Archive for father

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 #945: Pat Harrington, Sr.

Posted in Broadway, Irish, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2016 by travsd

Pat_Harrington,_Sr._1956

Today is the birthday of Pat Harrington, Sr. (1901-1965).  This performer came onto my radar just a few weeks ago, when his better known son Pat Harrington, Jr. (of The Steve Allen Show and One Day at a Time) passed away.

Originally from Quebec, Harrington was a song and dance man in vaudeville and night clubs prior to ascending to the arena where he made his biggest mark, Broadway, where he was in the original productions of Panama Hattie (1940-1942), Star and Garter (1942-1943), and Call Me Madam (1950-1952), among other shows. His screen career was more modest, with two films and a half dozen tv appearances to his credit.

I just found this jewel: the NYPL has the audio of an interview Harrington gave in 1961, in which he talks about working with Bobby Clark in Star and Garter. Discover it here. 

To learn more about  old school show biz especially 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 #855: Bernard Gorcey

Posted in Broadway, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Jews/ Show Biz, Movies, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Bernard Gorcey (1886-1955). Russian Jewish, and all of 4’10” in adulthood, he came to the U.S. with his wife Josie (who was all of 4′ 11″) to perform in vaudeville. In time, sons came along. Josie stayed home to raise them and Bernard went to Broadway: 15 shows over his career, the most successful of which was the long running Abie’s Irish Rose. But the signal event of his career turned out when he arranged for his kids Leo and David to audition for the play Dead End in 1935. The boys got the roles, the play was a hit, and they ended up being at the center of the popular Dead End Kids/ East Side Kids/ Bowery Boys movie franchise for another two decades. What’s more, the boys returned the favor and got Bernard jobs in their movies — 44 of them, playing the role of Louie Dumbrowksi, the funny little owner of the malt shop where the boys hang out. Bernard’s sudden death by a car accident in 1955 caused his grief stricken son Leo to retire from the series.

 

To learn more about 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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And 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 etc

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Stars of Vaudeville #841: Morton Downey (Sr.)

Posted in Hollywood (History), Irish, Movies, Radio (Old Time Radio), Television, TV variety, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2013 by travsd

Singer Morton Downey

Today is the birthday of Morton Downey, Sr. (1901-1985). Those of us of a certain age remember his hellish spawn, who almost single-handedly destroyed television by bringing right-wing talk show pyrotechnics to unprecedented lows in the 1980s, paving the way for the atrocities to be committed by Fox News a few years later. We will not hold Downey pere accountable for the sins of Downey fils. But it is sad that the garbage and filth produced by Morton Downey, Jr. lives to besmirch the family name, and few now remember the relatively benign cultural contributions of his father.

Downey was an Irish tenor (billed as “The Irish Nightingale”) who got his start in vaudeville in the early 1920s. For a time he was the featured vocalist with Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra. He began cutting records in 1923, and by the thirties was a major star of radio. He toured big time vaudeville as late as 1932, performed in night clubs throughout the US and Europe and opened his own successful nightclub The Delmonico in New York, from which he did his own starring radio broadcasts. He was also a prolific songwriter, appeared in a small number of films, and was a frequent presence on television in the late 1940s and 1950s. His first wife was Barbara Bennett (sister of Constance and Joan and daughter of Richard….and mother of — ugh — Morton Downey, Jr.)

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

 

Stars of Vaudeville #239: Carter de Haven

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Irish, Movies, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 5, 2013 by travsd

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Originally posted in 2011

The father of MGM contract player Gloria de Haven was an old vaudeville and stage star himself. Born Francis O’Callaghan today in 1886, he started out in vaudeville at age 9, and thereafter alternated vaudeville and Broadway bookings, including several shows of Weber & Fields (and, after their split, Fields himself). He later broke into films, acting with many of the great silent comedians, and assistant directing Chaplin’s Modern Times.He passed away in 1977.

To find out more about show business 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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Stars of Vaudeville #814: Maurice Barrymore

Posted in Broadway, Melodrama and Master Thespians, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2013 by travsd

Maurice

Today is the birthday of Maurice Barrymore (Herbert Arthur Chamberlayne Blythe (1849-1905). Born a British colonial in India, he chose the theatre as a career against his family’s wishes, prompting his adoption of a stage name. He moved to the U.S. in 1874 and began acting in Augustin Daly’s company. For the next quarter century he was to be a major fixture on Broadway. In 1876 he married Georgiana Drew, of the famous American acting dynasty. The couple’s three children, Ethel, Lionel and John were all to follow their parents into the theatre, exceeding them in lasting fame.

