Archive for Singers

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 #1019: The Revelers

Posted in Radio (Old Time Radio), Singers, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2017 by travsd

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The Revelers were a popular and influential vocal group of the Jazz Age. The act consisted of a vocal quartet plus a pianist. The quartet, originally known as The Shannon Four, began performing together in 1918. They added the pianist in 1925 and began calling themselves The Revelers. The line-up was:

Franklyn Baur (tenor, later replaced by Frank Luther, then James Melton)

Lewis James (tenor)

Elliot Shaw (baritone)

Wilfred Glen (bass)

Ed Smalle (piano, later replaced by Frank Black)

The group was popular in big time vaudeville, enjoyed several hit records, were popular on radio (1927-1931), and made two Vitaphone shorts in 1927, which is how I first came to know of them. Starting in the late ’20s they were also enormously popular on European stages. Their hits included “Baby Face”, “The Birth of the Blues”, “Dinah”, and “Old Man River.” For a group so fun and playful and so essentially “pop”, the members were seriously skilled singers: Baur was a third generation vocalist and principal tenor at the Park Avenue Baptist Church who also had a flourishing career and performed with numerous popular orchestra; Melton (one of his replacements) sang with the Metropolitan Opera; and Glen had a range of two and a half octaves and sang at Carnegie Hall.  The group also performed as “The Singing Sophomores” and “The Merrymakers”.

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 #1015: Klondike Kate

Posted in AMERICANA, Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Bowery, Barbary Coast, Old New York, Saloons, Singers, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2016 by travsd

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Klondike Kate (Kathleen Eloise Rockwell, 1873-1957) was a real person! She was the toast of Dawson, Yukon during the Gold Rush, performing in saloons, the Savoy Theatrical Company, and the Palace Grande Theatre, where her famous “Flame Dance” earned her as much as $750 a night in the boom town economy (the equivalent of over $21,000 in today’s money). She got involved romantically with Alexander Pantages, and helped bankroll his Seattle-based vaudeville circuit. Pantages proceeded to throw her over and marry another woman. Kate continued to perform in west coast vaudeville for a time in the early years of the 20th century, eventually retiring to Oregon.

Born in Junction City, Kansas, Kate grew up in North Dakota; Spokane, Washington; and Valparaiso, Chile. She moved to New York City at age 18, which is where she got her first experience as a chorus girl and dancer in Coney Island, and vaudeville houses throughout the city.

Ann Savage played a fictionalized version of her in the 1943 movie Klondike Kate. Mae West paid her homage in the title of Klondike Annie (1936), although her character’s story is quite different in that picture.

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 #1014: Eugene O’Brien

Posted in Broadway, Drag and/or LGBT, Hollywood (History), Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, Silent Film, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2016 by travsd

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EUGENE O’BRIEN: STAGE, SCREEN AND VAUDEVILLE

Today is the birthday of Eugene O’Brien (Louis O’Brien, 1880-1966).

Originally from Boulder, Colorado, O’Brien studied first to be a doctor and a civil engineer before finally ignoring his parents’ wishes to go on stage. He sang with quartets in vaudeville and acted in stock companies before getting a part in the chorus of The Rollicking Girl (1905), a Charles Frohman production. Frohman gave him a much better role in The Builder of Bridges (1909), but it was his part opposite Ethel Barrymore in Trelawney of the Wells (1911) that put him on the map. His last show on Broadway was The Country Cousin (1917).

Meanwhile he’d begun to star in films starting in 1915. Throughout the end of the silent era, he was to be leading man to the likes of Mary Pickford, Norma Talmadge and Gloria Swanson in such hits as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1917), The Perfect Lover (1919) and Secrets (1924). When talkies came in, he retired entirely from acting, both stage and screen. He was only 47 at the time.

O’Brien was one of the top matinee idols of the late teens and twenties. He socialized with his beautiful co-stars, received tens of thousands of letters from adoring female fans, and was even sued once (unsuccessfully) for statutory rape. But all that availeth nothing — it was an open secret in Hollywood that O’Brien was gay. In retirement, he told a reporter he was “untroubled by girls, and was reveling in athletics, gardening, and most of all bachelorhood.”

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 #971: The Lane Sisters

Posted in Ballroom/ Big Band/ Swing, Broadway, Hollywood (History), Movies, Radio (Old Time Radio), Singers, Sister Acts, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Rosemary Lane (Rosemary Mullican, 1913-1974), one of a brood of performing sisters  known as the Lane Sisters. Writing about them is a bit of a tangle, as they all had separate solo careers in addition to working together, and the line up in the group changed over time, but I shall make the attempt.

