Archive for sister act

The Moylan Sisters: The Angels of the Airwaves

Posted in Child Stars, Hollywood (History), Radio (Old Time Radio), Singers, Sister Acts with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2017 by travsd

July 16 was the birthday of Marianne Moylan (1930-90). Along with her sister Peggy Joan (1932-2002), she was part of the kiddie act The Moylan Sisters.

All of 7 and 5 when they made their debut on The Horn and Hardart Children’s Hour, the girls were prized for their naturalness and purity. They sang beautifully and in nice harmony, but unlike most kiddie acts they were not precocious and show bizzy. They were real kids, not performing freaks. Their repertoire tells the tale; they did songs like “School Days”, “I Don’t Want  to Play in Your Yard” and “M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I-I.”  Billed as “The Cinderellas of Radio” and “The Angels of the Airwaves”, they also made records, live appearances and  several short films, including The Backyard Broadcast (1936), Starlets (1937), Toyland Casino (1937 — a Vitaphone, which is how I first learned of them), and World’s Fair Junior (1939). In 1939, they were given their own network radio show, which remained on the air through 1945. For a while the show was sponsored by Thrivo Dog Food. The Thrivo jingle which they sang was one of their most popular and well-known numbers. At one point, their show was the second most popular in the country, topped only by The Shadow.

The girls both seem to have retired from the business in the early 1950s. Born and raised in Sag Harbor, New York, the Irish Catholic children of an engraver at a watch factory. They attended school at the Academy of the Sacred Heart. Marianne married a local plumbing contractor in 1953 and became a homemaker, remaining in Sag Harbor. Peggy Joan married in 1955, also choosing the domestic life over a career. She moved to Maine for a time before returning to New York. Both women continued to sing in church after their professional retirement.

The act was parodied in the 1976 Broadway musical Annie as “The Boylan Sisters.”

For everything you need to to know about the variety arts, including kiddie acts, sister acts, and radio variety, see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available wherever fine books are sold.

The Oakland Sisters

Posted in Hollywood (History), Movies, Sister Acts, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Dagmar Oakland (Edna Andersen, 1893-1989), one half of the vaudeville team the Oakland Sisters. Her sister Vivien is better known today — she’ll get her own post here in due course, for she was in many classic comedies. The girls initially performed in vaudeville as the Anker Sisters, then changed their name to “Oakland” as a tribute to their home town. For a time they performed with the Boston Juveniles, later billed as the Juvenile Bostonians. In 1915, their careers were assured when they made it all the way to the Ziegfeld Follies, along with Ed Wynn, W.C. Fields, Bert Williams, Leon Errol, Ina Claire, Olive Thomas, Ann Pennington and many others.

This is the point where the team split up. Vivien went on to her film career. Dagmar remained on Broadway for another 15 years, with great parts in eight shows, notably The Student Prince (1924-26), Show Boat (1927-1929), and The Wonder Bar (1931). Then she joined her sister in Hollywood, where she worked for another 15 years, although with much less success. She normally had walk-ons and bit parts. One notable exception was her part as the pretty manicurist in The Barber Shop (1933), with her old Follies co-star W.C. Fields.

To learn more 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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To learn more about comedy film history 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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The Williams Sisters

Posted in Ballroom/ Big Band/ Swing, Child Stars, Music, Singers, Sister Acts, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Hannah Williams (1911-1973). Along with her older sister Dorothy, she began performing in a singing dancing kiddie duo in the vaudeville theatres around their native Scranton in the late nineteen teens. By the mid 1920s they were fronting the Scranton Sirens, Charley Straight and Ben Pollack Orchestras in night clubs and dance halls, and being featured in George White’s Scandals of 1924.

Hannah was featured as a solo in  the Billy Rose revue Sweet and Low (1930) , and then married a succession of very public husbands; band leader Roger Wolfe Kahn (1931-1933), boxer Jack Dempsey (1933-1943) and an actor named Thomas J. Monaghan (1950-1951). She made one Vitaphone short The Audition (1933), then retired from performing, although she did occasionally appear in radio and was in the 1937 Broadway show Hooray for What but cut from the show  before it opened. Dorothy replaced Hannah in Sweet and Low when she left to marry Kahn (his father the famous impresario Otto Kahn didn’t want his son married to a showgirl). Dorothy was briefly married to the jazz cornetist Jimmy McPartland. 

Thanks to the Keep it Swinging blog for some of this info!

The Williams Sisters made very few records, but here’s one of them:


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.

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The Watson Sisters: Rare Comedy Sister Act

Posted in Burlesk, Comediennes, Comedy, Comedy Teams, Hollywood (History), Sister Acts, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 14, 2013 by travsd

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A Comedy Sister Act. 

