Archive for British

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

Stars of Vaudeville # 1021: Olga Nethersole

Posted in Broadway, Melodrama and Master Thespians, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2017 by travsd

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Olga Isabella Nethersole (1867-1951) birthday is today. The daughter of a London solicitor, Nethersole arrived on the professional stage in the English provinces in 1887, making her West End debut the following year. Roles for John Hare at the newly built Garrick Theatre brought her great fame. for the next several years she alternated seasons in London, Australia, New York and Paris, often self-producing. Plays she are associated with include Clyde Fitch’s Sapho (for which she was arrested in New York), Camille, The Second Mrs. Tanquray, and The Profligate. In 1913 and 1914, like many of the greatest divas of her age, she undertook a tour of high class, big time vaudeville including the Palace, where she was billed as “The British Bernhardt“. She served as nurse during the World War One years (1914-1918). For the rest of her life public health issues joined the theatre as her consuming passion. Though she lived well into the cinematic era, she never made a film.

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

Stars of Vaudeville #1008: Marie Loftus

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

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 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.

Stars of Vaudeville #932: Lew Grade

Posted in British Music Hall, Dance, Impresarios, Jews/ Show Biz, Television, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2015 by travsd

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There is something not entirely inappropriate about Christmas also being the birthday of Baron Lew Grade (Lev Winogradsky, 1906-1998). After all, the British TV mogul headed up the Independent Television Company (ITC) which brought us The Muppets (not to mention The Prisoner, Thunderbirds, and Space 1999). Before he was a producer, Grade was a show biz agent (see the big cigar?) and before that? Before that, my friends, Grade was a hoofer in music hall and vaudeville.

Ukrainian by birth, Grade grew up in London’s working class East End. At the age of 20, he won a nationwide dance contest (judged by Fred Astaire) and went professional. Billed as “The Man With the Musical Feet” he danced on British stages for eight years, before he developed water on the knee and sought work behind the scenes. His first partner was Joe Collins, father of Joan and Jackie Collins.

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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Stars of Vaudeville #913: Flanagan and Allen

Posted in British Music Hall, Comedians, Comedy, Singers, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 14, 2015 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Bud Flanagan (Chaim Reuben Weintrop, 1896-1968) of the British music hall team of Flanagan and Allen. 

A few years ago, someone slipped me a couple of CDs of this quirky duo and I absolutely fell in love. I find them hilarious and yet sentimental in an inexplicable way that only the English could pull off. They have this dry, quiet, understated and sweet manner, and sing these sleepy, sleepy nostalgic songs like “Underneath the Arches”, “Run, Rabbit, Rabbit” and “The Umbrella Man”, a tune I loved so much I got David Gochfeld and Michael Townsend Wright to perform it in my vaudeville show a few years back.

Flanagan’s an Irish name but it was just a stage name. His parents were actually Polish Jews who came to London as refugees fleeing a program (they actually they thought they’d bought tickets for New York. He left home as a teenager to work on ships, and wound up America, which is where he first broke into vaudeville on the small time, touring Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, as well. World War One brought him back to the Mother Country. He teamed up with Chesney Allen in 1926. The pair were also part of a sextet, called The Crazy Gang.  Flangan and Allen appeared in music hall, radio and films until 1945, when Allen retired. Flanagan continued performing as a solo until his death.

And here, because I love it so, “The Umbrella Man”:

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.

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R.I.P. Judy Carne

Posted in Comediennes, Comedy, OBITS, Television, TV variety, Women with tags , , , , , , on September 7, 2015 by travsd

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Just got word via Steve Stoliar that Laugh-In  “Sock it to Me” Star Judy Carne (b . Joyce Botterill, 1939) has passed on at the age of 76.

A native of Northampton, England, Carne had been acting on television in the U.S. a few years when the British Invasion hit in 1964, creating a vogue for all things evocative of swinging, mod London. (I think of Davy Jones as another tv beneficiary of this trend). After years playing bit roles on shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy, in 1968 Carne was cast on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In where her 15 seconds of fame (stretched out over several years) consisted of go-go dancing, saying “Sock it to me!” and getting doused with a bucket of water. This sounds like less than it was. Carne was adorable and funny; one sympathizes with her and a character emerged from the bit. She sort of seemed like the Charlie Brown of the Laugh-In cast. And “Sock it to me” became a national catch-phrase. However, the tale of what happened after Laugh-In isn’t pretty. You can read about it here. (Sidenote: she was married several times; the first was to Burt Reynolds, 1963-65). From the highest (though briefest) heights of fame, she eventually wond up back in Northampton, which is where she died last Thursday. You can read about it in the Northampton Herald & Post here.And here is the report in Variety. And here is the New York Times. 

The clip below is not one of the typical Laugh-in “sock it to me” segments. To take advantage of the fad, a single was recorded and released. This is the promo film that went with the song:

Stars of Vaudeville #888: Harry Tate

Posted in British Music Hall, Comedy, Impressionists, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2015 by travsd

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July 4, 1872 was the birthdate of Harry Tate (Ronald McDonald Hutchinson), star of the British music hall, who also made some tours of America and Australia. His stage name was taken from his former employer Henry Tate & Sons, Sugar Refiners. Tate began his career in music hall in 1895, doing impressions of George Robey, Dan Leno and other major stars of his day. But he became best known for a series of comedy sketches, based on and centered around particular fads and trends, e.g. “Billiards”, “Fishing”, “Motoring”, “Running an Office”. In so doing, he became a major influence on W.C. Fields who was to develop a series of similar sketches for the Ziegfeld Follies and other Broadway revues. Between 1927 and 1937 he appeared in 18 motion pictures. He passed away in 1940, a much beloved British institution.

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.

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Also 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-500x500

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