Archive for Broadway

Kay Laurell: Too Beautiful for this Earth?

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 28, 2017 by travsd

Kay Laurell (1890-1927) came into the world on a June 28. Born Ruth Leslie (an equally good professional name, I think) in Erie Pennsylvania, she moved to New York as a teenager where she very quickly discovered and employed as an artists’ model for such illustrators and William Glackens and Howard Chandler Christy. This brought her to the notice of Flo Ziegfeld, who cast her in his Follies of 1914, 1915 and 1918. Because of her great beauty (and her willingness of disrobe) she became famous for appearing topless or near-naked in Ziegfeld’s “artistic” tableaux, appearing as Aphrodite in the 1915 edition, and “The Spirit of the Allies” in 1918, when the U.S. was in Wold War One. Here she is decorated as “September Morn”:

There’s a snap in the air!

Most commentators remarked on her beauty but H.L. Mencken is said used her for inspiration for his acerbic 1918 book In Defense of Women, quipping that she was gifted with “all the arts of the really first-rate harlot.”

She dabbled in pictures next, appearing in three silent films: The Brand (1919), The Valley of the Giants (1919), and Lonely Heart (1921). She next toured in vaudeville and with stock companies for the next three years. She returned to Broadway to appear in the plays Quarantine (1924) and Nocturne (1925), but the latter ran only three performances. Her remaining two years were spent working in London and Paris theatre.

Laurell died in childbirth in 1927 giving birth to her first child. The father of the child was a son of Canadian adventurer Klondike Joe Boyle, but the pregnancy was out of wedlock because Laurell was still legally attached to Fox executive Winfield Sheehan whom she’d married in 1917. She was 36 when she died — young for us, but rather old for a first pregnancy in those days.

For more on the history of show business consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever vitally informative books are sold. For more on early film, consult Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,  released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc. 

On the Acerbic Mary Wickes

Posted in Broadway, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Television, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2017 by travsd

Beloved character actor Mary Wickes (Mary Wickenhauser, 1910-1995) was born on June 13. The gawky, wise-cracking Wickes was ubiquitous on screens big and small for half a century, usually playing maids, nuns, nurses and other no-nonsense types on the periphery of the main action but just close enough to see what was going on and make an exasperated and cutting joke about it.

I almost certainly first knew her from her regular role on the Sid and Marty Krofft kid’s show Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (1973-1974). (Though she was also a regular on the sit com Doc around the same time too so it was probably both). Thus I was already a fan (without knowing it, perhaps) from about age eight. Wickes’ screen character aged extremely well. When she was young, because of her attitude and her crone-like drawl, she had always seemed older than she was. When she actually became older, she simply WAS.

Still, there was in evolution, if an incremental one. If you look at the photo at the top, when she was very young she was, if not pretty, at least pretty-adjacent. She was not in the Margaret Hamilton category as a type. Wickes was quite young when she began her career on Broadway. She is said to have been in the original production of Marc Connelly’s The Farmer Takes a Wife (1934), though, if she was, it was probably either as a walk-on or a replacement as she is not listed in the IBDB credits. She was in the original productions of two George S. Kaufman plays, Stage Door (1936) and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1939-1941). The 1942 film version of the latter was her big screen Hollywood debut.

She had been in at least one film prior to The Man Who Came To Dinner, however. As a sometime member of Orson Welles’ and John Houseman’s Mercury Theatre, she had appeared in Welles’ legendary Too Much Johnson (1938). She also acted in the Mercury’s stage production of Danton’s Death (1938) and on radio with Mercury Theatre on the Air.

