Archive for Ed Sullivan

Señor Wences: S’Alright

Posted in Television, TV variety, Ventriloquism & Puppetry with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2017 by travsd

Born today in 1896 in Salamanca, Spain: the great ventriloquist Wenceslao Moreno, better known to American audiences as Señor Wences. After having written about a couple of thousand variety artists, actors and other performers over the past 8 years, it seems a shocking lapse that I haven’t written a proper post about this key 20th century performer until today. He fell through the cracks! I had initially made a very cursory post (he arrived in the U.S too late for American vaudeville, my initial focus here), and then afterwards I kept assuming I had done one, but I hadn’t yet. Today we redress the lapse.

Señor Wences was nearly 40 years old and a well-polished veteran of the music halls, cabarets and night clubs of Europe prior to his first arrival in the U.S. in the mid 1930s to perform at New York’s Club Chico. By this time, the American vaudeville circuits were dead, so the word “vaudevillian” when applied to him, while accurate, is true only in the broader sense. He played night clubs and resorts in the U.S.in his early years.

His best known character, Johnny (above) was created by drawing a face on his hand, and then attaching a body below it. A lot of humor was generated by the fast interchanges between himself and the character, as well as by his thick Spanish accent, and his treating of Johnny, with his falsetto voice, as a mischievous young child. In 1936 he created his second best known character, Pedro, essentially just a head in a box, when one of his dummies was destroyed on the way to a gig:

Another favorite bit had him answering a telephone and providing the voice at the other end. As you can see, his act was very original — he had great fun using all manner of offbeat props and “partners” that were quite different from the typical ventriloquism dummies, which probably becoming quite tiresome and “old hat” to audiences by the mid-20th century. He also did juggling and plate spinning.

His great boon was the advent of television in the late 1940s, and he started to become a familiar and regular sight on all the variety shows and talk shows: Milton Berle, Ed Sullivan, and Jack Paar all had him as a guest, and his catchphrase: “S’alright? S’alright!” become universally known. He was still popular on tv in my own time, and I saw him places like The Mike Douglas Show, The Muppet Show, Late Night with David Letterman, and a very popular series of Parkay Margarine commercials.

Señor Wences was still performing well in the 1980s, and passed away in 1999 at the age of 103.

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

Gary Puckett and the Union Gap

Posted in Music, Rock and Pop, Television, TV variety with tags , , , , on October 17, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Gary Puckett (b. 1942).  A native of the Pacific Northwest, his band was originally known as the Outcasts when he formed it in 1966. By the following year under the management of Dick Badger, they donned the familiar Civil War army outfits and called themselves the Union Gap (a play on the name of a town in Washington State and the Union Army). Their window of success was short but intense: a half dozen top 15 singles in less than two years, three of them in the top five: “Woman, Woman” (Nov. 67, #4), “Young Girl” (March 68, #2) “Lady Willpower” (June 68, #2), “Over You” (Sept 68, #7), “Don’t Give In To Him” (March, 69, #15) and “This Girl is a Woman Now” (Aug 69, #9).

There were two keys to their success. One was Puckett’s powerful, legit type voice — he was a much better singer than most rock or pop groups at the time could boast of. In fact, when I was a kid, listening to the songs as oldies on am radio without hearing an attribution, I generally assumed I was listening to someone like Tom Jones or Engelbert Humperdink. The other element was was the epic, lush production given to the numbers by CBS records producer Jerry Fuller (except for their last hit “This Girl is a Woman Now”). Then, the same old story — hubris. They broke with Fuller in ’69, lost the sound that made them popular, and immediately began falling off the charts. The various members continued to make music, but very rapidly became — much like their outfits — exponents of nostalgia.

Worth talking about is their most lasting and notorious hit, “Young Girl”, a pedophilia power ballad whose content is so unmistakable that even unreflective people will stop and say, “Hey, isn’t this song kinda weird?” But it’s so damn catchy. Here they are performing it on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1968.

To find out more about show business past and present (including television variety), consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss 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

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Stars of Vaudeville #243: Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates

Posted in African American Interest, Dance, Television, TV variety, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 11, 2013 by travsd

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As the name implies, Peg Leg Bates was a one-legged tap dancer who abjured a modern prosthetic for a Captain Ahab model. The consummate show-man, he had many different colored pegs, which he would coordinate with his costumes.

What keeps this act from being a “freak act” is that Bates was such an extraordinary dancer. He began at age five on the South Carolina cotton plantation where his family sharecropped, barefoot and with no music, just the rhythm of hand claps. His father having abandoned the family, Bates went to work at a cotton gin at age 12, which is where he lost the bottom of his right leg in an accident. He loved dancing so much he never stopped. It took him eighteen months to get the hang of the broom handle-like contraption at the end of his knee, and then he went right on dancing, horseback riding, bicycling and playing baseball, never realizing that it was completely remarkable. By age 15, he was quite the professional. Burning with ambition, he endeavored to surpass many two-legged tap dancers, which he succeeded in doing. He developed a unique sound, creating a special wooden leg with a tip that was half rubber and half leather, allowing him to achieve all sorts of rhythmic effects.