Five daughters were born to dentist Lorenzo Mullican: Leotabel (Leota), Martha, Dorothy (Lola),  Rosemary and Priscilla. Martha was the only one who did not perform or join the act. The girls were raised in Indianola, Iowa and encouraged to sing and learn musical instruments by their mother, a frustrated performer. Lola is said to have played piano in a local movie house by the time she was 12.

The older two girls got their start in Gus Edwards’ vaudeville act , and later appeared in the Greenwich Village Follies. Edwards was the one who changed their professional name to Lane. The two older girls began to get parts in Broadway shows in 1928 and 1929. Lola would prove to be the more successful; she went to Hollywood and began to get cast in films in 1929. Leota’s career would proved to lag far behind those of the other three.

The younger two sisters made their professional debut in 1930 as part of the vaudeville show accompanying a film Lola was appearing in called Good News, at the Paramount Theater in Des Moines. By 1932, the mother had moved to New York with the younger daughters and gotten them jobs singing with Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians. The girls’ parents divorced the following year. Rosemary and Priscilla appeared regularly on Waring’s radio show, becoming stars in their own right. Soon they were signed to movie contracts, even as their older sister Lola continued to act in films. This culminated in a projected vehicle for the four of them. Unfortunately, the studio didn’t think much of the acting ability of the oldest sister Leota, so her part was played by the actress Gale Page. Page and the Lane Sisters appeared together in three movies: Four Daughters (1938), Four Wives (1939), and Four Mothers (1941).

As for their separate lives and careers:

Priscilla Lane, a gifted comedienne, would prove the biggest movie star. Her career, which lasted from 1937 to 1948, included leading roles in such well known films as Alfred Hitchock’s Saboteur (1942), Jack Benny’s The Meanest Man in the World (1943), and Frank Capra’s Arsenic and Old Lace (1944). She ended her film career on a high note with the gritty noir film Bodyguard (1948).

Rosemary Lane’s film career was not negligible either. She starred in over two dozen movies, including Gold Diggers in Paris (1938), The Oklahoma Kid (1939) and The Boys from Syracuse (1940). Her last film was Sing Me a Song of Texas (1945). 

Lola Lane married five times. Her famous husbands included Lew Ayers and Roland West. Her film career lasted from 1929 through 1946. She starred in dozens of movies, mostly B pictures. She is best known for having played the pin-up character of Torchy Blane, and for having inspired the character of Superman’s Lois Lane. Her last film was Deadline at Dawn, penned by Clifford Odets. 

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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Stars of Vaudeville # 822: Lily Morris

Posted in British Music Hall, Comediennes, Singers, Singing Comediennes, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Lily Morris (Lilles Mary Crosby, 1884-1952) a great singing comedienne in the English music hall who also scored big in American vaudeville. She started out in panto at age ten; and was a big star by the mid 1890s. She was known for wearing comical hats and dresses. Her signature tunes were “Why Am I Always The Bridesmaid?”, “Don’t Have Any More Mrs. Moore” (the title of which referred to alcohol), “I Don’t Want to Get Old”, “What You Gonna Do About Salena?” and “In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree”. You can see her sing in the 1930 revue film Elstree Calling (I just found a bunch of clips). This 1932 clip shows her working an audience and has a nice intro:

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 #820: Vaughn DeLeath

Posted in Radio (Old Time Radio), Singers, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the great radio singer Vaughn DeLeath (Leonore Vonderleith, 1896-1943). Plus-sized DeLeath dropped out of Mills College in the 1910s to sing professionally in vaudeville. In 1920, she was luck enough to get in on the ground floor of a new medium, radio, which was to be her bread and butter for the next decade. Billed as “The Original Radio Girl” and “The First Lady of Radio”, she was one of the first to tailor her style to the more intimate microphone based entertainment platform, in short, becoming one of the first crooners. From 1921 to 1931 she made successful recordings for most of the major record labels, and continued to perform live, while maintaining her national presence as a radio singer. By the early 30s, an alcohol problem had taken a toll on her career, and she was eclipsed as the “First Lady of Radio” by Kate Smith,

Here’s one of her most popular records, a tune that was also a hit for Elvis Presley over three decades 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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