Archive for White Rats

Tom Lewis: Worked with the Greats

Posted in Broadway, Comedy, Movies, Silent Film, Stars of Slapstick, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2017 by travsd

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Tom Lewis (Thomas Lewis McGuire, 1867-1927) was born on May 17. Originally from New Brunswick, NJ, he was a comedian who played both in vaudeville and on Broadway, and later in silent films. He was in the original production of George M. Cohan’s Little Johnny Jones, and over a dozen other Broadway shows including The Passing Show of 1917, the original production of George S. Kaufman’s Helen of Troy, New York (1923), and the Ziegfeld Follies of 1924.

At the same time, he was a vaudeville staple. He was one of the fabled original ten to form the vaudeville union the White Rats.  Starting in 1912 he was teamed for a time with baseball player Turkey Mike Donlin in vaud. And he also played the Palace, the greatest vaudeville venue in the country.

Staring in 1920 he began appearing regularly in films, notably as Mr. Murphy in The Callahans and the Murphys with Marie Dressler and Polly Moran (1927), and as the first mate in Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr.  

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. For more on silent and slapstick comedy please see my 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

Harry Mountford: Savior of the White Rats

Posted in British Music Hall, Stars of Vaudeville, Variety Theatre, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 1, 2017 by travsd

It being May Day, today we honor an important figure on the labor side of the vaudeville story, Harry Mountford (James Henry Walsh, 1871-1950). Originally from Dublin, Mountford was initially a music hall entertainer. He seems to have made little enough mark in his early career as a performer. I find a reference to him and his wife Maud Walsh in the Scottish Midlothian from 1896. There is an ad for them in a Welsh newspaper The Evening Express in 1903. He also wrote and co-wrote many plays and sketches for the stage, such as Death or Victory (a “military play”, 1896) and an adaptation of East Lynne (1899).

We begin to learn more about him in the context of labor organizing. He helped start the Variety Artistes Federation in London in 1906. He was expelled the following year during the so-called Music Hall War, and moved to the U.S. with his wife. The January 4, 1908 edition of Variety contains this historic item “Harry Mountford and Maud Walsh, the English cross-fire talkers, are having their first engagement at the Novelty, Brooklyn, this week.”

Even so, labor organizing seemed to be his main bailiwick. Around the same time, he was made executive secretary of the White Rats, the vaudeville performers’ union, presumably based on his experience in England. In 1910, he secured a charter from the American Federation of Labor for the White Rats. He resigned from the union the next year to serve on the editorial board of Vanity Fair (see above). But labor kept calling. He returned to union leadership in 1915; then served in World War One (as he had served in the Boer War a decade earlier); then returned to serve as international executive and secretary of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America. He later worked as a booking agent and wrote some plays for radio. In 1921 he married former stage and screen star Lottie Briscoe. Their papers are available to scholars at the New York Public Library. 

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.

 

Labor Day Post: On The White Rats, The Vaudeville Performers’ Union

Posted in CULTURE & POLITICS, Irish, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , on September 2, 2013 by travsd

Originally posted in 2011

In 1901, the White Rats  went on strike. The White Rats, as the vaudeville performers’ union was known, was founded by comedian and prize fighter George Fuller Golden. No one knows his birthday, so today’s as good as any (and better than most) for a tribute to him

Golden was one of the top stars of early American vaudeville. Joe Laurie, Jr. called him America’s first intellectual monologist. His voracious reading in the classics (especially poetry) and Biblical scripture combined with his natural Irish blarney to produce a popular series of stories about an imaginary friend named Casey whose adventures audiences followed with great delight. But Golden also had a serious side, a sense of fairplay and justice that was bound to get him into trouble in a high stakes game like vaudeville. Part boxer, part idealist, he was just the type of man to go down in a losing battle.

In 1899, Golden had been the beneficiary of the services of the Water Rats, England’s music hall performers’ union, when his wife had fallen sick in London and he had gone without work for months. The Water Rats had paid his doctor’s bills and other expenses, and helped him and his wife get back to the States. Based on his experience, when the managers formed the monopolistic Vaudeville Managers Association, Golden knew just what to do. In short order, he organized a leadership committee to form the White Rats, enlisted a large dues-paying membership and started their own booking office. In early 1901, the performers, getting nowhere in negotiations with the managers, struck. The effort seemed successful for a time when Keith, Albee et al. pretended to capitulate, but it was all a ruse. Within weeks, the strike was broken.

The White Rats collapsed, and Golden became a laughing stock in the business, never working as a leader or an entertainer again, although he did publish one book about his experiences My Lady Vaudeville, still cherished by show biz buffs (and the source of the peculiar rodential swastika you see above). Golden died, a charity case, of tuberculosis in 1912.

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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George Fuller Golden: Big Cheese, White Rats

Posted in Irish, Stand Up, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , on February 21, 2011 by travsd

This day in 1901, the White Rats  went on strike. The White Rats, as the vaudeville performers’ union was known, was founded by comedian and prize fighter George Fuller Golden. No one knows his birthday, so today’s as good as any (and better than most) for a tribute to him

Golden was one of the top stars of early American vaudeville. Joe Laurie, Jr. called him America’s first intellectual monologist. His voracious reading in the classics (especially poetry) and Biblical scripture combined with his natural Irish blarney to produce a popular series of stories about an imaginary friend named Casey whose adventures audiences followed with great delight. But Golden also had a serious side, a sense of fairplay and justice that was bound to get him into trouble in a high stakes game like vaudeville. Part boxer, part idealist, he was just the type of man to go down in a losing battle.

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In 1899, Golden had been the beneficiary of the services of the Water Rats, England’s music hall performers’ union, when his wife had fallen sick in London and he had gone without work for months. The Water Rats had paid his doctor’s bills and other expenses, and helped him and his wife get back to the States. Based on his experience, when the managers formed the monopolistic Vaudeville Managers Association, Golden knew just what to do. In short order, he organized a leadership committee to form the White Rats, enlisted a large dues-paying membership and started their own booking office. In early 1901, the performers, getting nowhere in negotiations with the managers, struck. The effort seemed successful for a time when Keith, Albee et al. pretended to capitulate, but it was all a ruse. Within weeks, the strike was broken.

The White Rats collapsed, and Golden became a laughing stock in the business, never working as a leader or an entertainer again, although he did publish one book about his experiences My Lady Vaudeville, still cherished by show biz buffs (and the source of the peculiar rodential swastika you see above). Golden died, a charity case, of tuberculosis in 1912.

To find out more about the history of vaudeville, please consult my critically acclaimed book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other fine establishments.

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