From 1942 until her death she was almost constantly on movie screens; starting in 1948 it was also true of television. Notable films include Now, Voyager (1942), On Moonlight Bay (1951), By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953), The Actress (1953), White Christmas (1954), Cimarron (1960), The Music Man (1962), How to Murder Your Wife (1965), Postcards from the Edge (1990), and the Sister Act films (1992 and 1993). She also appears in comedies of Abbott and Costello, Ma and Pa Kettle, and Blondie. Lucille Ball LOVED her and used her in a dozen episodes of her various tv shows I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, and Here’s Lucy. She also appeared memorably on The Doris Day Show, Columbo, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, M*A*S*H and many other shows. Her last screen credit was a voice over in Disney’s animated The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996).

For more on show business history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever fine books are sold. For more on  film comedy, consult Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,  released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc. 

On the Tiller Girls: Pioneers in Precision Dance

Posted in British Music Hall, Broadway, Dance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2017 by travsd

British music theatre director John Tiller (1854-1925) was born on June 13. While skilled and trained in music and theatre arts since childhood, Tiller initially made his fortune in the family cotton business in Manchester until circumstances permitted him to pursue his theatrical interests more seriously around 1890. At that point, Tiller began presenting pantomimes and training young girls to perform in them at the professional level. He maintained a school for young performers much akin to the one Ned Wayburn would later start in America. As an outgrowth, he appears to have been a crucial innovator in the development of precision dance.

Now, it is often claimed that Tiller was the “inventor” of precision dance, but I doubt that, since images (photos, sketches paintings) of women in dance choruses arrayed in neat lines are readily available dating from many decades earlier than this. Another influence had to have been drill teams — believe it on not, male military drill teams were also popular on variety stages in the late 19th century. At any rate, Tiller seemed to have honed and refined the practice, demanding absolute uniformity in appearance and movement, becoming an early adapter of the kick-line and the feathered headdress, and apparently inventing the useful techniques of the dancers linking arms or holding each other’s waists in order to help coordinate and steady movement. He was also a pioneer in branding and promoting. His “Tiller Girls” were booked all over the world: Paris, London and the States, were booked for Broadway revues like the Ziegfeld Follies and George White’s Scandals, and were the inspiration for the Radio City Rockettes as well as the film routines of Busby Berkley. 

Tiller himself died in 1925 but various incarnations of The Tiller Girls have persisted and thrived with great popularity down to the present day.

For more on the history of show businessconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever vitally informative books are sold

100 Years Ago Today: Eddie Cantor and Will Rogers Debut in The Follies

Posted in Broadway, Comedians, Comedy, Eddie Cantor, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2017 by travsd

100 years ago today, the 1917 edition of the Ziegfeld Follies opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Why is this worth noting? Because this was the edition during which Eddie Cantor and Will Rogers both joined the show for the first time, and they were both to be regulars for many editions thereafter. The Follies, as it did for so many, made stars of them both. Also in this legendary edition were W.C. Fields, Bert Williams, Fanny Brice, Walter Catlett, Marie Wallace, Lilyan Tashman, Peggy Hopkins, Dorothy Dickson and Carl Hyson, the Fairbanks Twins, et al. Staged by Ned Wayburn, sets by Joseph Urban, costumes by Lady Duff-Gordon, and about a dozen top playwrights and songwriters in the mix as well.  Some considered it the greatest edition of The Follies ever. W.C. Fields did his lawn tennis sketch (one of the few of his sporting routines never to make it film). Rogers did his folksy monologues and rope tricks for a Broadway audience for the first time. Fanny Brice did her “Egyptian” number, and sang and danced a duet with Cantor. Cantor also did sketches with Bert Williams.  Can you imagine such a show?

For more on vaudeville performers like Eddie Cantor, Will Rogers and everyone else on this pageconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever vitally informative books are sold

 

Dorothy Stone: Broadway Legatee

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Movies, Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 3, 2017 by travsd

Stage and screen performer Dorothy Stone came into the world on June 3, 1905. The daughter of Broadway and vaudeville legend Fred Stone (the original Scarecrow in the Broadway version of The Wizard of Oz), Dorothy managed to crawl past her dad’s large shadow, but only just barely. Most of her Broadway credits were either shows that she appeared in with her dad, or shows in which she replaced the original star. The first Fred Stone shows she appeared in were Stepping Stones (1923), Criss Cross (1926), and Three Cheers (1928; Will Rogers replaced his friend Fred prior to opening when the latter was injured in a plane crash).