Kitty (1886-1967) and Fanny (1885-1970) Watson were both a sister act and a comedy duo, maybe the first such act I have come across in reading about thousands of acts, which is very odd if you think about it. They began as a children with a singing act in old style variety, and then evolved into laughmakers, first in burlesque (old style) and then by the teens, vaudeville. The eventually became headliners on the big time Keith Circuit, playing the Palace by 1915, playing a Royal Command performance in London in 1927, and keeping a hand in the biz at least until 1949. They also made a handful of talking movie shorts in the early 1930s, such as this 1933 Fleischer Screen Song Boilesk:

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 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

The Three X Sisters

Posted in Radio (Old Time Radio), Singers, Sister Acts, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2011 by travsd

The Three X Sisters were actually The Hamilton Sisters and Fordyce (i.e., Jessie Fordyce) who were later renamed to add glamor and mystery to their radio careers. Pearl Hamilton (1900-1978) started out in the late teens and early twenties in old school (non-stripping) burlesque. She teamed up with her sister Violet (1908-1983) and their friend Jessie in 1924. Their radio debut was in 1927. They were also in demand for cartoon voice overs during the 1930s. They gradually broke up the late 1930s, early 1940s. Pearl and Violet continued to pursue separate careers for a while. Little is known of what happened to Jessie.

The clip below is from their peak, around 1935:

To find out more 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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The Brox Sisters

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Music, Singers, Sister Acts, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , on November 11, 2011 by travsd

The Brox Sisters were an early singing trio, whose Tennessee origins brought a certain Southern charm to the act. Lorayne was born on this day in 1901; her sisters Bobbe (a.k.a. Dagmar) and Patricia were born in 1902 and 1904 respectively. They went into vaudeville in the nineteen-teens; by the 20s they were marquee names in Broadway revues (notably Irving Berlin’s Music Box series). A connection for modern audiences: they sang Berlin’s song The Monkey-Doodle-Doo in the Marx Brothers’ 1927 show The Coconuts. The number was cut from film as a song, but remains as an instrumental dance number and is interwoven throughout the entire movie. They also performed in the original “Singin’ in the Rain” with Cliff Edwards in The Hollywood Revue of 1929. They all retired in the early 1930s to get married. They must have lived comfortable lives: Patricia lived to be 84; Lorayne, 92; and Bobbe, 97!

Here they are in the 1930 revue, Gems of MGM.

To learn more about the variety arts past and presentconsult 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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Judy Garland (the Gumm Sisters) and Vaudeville

Posted in Child Stars, Hollywood (History), Singers, Sister Acts, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 10, 2010 by travsd
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The Gumm Sisters: Little Frances is on the right

One of the two or three major factors that led your author to the subject of vaudeville was a childhood obsession with the film The Wizard of Oz. Almost all of the major cast members were vaudeville veterans: Bert LahrRay Bolger, Jack HaleyCharley Grapewin (Uncle Henry) and Singer’s Midgets. Judy Garland, 16 at the time of her casting, had spent ten of her 13 years in show business on the vaudeville stage.

This was possible because she was born in a vaudeville family and grew up in a vaudeville house. At the time of her birth in 1922, her father Frank Gumm, a singer, and her mother Ethel, a piano player, were managing (and performing at) the New Grand Theatre in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The couple had toured for years as “Jack and Virgina Lee, Sweet Southern Singers”, but settled down to raise their three daughters. It was natural for Mary Jane, Dorothy and Frances to join their parents onstage. Frances’ (Judy’s) debut came at age 3, when she sang 7 choruses of “Jingle Bells”, to wild acclaim.

The family formed an act out of the Gumm Sisters, with Ethel as manager. They toured for a couple of years, then, in 1927, made the Los Angeles area their new home base, in the obvious hope that they’d get into pictures. Their first big break was a 1928 booking in the Meglin Kiddie’s Review at Loew’s State Theatre. “Baby” Gumm was by now the star of the act and was doing solo numbers and a Fanny Brice impression by this point. The act played all over the west, did shots on radio and Vitaphone shorts.

George Jessel is credited with giving them their new stage name. At a 1931 booking at Detroit’s Oriental Theatre where he was M.C., the girls were mistakenly billed as the “Glum Singers”. Jessel noted that “Gumm” wasn’t much better, and suggested they take the last named of NY drama critic Robert Garland.

In 1934, “Frances” decided to become Judy, which she took from a favorite Hoagy Carmichael song. At this time, the Garland Sisters had a weekly gig at the Wilshire-Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles, which is where scouts from MGM spotted her. That year Louis B. Mayer announced, “We have just signed a baby Nora Bayes.”

This was an apt characterization, for, just like Bayes, Garland combined an incredible voice with an uncanny gift to carry the emotional content of a song. She “acted” the song. Such intensity must be incredibly draining; it no doubt contributed to Garland’s emotional problems later in life.

After a couple of years cooling the heels of her patent leather shoes at MGM, Garland began to get cast. Classics include the Andy Hardy series with Mickey Rooney (late 30s—early 40s), The Wizard of Oz (1939), Babes in Arms (1939), Strike Up the Band (1940), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Easter Parade (1948), A Star is Born (1954), and dozens more.

In 1951 she headlined the revival of two-a-day vaudeville at the Palace. Originally booked for 4 weeks, Garland and the show were held over by popular demand for 19 weeks.

Garland’s last years were characterized by breakdowns, failed marriages, drug problems, collapses, and cancelled engagements, eventually ending in her unfortunate death by drug overdose in 1969. But the memory of how she was at her peak continues to endear her to millions of devoted fans.

Distinguished Progeny: Judy’s daughters Liza Minnelli and Lorna Luft carry on the Gumm family tradition to this day.

To find out more about the history of vaudeville including acts like the Gumm Sisters and Judy Garland, 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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