Archive for revues

Leonard Sillman: The Man Behind “New Faces”

Posted in Broadway, Dance, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2017 by travsd

Several years ago I acquired a box of old theatre books that someone was discarding. Tucked in the pages of one of them, presumably as a bookmark, was a xeroxed program for a show called New Faces of 1952. This was my first awareness of Leonard Sillman (1908-1982).

I’m not a collector; in fact I actively try NOT to collect (however, books do seem to accumulate). But I understand why others  collect. There is a magic to stuff. Facts that you hear or read about feel theoretical. But when you can put your hands on something it becomes real. Here was a real old theatre program left by someone who had attended a Broadway show full on then-unknowns, “unknowns” among whom were Mel Brooks, Paul Lynde, Eartha Kitt, Alice Ghostley, Robert Clary, Carol Lawrence and Ronny Graham. “What a wonderful thing, I thought. Vaudeville was long dead in 1952, but Broadway still had this mechanism for introducing talent to the public in the form of these revues.”

The man responsible for the New Faces series, and much else, actually had a vaudeville background. He was 14 when he moved from his native Detroit to come to New York to love with an aunt and study dance with Ned Wayburn. He was only 16 when he replaced Fred Astaire in the road company of Lady Be Good. He performed in vaudeville for a bit with Frances Gershwin, sister of George and Ira, for a partner. He also appeared in three Broadway shows: Loud Speaker (1927), Merry-Go-Round (1927), and Polly (1929).

Then he headed out to Hollywood where he taught dance to movie performers, Ruby Keeler among them, and got bits parts in three films in 1933: Whistling in the Dark, Goldie Gets Along and Bombshell. It was there in 1933 that he also produced his first theatrical production Lo and Behold at the Pasadena Playhouse, featuring Eve Arden, Tyrone Power, Kay Thompson and Mr. Silliman’s own sister June Carroll. And Sillman performed in the show himself as well, as he often did throughout the years.

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Lo and Behold was such a hit that he was able to bring it to Broadway under the title New Faces of 1934, and with new cast members, including Henry Fonda and Imogene Coca, with staging by Elsie Janis. The timing of this development is interesting. As we wrote here, the great Broadway revue series of the early 20th century were in their death throes when the Depression hit. Their aesthetics were old-fashioned; and the scale of the spectacle was becoming cost-prohibitive. This was like a passing of the torch. While Sillman himself was a dancer, and his shows certainly featured song and dance numbers, they didn’t have huge, expensive kickline choruses. Smart, sophisticated sketches, initially written by Sillman himself were the meat of it. Sillman was to create, produce and direct numerous such revues, many of them under the New Faces banner, through 1968! Some other “new faces” he introduced to Broadway included Van Johnson (1936), Irwin Corey (1943), Billie Hayes, Maggie Smith (both 1956), right down to Madeline Kahn and Robert Klein (both 1968). There was also a a film version, New Faces of 1937, with Milton Berle, Joe Penner, Parkyakarkus, Bert Gordon, and Harriet Hilliard, a radio version (1948), and a 1954 television version of New Faces of 1952. 

In addition to his revues, Sillman also produced and directed book musicals and straight plays, most of which weren’t as successful as his revues. His last Broadway credit as producer was a 1970 revival of Hay Fever featuring Sam Waterston and Shirley Booth that ran three weeks. Leonard Sillman had a good eye for talent.

To find out more about  the history of vaudeville and variety entertainmentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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

This Monday: A Talk at the Morbid Anatomy Museum

Posted in Broadway, Comedians, Comedy, Dime Museum and Side Show, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Jugglers, ME, My Shows, PLUGS, Vaudeville etc., W.C. Fields with tags , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2016 by travsd

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Monday, December 12, 7pm: “W.C. Fields: From Dime Museums to the Jazz Age” an illustrated talk by Trav S.D., sponsored by Zelda Magazine 

A look at screen comedian W.C. Fields’ growth from humble sideshow and dime museum juggler to sketch comedian and one of the biggest stars of sophisticated Broadway revues like the Ziegfeld Follies, George White’ Sandals and Earl Carrol’s Vanities. Along the way meet the glittering stars he shared the limelight with like Louise Brooks, Fanny Brice, Will Rogers and Eddie Cantor. Admission: $8. Location: Morbid Anatomy Museum, 424 Third Avenue, 11215 Brooklyn NY. Tickets and information here. 

Tonight! Trav S.D. Speaks at the NYPL on W.C. Fields’ Vaudeville Days

Posted in Broadway, Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Jugglers, Vaudeville etc., W.C. Fields with tags , , , , , , , on December 1, 2016 by travsd

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Thursday, December 1, 6:30pm: “W.C. Fields in Vaudeville”

Tonight! Trav S.D. talks about the great comedian’s early years in show business as a juggler in vaudeville and a revue comedian, and the many ways those experiences influenced his later motion pictures. The talk will be illustrated and will draw from the author’s research on the comedian for his blog Travalanche (travsd.wordpress.com) and his popular book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.

