughout her entire career. She began with midwestern stock companies in Milwaukee, Grand Rapids and Chicago. In the early to mid teens she starred in numerous silent films for Essanay Studios, based out of Chicago. From there she went on to be a Broadway star for David Belasco. And from there, an actress in talking films, in such films as Camille (1936) and Notorious (1946).  And from there back to the stage. She appeared at the Palace and other big time vaudeville venues in the late 1920s.

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.

Anna Chandler: Singer of Italian and Hebrew Songs

Posted in Hollywood (History), Movies, Singers, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Anna Chandler (1884-1957). Pennsylvania native Chandler was only 16 years old when she married Keith-Albee booker Jack Curtis Sr. For the next 30+ years she was to be a regular fixture on the Keith and Orpheum circuits as a singer of Italian and Hebrew songs in an operatic mezzo soprano. In 1911, she appeared in the Broadway farce Jumping Jupiter. By the middle of the decade her visage was gracing the cover of sheet music, she was cutting records, and she was commonly spoken of by reviewers as one of the top “single women” in vaudeville. In 1928, billed as “Vaudeville’s Favorite Daughter”, she appeared in a Vitaphone short, singing and doing French dialect. For the next 20 years, she appeared in several notable Hollywood films, normally in bit parts. She was in The Big Broadcast (1932), Broadway Bill (1934), Gold Rush Maisie (1940), and The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), among others.

Chandler’s daughter was Beatrice Curtis, vaudeville partner and wife of Harry Fox.

For more on vaudeville history and performers like Anna Chandler, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

June Walker: The Original Lorelei Lee

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Melodrama and Master Thespians, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 14, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of June Walker (1900-1966).

Originally from Chicago, Walker was a popular Broadway actress from 1919 to 1958, best known as the original Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1926-1927). Other notable plays included John Howard Lawson’s Processional (1925) for the Theatre Guild; Myra in the original production of Waterloo Bridge (1930); Laurey in Green Grow the Lilacs (1931), which later became the basis for the musical Oklahoma!; Mrs. Molloy in Thornton Wilder’s The Merchant of Yonkers (1938-1939), which later became the basis for Hello, Dolly!; Olsen and Johnson’s Laffing Room Only (1944-1945); and the Maxwell AndersonHarold Clurman collaboration Truckline Cafe (1946) featuring an up and coming Marlon Brando. In addition to this muscular theatrical career (which boasts many more credits than just named), she gave a small number of film and television performances.

Like many Broadway stars of her day she toured big time vaudeville, and she appeared at the Palace Theatre in the 1920s.

To learn more about vaudeville and performers like June Walkerconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever informative books are sold.

Helen Ford

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Movies, Singers, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Helen Ford (Helen Barnett, 1894-1982).

Ford started out in vaudeville as a singer in upstate New York, eventually moving up to Broadway, where she appeared in 14 productions between 1920 and 1942. Three of these were Rodgers and Hart (and Herbert Fields) shows: Dearest Enemy (1925), Peggy Ann (1926) and Chee Chee (1928). Most amusing to me is that the Helen was the original Helen in Helen of Troy New York (1923), doubly significant because she herself hailed from Troy. Through her Broadway years, she continued to perform in vaudeville, appearing at the Palace several times in the 1920s.

As she grew older and Broadway work grew scarce, she went to Hollywood and worked as a bit player from the late ’40s through the mid ’70s. Her last turn was in a film called Confessions of a Pop Performer (1975), in which she played “Woman with Ear Trumpet”.

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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