By 1930 the elder Stone had recovered and Dorothy appeared with both her parents as well as her younger sister Paula and Charles Collins, in Ripples (1930), an updated version of Rip Van Winkle. Collins became her dance partner; the two were married in 1931. Other “family affairs” included Smiling Faces (1932) with Fred and Paula; Sea Legs (1937), with Collins; a revival of You Can’t Take It With You (1945) with Fred and Collins; and The Red Mill (1945) with Collins; and the film shorts Shave it with Music (1932) with Fred and Collins, and Paree Paree (1934) with Collins and Bob Hope; A Radio Hook-up (1938) with Collins; and Latin High-Hattin’ (1938) with Collins.

As a replacement, she went in for Ruby Keeler in Show Girl (1929), and Marilyn Miller in As Thousands Cheer (1933), and got glowing notices in both cases, although these seem to have been her only outings without either a father or a husband around to team up with. Apart from one very special exception…

In 1936 she starred in the interesting horror movie Revolt of the Zombies, which we wrote about in this post about zombie films. That film, as well as the aforementioned Paree Paree, which is one of Bob Hope’s very first screen credits, is what she is best known for today. I managed to watch both films somehow without realizing that Dorothy was Fred Stone’s daughter.

Another frequent co-star of Dorothy Stone’s was Eddie Foy, Jr, who appeared with her in Show Girl, Ripples, Smiles, and The Red Mill. Foy’s dad was of course a contemporary of Fred Stone’s; this close connection is almost like yet another family connection. In addition to Paula, a third Stone sister Carol had a successful career on stage, and in film and television, one that was a bit more independent and longer lasting. While Collins managed to land some minor roles throughout the decades, Dorothy Stone’s last credits were in the late 1940s, scarcely outlasting the career of her dad. She died in 1974.

To learn more about vaudeville, show business, and Fred Stone, please see my book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever illuminating books are sold.

June MacCloy: Sang Deep

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Movies, Singers, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 2, 2017 by travsd

With Groucho in “Go West” (1940)

June MacCloy (born this day in 1909) worked with many of the comedy greats on stage and in the movies, and was noted for her ability to sing in what was essentially the baritone range, making her sound like a man. Originally from Toledo, she started out in vaudeville, singing in a duo with a high school friend. Her first break came when she was cast in Earl Carroll’s Vanities in 1928, but her mother made her turn the job down due to the skimpy costumes. Lew Brown of the songwriting team of De Sylva, Brown and Henderson got her in the 1928 editions of George White’s Scandals; she was hired to sing the team’s “I’m on the Crest of a Wave” — while impersonating Harry Richman. This was probably the most creative use of her unique voice, and essentially her big break.

MacCloy’s Hollywood career began in 1930. She had decent roles in Reaching for the Moon with Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Bebe Daniels and Edward Everett Horton, and in the screen version of George S. Kaufman’s June Moon (1931) starring Jack Oakie and Frances Dee, directed by Eddie Sutherland. Most of her films were musical shorts — a notable one was the elaborate color fantasia Good Morning Eve (1934), in which she played Eve to Leon Errol’s Adam. In 1932, she returned to Broadway one last time to appear in Hot-Cha! with Bert Lahr, Buddy Rogers and Lupe Velez. Meanwhile, as she would through the end of her career, she was also singing with big bands in night clubs, resorts and hotels. After a break of six years, she returned to films in 1940 to take two of her best parts, a role in the crime drama Glamour for Sale; and the part of Lulubelle in the Marx Brothers’ Go West, which she is best known for today. In 1941 she married architect Neal Wendell Butler and retired to raise a family. She passed away in 2005 at the age of 95.