Bates danced his way up the ladder from minstrelsy to the TOBA circuit (where he performed from 1922-26) to a major Broadway revue Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds (1929). Only then did he go into white vaudeville, where he performed on the KeithLoews, and Franchon and Marco circuits. He continued to perform in the presentation houses when they began to supplant the vaudeville theatres. In 1938, he toured the Tivoli Circuit in Australia where vaudeville was still going strong. After this he played night clubs, where he was spotted by (then) columnist Ed Sullivan, who became a life-long supporter from the 1930s on.  He made 21 appearances on Sullivan’s TV show, which is more than any other one legged tap dancer! In 1951, established the first African American country club in Kerhonkson, New York, which was in operation until 1987. Bates passed away in 1998 at the age of 91.

To find out more about vaudeville past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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For more on silent and slapstick comedy 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

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Ed Sullivan: Carrying the Torch

Posted in Impresarios, Irish, Radio (Old Time Radio), Television, TV variety, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , on September 28, 2013 by travsd

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Originally posted in 2010

Ed Sullivan (born this day in 1901) is the primary preservationist of vaudeville and its aesthetics into the post-vaudeville era, keeping old school variety shows before the American public nearly four decades after the death of the circuits. Starting out as a boxer, then a sportswriter, in the 1920s he took over Walter Winchell’s theatre column at the New York Graphic, which later went over to the Daily News. This led naturally to a local radio talent show called Ed Sullivan Entertains in 1932, and was nationally broadcast by CBS 1942-1956. At the same time, Sullivan was hosting live post-vaudeville variety shows at New York’s big presentation houses, the Paramount Theatre, and Loew’s State. 

When television came along, it was only natural for him to bring this hosting experience to the small screen. Toast of the Town was launched in 1948. In 1955 it became The Ed Sullivan Show. Not only did it present hundreds of former vaudevillians (big and small) of every possibly discipline, but it also was instrumental it bringing countless post-vaudeville acts (notably most of the major rock and roll bands) to the national stage. Despite this, changing tastes led to the show’s cancellation in 1971. Sullivan was still producing specials as late as 1973. He passed away the following year. TV variety did not long outlive him.

Here’s a full episode, shot at the Stardust in Las Vegas in 1961:

To find out more about vaudeville past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss 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

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Last Night’s Theatre Museum Benefit

Posted in American Vaudeville Theatre, Broadway, Contemporary Variety, Indie Theatre, ME, My Shows, SOCIAL EVENTS, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2013 by travsd
Stewart F. Lane & Bonnie Comley of the Theatre Museum Board, and the Palace Theatre

Stewart F. Lane & Bonnie Comley

Last night’s benefit for the Theatre Museum at the Players Club was a humdinger, and no mistake. Hats off to Mr. Broadway Stewart F. Lane (of the Palace Theatre, and Chair of the Theatre Museum), and producer/ actress (and Theatre Museum board member) Bonnie Comley, for making it a huge success.

The place was hopping! Check it out, look who’s on Joe Franklin’s arm but Marilyn Sokol, from Foul Play, The Front, The Goodbye Girl and Can’t Stop the Music, which, coincidentally, the Duchess and I had watched only a few weeks ago.

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The event began with a moving tribute to Helen Guditis, the late founder and head of the Theatre Museum, and the source of my involvement with the organization in the first place. Her presence of course was the one element missing last night, but it was nice to see so many of her family there.

This tribute was followed by a special award to Emerson College, and then it was on to the 100th anniversary tribute to the Palace Theatre, produced and organized by me, which came off better than my fondest hopes thanks to the excellence of the performers.

I palaver about the Palace

I palaver about the Palace

Then I turned the mic over to Master of Ceremonies Todd Robbins, who was at his polished and sure-footed best:

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And then on to the acts:

Rodeo Roper Chris McDaniel, whose act recollected the great Will Rogers (coincidentally the Will Rogers Follies had been ensconced at the Palace back in the 90s)

Chris McDaniel photo by Rob Rich © 2013 robwayne1@aol.com 516-676-3939

Adorable young Ariella Pizza sang Frances White’s “Mississippi Song” and tap danced:

Ariela Pizza photo by Rob Rich © 2013 robwayne1@aol.com 516-676-3939

Then Joe Franklin came out and gave some hilarious reminiscences of Eddie Cantor (whom he wrote for as a teenager) and other memories of the Palace.

This was followed by a surprise visit by Will Jordan, the popular impressionist from the 1950s and 60s, most famous for his uncanny and highly influential Ed Sullivan, which he has done in countless movies. He, too, shared his show biz memories.