In addition to his countless leading roles on Broadway, in 1896 Maurice Barrymore became one of the first “legit” stage stars to headline in vaudeville. He was to be a familiar presence on the vaudeville stage for the next 5 years until that unfortunate day in 1901 when he had a breakdown onstage at a Harlem theatre while his son John watched from the audience. The elder Barrymore was descending into the late stages of syphilis. He was hospitalized and passed away four years later.

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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Stars of Vaudeville #2: Walter Huston

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Melodrama and Master Thespians, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 6, 2009 by travsd
Huston as Jerry Cohan

Huston as Jerry Cohan

He was very much the vaudevillian. He had great respect for it always. He never thought himself above it.

John Huston, on his father

As a kid growing up in Toronto, Walter Huston was always playing hooky, doing impressions, and putting on little shows for the other kids in the neighborhood. At 16, he was hired for a road show called The White Heather. He quit school to take the part, but his parents didn’t allow him to go. Stuck in town, he was forced to take the usual clerk and factory jobs available to an uneducated kid. But he kept his wits about him and saved enough money to attend one Shaw’s School of Acting, thus keeping a
hand in.

Before long, he and his boyhood friend Archie Christie joined the Edward d’Oize Travelling Company to perform Mr. D’Oize’s plays The Mountebank and the classic David Garrick. As was common at the time, the tour ground to a halt in the middle of nowhere, the boys trunks were confiscated at the hotel for unpaid bills, and the pair decided to hobo their way to New York. The two starved and scraped for weeks, Huston eventually getting a tour of a play called Convict Stripes with a 5 year old Lillian Gish.

In 1902 he was cast in his first big show, a small role in Richard Mansfield’s production of Julius Caesar. He beat out 100 other comers for the part, which only had 4 lines. Unfortunately, he was so nervous on opening night, he forgot the lines. Mansfield was so angry he hissed Huston’s dismissal to him during the performance.

Dejected, Huston decided to play pro hockey awhile. (H’m, I think I’ll do that). Apparently he was either a really good hockey player (he was from Canada, or it was much easier to get in the leagues back then). Gradually he returned to acting, and more years of struggle in melodramas.

Meanwhile, his sister Margaret had become a successful opera singer. At her apartment she met many of her sophisticated and famous friends, whom he regaled with jokes and tales of his life out west. To Margaret’s chagrin, the friends were so entertained they told Walter he should go into vaudeville. He did.

Years later, Groucho Marx recalled being kept awake on a train by the sound of Walter Huston making love to a woman in the berth below him. Groucho responded by dropping coat hangers on the couple, but they didn’t seem to notice. The woman was undoubtedly Bayonne Whipple, who became Huston’s wife and partner (at least I hope she was). In 1909, Whipple and Huston began to work the circuits with an 18 minute sketch entitled “Spooks”. The climax of the piece involved a gag with a large face painted on a piece of expanding rubber. Huston capped it off a song called “I Haven’t Got The Do-Re-Mi.” After five years of “Spooks”, they moved on to “Shoes,” which took them to the Palace. After this, they moved on to “Time”, an elaborate musical show with a jazz band. Unfortunately, they worked up this last act for the renegade Shubert Advanced Vaudeville circuit, which folded. Keith of course blacklisted them. It was 1923 and they were finished in vaudeville.

Another bit of of bad luck for Walter’s sister ended up being good luck for Walter. Margaret had permanently lost her voice and so was finished in opera. She now used her knowledge to give voice and diction lessons. One of her first pupils had been John Barrymore. Now she trained Walter. Not only this, but she secured a backer for a vehicle for him to star in. Mr. Pitt garnered raves and Walter was on his way.

Stage successes included the original production of Desire Under the Elms (1924), The Fountain, The Barker, and Elmer the Great

In 1928 he broke into films with Gentlemen of the Press, which was followed by D.W. Griffith’s first talkie Abraham Lincoln. Other key performances of his career included the title character in the stage and screen versions of Sinclair Lewis’s Dodsworth, his portrayal of Jerry Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy, and a crooked old prospector in his son John’s classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

DISTINGUISHED PROGENY: Walter’s son John was one of Hollywood’s finest directors for forty years, and his granddaughter (John’s daughter) Anjelica is a much respected actress.

To find out more about Walter Huston and the history of vaudeville, consult 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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