Archive for dancer

Albert Carroll: Kind of a Drag

Posted in Broadway, Dance, Drag and/or LGBT, Impressionists with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2017 by travsd

Today’s as good a day as any to tell you about Albert Carroll, an extraordinarily talented and well-known guy in his day to have become so obscure in ours. Carroll was a Broadway actor,  dancer, impressionist, female impersonator, lyricist and choreographer. Sources differ as to his birth. IBDB gives ca. 1895-1956, and a 1900 Chicago census seems to bear this out. IMDB gives march 13, 1898 through 1970, although they might be conflating him with another Albert Carroll, possibly the New Orleans piano player, who was African American. To further confuse matters, our subject sometimes rendered his name as Albert J. Carroll.

I’ve gotten some info about his earliest years from F. Michael Moore’s book Drag! Male and Female Impersonators on Stage, Screen and Television. Moore says that Carroll staged an amateur revue in Chicago when he was 16, and that when he got to New York, he performed during interludes in silent movie screenings. About his private life, or how he came to New York I’ve so far found nothing. Since his earliest credits were all with the Neighborhood Playhouse we can make some deductions about he got his start on the stage. The Neighborhood Playhouse was founded in 1915 and had grown out of youth education programs at Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side, which remains a center of theatrical activity to this day. Carroll’s first couple of shows with the company appear to have opened at the downtown theatre and then moved to the Maxine Elliott Theater on Broadway.  He’s about the right age to have been involved with Henry Street’s theatre programs in his late teens and young adulthood, and gotten involved with the company that way. His first professional credit was a show based around visiting British actress Gertrude Kingston in 1916. The next was a play called 39 East by Rachel Crothers in 1919, in which Carroll appeared with Henry Hull and Alison Skipworth. It was made into a silent film the following year with a much of the same cast, including Carroll.

For the next three decades Carroll was to be a star of Broadway, often with Neighborhood Playhouse productions, in over three dozen shows. He was a notable stand-out as performer, choreographer and lyricist in several editions of the revue called the Grand Street Follies, participating in the inaugural 1922 edition, as well as ones in annual editions from 1924 through 1929. Other revues he appeared in included The ’49ers (1922),  The Garrick Gaieties (1930), The Ziegfeld Follies (1931) and The Seven Lively Arts (1944). In these revues he was famous for impersonating famous actors and dancers, many or most of whom were female.  He did impressions of both John and Ethel Barrymore. He also did Pavlova, Irene Castle, Lynne Fontanne, Bea Lillie, Gertrude Lawrence, Laurette Taylor, Groucho Marx, and NYC Mayor Jimmy Walker.   Some photographs of him in character can be found of him on a blog called the Mouse Art Notebooks. He also contributed humor, poems and stories to the New Yorker between 1927 and 1930. He also acted in straight plays and comedies and even classics. His last known credits are musicals with the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in 1946 and 1947. After this he appears to have returned to Chicago, where he passed away about a decade later.

Several sources say the great Southern novelist Thomas Wolfe disliked Carroll, whom he met in the 1920s through the Neighborhood Playhouse’s set and costume designer Aline Bernstein, who was Wolfe’s patron and lover. (He is said to have been uncomfortable with Carroll’s flamboyant and foppish personality, i.e. he was homophobic).

Another interesting tidbit: Carroll’s younger brother Eugene “Gene” Carroll had a vaudeville career, and hosted a local television show in Cleveland for decades.

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 silent  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 #1030: Aida Overton Walker

Posted in African American Interest, Broadway, Dance, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2017 by travsd

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Aida Overton Walker (1880-1914): singer, dancer, actor, choreographer, comedienne and “Queen of the Cakewalk”. Her birthday: today.

Born Ada Overton (she later embellished the spelling for professional reasons) in Greenwich Village, Overton was the daughter of a waiter and a seamstress. Her dancing talent was so evident from a young age that her parents provided her with formal training. She was only 15 when she joined John Isham’s Octoroons, an all-black minstrel show in 1895. In 1896-97 she was a member of the legendary Black Patti’s Troubadours.  In 1898, the comely chorine answered a call to model for an advertisement for Walker and Williams vaudeville revue at Koster and Bial’s. This led to her joining the show in the chorus, which then led to her being a featured performer with her partner Grace Halliday. Overton and Halliday performed as the Honolulu Belles in the first of the Walker and Williams musicals The Policy Players (1899).