At the Mid-Manhattan Branch of NY Public Library, 455 Fifth Ave, Sixth Floor. FREE

Broadway’s Bernard “Bunny” Granville

Posted in Broadway, Comedians, LEGIT, EXPERIMENTAL & MUSICAL THEATRE, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Bernard “Bunny” Granville (1886-1936). Granville was a comedian in vaudeville; he played the Palace in the very first year of its existence, and again, a few years later. For two decades he was a staple of Broadway revues: several editions of the Ziegfeld Follies (1912, 1915, 1916, 1920), the Passing Show (1914), Earl Carroll’s Vanities (1923), The Whirl of the World (1914), The Midnight Whirl (1919), and Frank Fay’s Fables (1922). His last Broadway show was the farce Whistling in the Dark (1932-33). He also starred in a couple of comedy film shorts in 1930 and 1931.

He was the father of Hollywood child star Bonita Granville. 

For more on show business 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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John Murray Anderson

Posted in Broadway, Circus, Dance, Hollywood (History), Impresarios, Movies with tags , , , , , on September 20, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the great Broadway showman John Murray Anderson (1886-1954). Anderson was a kind of Renaissance man of theatre and film: dancer, director, producer, designer writer, and someone to be included with Florenz Ziegfeld, George White, and Earl Carroll on the short list of the great impresarios of Broadway revues.

The son of a wealthy Canadian businessman and politician, Anderson was educated in Europe. His social connections opened doors for him, and he was able to apprentice for two years with Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, and also studied with Max Reinhardt. Much like Vernon and Irene Castle (and unlike most everyone else in those days) he entered show business through the unusual route of high society. Like the Castles he operated a dance academy for a time (he is featured in the 1914 book Social Dancing of Today). He began directing society and public pageants and masques (one in Denver had a cast of 3,000). He ran an art theatre on 36th Street called the Little Silver Theatre. He ran a summer stock theatre called the Cabaret Barn in Bar Harbor, Maine for two seasons. In the late teens he produced and hosted cabarets at the Palais Royal Restaurant in New York.

All of this was so much prologue to his Broadway career, where he started out at the top and pretty much stayed there. He wrote, directed and produced his annual series of revues The Greenwich Village Follies from 1919 to 1924. This led to the opportunity to direct Irving Berlin’s Music Box Revue in 1924, starring Fanny Brice, Clark & MCCullough, the Brox Sisters, et al. In 1929, there was Murray Anderson’s Almanac. In 1930, he went out to Hollywood to direct the Paul Whiteman revue film King of Jazz. He directed presentations at Radio City Music Hall in 1933, then he staged several Ziegfeld Follies (1934, 1936, 1943) and wrote the screenplay to the 1946 Hollywood film version of the show. Other legendary Broadway shows he staged were Life Begins at 8:40 (1934), Billy Rose’s Jumbo (1935), the show at Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe 1938-50, Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus 1942-1951 (including the circus sequences used in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1952 film The Greatest Show on Earth), Olsen and Johnson’s Laffing Room Only (1944) and directed the water ballet in Esther Williams’ 1944 movie Bathing Beauty. And I have left out dozens and dozens of credits! His last Broadway show was a revived version of John Murray Anderson’s Almanac (1953).  

Here’s a scene from King of Jazz featuring the Rhythm Boys, starring a very young Bing Crosby. In two strip Technicolor!

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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Earl Carroll, Lord of the Vanities

Posted in Broadway, Burlesk, Hollywood (History), Impresarios with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2012 by travsd

September 16 is the birthday of the great Broadway impresario Earl Carroll (1892-1948), best known for his series of revues Earl Carroll’s Vanities , which ran from 1923 through 1940. His first theatrical credits were as songwriter, with contributions for shows such as the Passing Show of 1912 and Ziegfeld Follies of 1913. Soon he was contributing books and complete songbooks to a long list of shows that have long since been forgotten. It wasn’t until 1923 that  his career began to take off, when he produced the smash-hit play play White Cargo (with its lusty miscegenation plot) and launched the first edition of the Vanities. 

By the 1920s, Ziegfeld’s Follies were beginning to seem old hat. Carroll offered Broadway audiences near-nudity…sometimes complete nudity, and his racy show became the new thing. In addition to the Vanities  he produced two editions of Earl Carroll’s Sketchbook (1929 and 1935), and Murder at the Vanities (1934), a murder mystery that was also made into a movie.  He also built several theatres that bore his name: one in New York in 1922, that was replaced by another in 1931; and one in Hollywood in 1938, which is also where his last film was set A Night at Earl Carroll’s (1940).

Sadly, his career was cut short in 1948 when he and his wife were killed in an airplane crash.

To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available 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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