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That”s how he looks now; here’s archival clip of his act from his heyday:

Following these gentlemen, our favorite waif in the world Poor Baby Bree came out to sing, accompnaied as always by Franklin Bruno:

Poor Baby Bree photo by Rob Rich © 2013 robwayne1@aol.com 516-676-3939

Then juggling clowns/ musicians Rod Kimball and Andy Sapora of the Flying Karamazov Brothers came out and cut up:

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The incomparable Rebecca Joy Fletcher performed her Yiddish cabaret songs:

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Lastly Ron Hutchinson of the Vitaphone Project showed a montage of clips of some of the great Palace stars, as well as the 1929 Burns and Allen Vitaphone short Lamb Chops. It was nice to hear their ghosts mingling with those of the Booth Brothers and the other thespians spirits in the old townhouse.

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At any rate this was a killer bill, and these people all donated their services. I thank them all from the bottom of my heart.

For more photo coverage of last night’s event, see:

http://www.newyorksocialdiary.com/node/1909503

http://broadwayworld.com/article/Photo-Flash-Marilyn-Sokol-the-Pizzas-the-Lanes-and-More-at-2013-Theatre-Museum-Awards-for-Excellence-20130607#

http://www.womanaroundtown.com/sections/playing-around/congratulations-award-recipients-happy-birthday-palace-theater-yea-vaudeville

http://vaudevisuals.com/2013/06/100th-anniversary-of-the-palace-theatre-the-theatre-museum-excellence-awards-the-players-club/

http://www.bfanyc.com/home/event/6358

http://www.societyallure.com/Theater/The-2013-Theatre-Muesum-Awards/29802597_8Jqnzc

http://tinyurl.com/kneo96x

http://www.famegame.com/events/The_2013_Theatre_Museum_Awards_for_Excellence/2013-06-03

Stars of Vaudeville #17: Beatrice Lillie

Posted in British Music Hall, Comediennes, Comedy, Singing Comediennes, TV variety, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2013 by travsd

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Bea Lillie was one of the most beloved performers in show business history, adored by both her fans and colleagues alike. She appeared at a glance to be very proper and British but could be as undignified, fun-loving and insane as the lowest of low comedians, such as Milton Berle and Bert Lahr, both of whom she worked with. A good example of this ability was her favorite stunt of gyrating her neck so that her pearls would spin round and round hula hoop style.

This very “British” British subject was actually Canadian — born in Toronto on this day in 1894. She took piano and acting lessons as a child. In 1913, she moved to England, where she made her stage debut at Chatham’s Music Hall the following year. Also in 1914 she appeared in Andre Charlot’s revue Not Likely, beginning a relationship that was to last for over a decade. In 1920 she married Sir Robert Peel, the last in a long line of Robert Peels stretching back at least as far as the time of Cromwell.

She made her triumphant return to North America with Charlot’s Revue of 1924, which played at the Times Square Theatre, as did the 1925 version. In 1927, she toured the Orpheum circuit, but was not so well received by the rubes of the American west. She debuted at the Palace the following year, and made subsequent appearances over the next few years. Her long professional relationship with Noel Coward began in 1928 with This Year of Grace, and continued with the Third Little Show, (1931), where she sang “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”.

Her entire song repertoire was comic, and her style was such that songwriters penned special material just to hear it come out of her mouth. She had much in common with her friend Fanny Brice. As with Brice, Lillie’s energy and character seemed focused on mockery of the role of the women singer – a parody of how women singers normally behave. Typical numbers included “Snoops, the Lawyer” and “There Are Faeries in the Bottom of My Garden”. In the recorded version of the last number, she would extend the songs highest note, which comes at a dramatically climactic point in each verse, a ridiculous length of time to build comic tension. There is little doubt that a variety of funny faces accompanied such moments in a Lillie performance.

When vaudeville evaporated she was big enough to star in musicals and films for the next several decades. Stage hits included Walk a Little Faster in London with Bobby Clarke in 1932, The Show’s On with Bert Lahr in 1936, a 1952 tour of An Evening with Beatrice Lillie, the 1957 revival of the Ziegfeld Follies, and High Spirits, a 1964 musical version of Coward’s Blythe Spirit. Film highlights included 1930’s Are You Here? and Thoroughly Modern Millie. She died in 1989.

Now here she is on the Ed Sullivan Show doing one of my favorite songs from her repertoire “There are Faeries at the Bottom of My Garden”

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.

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For more on silent and slapstick comedy please 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 amazon.com etc etc etc

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Sophie Tucker, 1960

Posted in Jews/ Show Biz, Singers, Singing Comediennes, Television, TV variety, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , on January 13, 2013 by travsd

Sophie Tucker

Today is the birthday of Star of Vaudeville #105: Sophie Tucker (for more on The Last of the Red Hot Mamas go here). Here she is, still doing her thing on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1960:

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.

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