That year, she also married George Walker and attained star status in the company, essentially becoming a third partner in the most celebrated African American act of the era. Overton was to choreograph all the Walker and Williams shows, as well as Cole and Johnson’s 1911 show Red Moon. The  Walkers became the most celebrated cakewalking couple in the country. Overton was to gain inroads into white society by teaching the dance at private functions. Meanwhile, she was in the process of becoming the top female African American stage performer of her day. In The Sons of Ham (1900) she made a hit with “Miss Hannah from Savanna”.  In Dahomey (1902) was the show that turned the decades-old cakewalk into a dance craze with whites as well; it toured as far as London, where the company gave a Command Performance for King Edward VII. Next came Abyssinia (1905) and Bandanna Land (1907). The latter show featured Overton’s tasteful, refined take on the Salome dance craze then sweeping the nation.

As Salome

As Salome

In 1909 George Walker collapsed while they were still performing Bandanna Land, incapacitated by late-stage syphilis. Overton took over his role in the show in addition to her own, an indication of the scope of her talents. Walker passed away in 1911,but Overton remained in the limelight. She appeared in and choreographed Cole and Johnson’s Red Moon (1909), co-starred with J.S. Dudley in the Smart Set Company’s production of His Honor the Barber (1910). And she toured Big Time Vaudeville. In 1912 she performed her Salome dance at the Victoria Theatre. The following she returned at the head of an entire troupe. She also donated her time organizing benefit shows charities.

When she died suddenly and mysteriously of kidney failure in 1914 it was mourned as a great loss throughout the African American community. She was only 34. Bert Williams would pass away only 8 years later.

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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Stars of Vaudeville #1027: Ralph Riggs and Katherine Witchie

Posted in Broadway, Dance, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2017 by travsd

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RALPH RIGGS AND KATHERINE WITCHIE WERE A DANCE TEAM. 

Today is the birthday of Ralph Riggs (1885-1951). With his wife Katherine Witchie (d. 1967) Riggs had an acrobatic dance act in vaudeville for many years. A description of their act from The Independent in 1917 says they presented “…Dance Divertisements, composing a wide range of dances from the modern steps to dainty classical numbers.” From Billboard, June 2, 1917, re their performance at the Majestic in Chicago: “Ralph Riggs and Katherine Witchie have a dancing number that is always worthy of he highest praise. Both are artists of real ability and their offering contains enough variety to keep the audience thoroughly interested.” A 1934 New Yorker piece calls them the “Inventors of the Adagio Dance.”

By 1911, they had broken onto Broadway in a show called The Entrantress. Other shows included All Aboard (1913), The Princess Pat (1915-1916), The Passing Show of 1919, Cinders (1923), Ed Wynn’s The Grab Bag (1924-1925), Nic Nax of 1926, and Oh, Ernest (1927). The latter was Witchie’s last show but Riggs went on to still greater glory in the original productions of Of Thee I Sing (1931-1934), Let ‘Em Eat Cake (1933-1934), The Farmer Takes a Wife (1934-1935), Parade (1935), Yokel Boy (1939-1940), Louisiana Purchase (1940-1941), Oklahoma! (1943-1948), and many others. He is also appeared in several musical film shorts in the 1930s, and many broadcast appearances during the earliest days of television.

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 #1011: Chuck and Chuckles

Posted in African American Interest, Dance, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 6, 2016 by travsd

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THE LOWDOWN ON CHUCK AND CHUCKLES 

Today is the birthday of tap dancer Chuck Green (1919-1997). The Georgia native danced on street corners as a child, won third place in a contest at age six, moved to New York with a talent scout at age nine, and got signed by Nat Nazarro by age 12. This takes us almost to the end of the vaudeville era, but Green squeaked in just under the wire. He formed a duo with childhood friend James Walker initially calling themselves Shorty and Slim, but then Chuck and Chuckles. They played the Big Time, including the Biggest Time of all, the Palace. The team outlasted vaudeville by over a decade, playing nightclubs and huge presentation houses like Radio City Music Hall and the Paramount and Capitol Theatre, as well as the storied Apollo.