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

 

Shaw and Lee: A Crazy Vaudeville Two Act That Lasted for Decades

Posted in Broadway, Comedy, Comedy Teams, Hollywood (History), Movies, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2017 by travsd

Today is the birthday of Al Shaw (Albert Schutzman, 1902-1985), one-half of the legendary vaudeville team of Shaw and Lee. I’ve uncovered next to zero about their early years in vaudeville, although it’s known that they were good friends with Burns and Allen, who threw them jobs in later years, and whose act bore certain similarities to their own, at least with regard to originality and cleverness. They were far better than most vaudeville two-acts. Shaw was born in Poland; his partner Sam Lee (Sam Levy, 1891-1980) was from Newark.

An error appears on IBDB, BTW: they have Sam Lee as appearing with Cohan and Harris’ Minstrels on Broadway in 1909; the writers have confused him with another Sam Lee from minstrel days. But Shaw and Lee did appear in the 1927 show The Five O’Clock Girl, with songs by Kalmar and Ruby, book by Guy Bolton and Fred Thompson, and a cast that included Oscar Shaw (no relation) and Mary Eaton (known to Marx Brothers fans from The Cocoanuts), and Pert Kelton.  Lee appeared without Shaw in The Scarlet Fox (1928), as a Chinese magician named Ling Foo Loo, a clear parody of Ching Ling Foo and Chung Ling Soo. The team also appeared in the 1929 revue Pleasure Bound and the 1931 show The Gang’s All Here. In 1930, they joined Phil Baker, with whom they had worked in Pleasure Bound, on his radio show, and later became regulars on Jack Oakie’s radio program.

But by 1928, they were already prominent enough to be recorded for a Vitaphone short.  Today their notoriety largely rests on that film, ironically named The Beau Brummels, for it is a record of an amazing vaudeville act, both antique and ulta-modern in its deadpan oddness. The pair sing silly songs and exchange strange banter, all the while standing stiffly and awkwardly immobile. Occasionally one or the other will look at his partner with a worried expression. Sometimes they move in unison like dancers. At this writing, you can see it on Youtube. I hesitate to include a link, since they’re always taking things off Youtube and the links go dead on me. But it is worth watching, many many times. They are fascinating and hysterical.

What is anomalous about Shaw and Lee was that they somehow managed to have what amounted to a vaudeville career decades after the death of vaudeville. Almost no one else managed to do this. When you google then, there are reviews for shows at presentation houses (the closest thing left to vaudeville) through the late 1940s. They remained a team. They appeared in one more Vitaphone, called Going Places, in 1930. They appear as as a vaudeville comedy act (essentially themselves) in several films: Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1934), King of Burlesque (1936), In Paris, AWOL (1936) and The King and the Chorus Girl (1937), Hollywood Varieties (1950) and in the Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom vehicle Skipalong Rosenbloom (1951). They also did a little tv, including a shot on Ed Wynn’s variety show.

And — another rarity — they were often cast as extras and bit players as a pair. As such they appear in the 1933 short Hunting Trouble with Walter Catlett and Louise Fazenda; they appear as piano movers in the 1934 Joseph Santley film Young and Beautiful, , as moving men in Ready, Willing and Able (1937), and as thugs in The Gracie Allen Murder Case (1939). This is pretty unique, but I can think of something semi-modern to compare it to for a reference. Remember when Cheech and Chong played burglars in the Martin Scorsese comedy After Hours (1985)? A very similar idea. Shaw and Lee’s last movie roles were as repairmen in the 1958 George Gobel comedy I Married a Woman. 

I’m hoping to tease out more about the earlier and later phases of the lives and careers of the incredible team of Shaw and Lee. Lee’s birthday is in next month; perhaps I’ll have some more material to add by then. Today is going to be a very busy blogging day.

To learn more about vaudeville two-acts like Shaw and Lee, please see my book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever fine books are sold.

 

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