In 1944, Green had a breakdown, for which he was institutionalized for 15 years. When he was discharged, he performed again in clubs, at festivals and on television,enjoying a resurgence of interest in his work throughout the 1960s until his death.

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 #1000: Janet Reade

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Movies, Singers, Singing Comediennes, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 21, 2016 by travsd

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The Wife of Two Pat Rooneys. 

Today is the birthday of Janet Reade (Helen Dorothy Rulton, 1910-1943). Beginning as a chorus girl for Flo Ziegfeld, her lucky break was a featured part in Ballyhoo of 1930. This led to a string of Vitaphone musical comedy shorts and appearances in big time vaudeville houses like the Palace through the mid 30s. In 1935 she married vaudeville dancer Pat Rooney Jr. She raised more than a few eyebrows when she divorced him in 1942 to marry his father Pat Rooney, Sr. She died the following year of a liver ailment.

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.

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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A Great New Book About Lili St. Cyr

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, BOOKS & AUTHORS, Burlesk, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Hollywood (History), Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 5, 2015 by travsd

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Burlesque being what it is, there aren’t many dancers who came up through its ranks during the classical era who broke through to mainstream fame. Lili St. Cyr was one of the few who did. I first truly became aware of her from watching Irving Klaw’s old burlesque films from the mid 1950s. But she also had some minor parts in several Hollywood films, was on the cover of magazines and was interviewed on television, wound up in Tin Pan Alley song lyrics, and was well known to all the show biz royalty of her day. While she did perform in New York sometimes, her main bases of operation were Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Montreal — people are apt to know her better in all three of those cities than in New York. So it has been a welcome experience learning more about her, for she was absolutely at the top of her field in the 1940s and 1950s (Gypsy Rose Lee had already moved on from burlesque by those years).

Leslie Zemeckis has written a rip-roaring new biography about this burlesque icon. And while it is expected subject matter from the woman responsible for Behind the Burly Q and Bound by Flesh, there are ways in which it feels like the author has struck out into new territory. Those documentary projects had an academic aspect. And while Zemeckis scored some excellent interviews for the new biography (including St. Cyr’s close relatives, ex-husbands, etc) there are ways in which Goddess of Love Incarnate feels novelistic…like the paperback bodice rippers and Hollywood tell-all books my working class mother use to devour (she would have loved this book). Zemeckis uses the omniscient narrator technique, imagining us privy to Lili’s thoughts and private conversations (but with footnotes so we know she didn’t just pluck these out of the air. They have their basis in truth).

But there is no word for it but juicy. I lost count of the men in her life a few pages after she began adulthood. Her lovers included Orson Welles, Yul Brynner, Victor Mature and several other famous gents. She married and divorced a half dozen times. None of her relationships lasted more than about three years. A workaholic, she seemed to give the men in her life something less than second place as a priority. They were around for comfort and company, but ultimately they were replaceable conveniences, no different from the maid who helped her change into her costume. This reflects the shifting nature of her childhood background, which contains some bombshells I won’t spoil for you by revealing here. Two of her sisters were also in burlesque; one of them married Harold Minsky. She and another sister were discovered by nightclub impresario Nils Granlund. (That’s always one of the questions, right? “How did you get into burlesque?” A common answer turns out to be: be beautiful, and some guy will spot you…and ask you to be in burlesque). And burlesque dancers — there’s lots in here about how she developed her classic routines.

And…as a major thread running through the whole book, the sad end we all know is coming: old age, the loss of her looks, poverty, obscurity, and drug addiction.

Speaking of addiction, I plowed straight through this baby like the show biz junkie I am. (I know that was an insensitive transition. I’m sorry, Lili). And I’m probably not the first person to suggest this — the story would make an excellent movie. Buy it now! You know you want to!

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