Fay started with gimmicks like everyone else, wearing baggy pants, squirting seltzer, delivering straight lines for a comedian that circled him on roller skates - and he hated it. After humiliating himself onstage for two years, Fay decided to use the same persona he had offstage. No props, no costumes, no partner, he took to the stage wearing a well-tailored tuxedo and told jokes alone. It was so unconventional that The New York Times frowned: "“Fay needs a good straight man, as before, to feed his eccentric comedy." There was initial resistance to a man just standing and talking, but Fay's success would transform stand-up as an artform. Fellow comedians saw Fay succeed and they abandoned their props and emulated his style. Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Bob Hope and Jack Paar all cited him as an influence. Fay became one of the most influential stand-up comics of all time.Frank Fay: The Fascist Stand-Up Comic by Kliph Nesteroff (for WFMU's Beware of the Blog) [more inside]
He was also comedy's most notorious racist. In January 1946, several months after Germany had been defeated, a rally of ten thousand white supremacists gathered at Madison Square Garden. They delivered speeches in support of Franco, Mussolini and their fallen hero Adolf Hitler. They promised that the defeat of Germany would not go unpunished. The podium was beneath a banner that saluted their guest of honor. The event was called "The Friends of Frank Fay."
Bloodletters and Bad Actors Mefi's Own Max Sparber looks at the early days of Omaha theater, back when it was a frontier town, its amusements were questionable, and vice was rampant, with occasional forays into more recent performing arts misbehavior. [via mefi projects]
The British Film Institute's YouTube channels offer a staggering amount (previously) of content on historical cinema, shorts, and discussion. Some short selections from the early and silent period of note - The Sick Kitten (1903) - How Percy Won The Beauty Competition (1909) - Tilly The Tomboy Visits The Poor (1910) - Suffragette Riot In Trafalgar Square (1913) - The Fugitive Futurist, in which a man on the run shows a device that can see far into the future (1924) - Vaudevillian legend Billy Merson Singing 'Desdemona'. Widely considered Britain's first sound film - (1927) Charley In New Town - part of an animated series from the Central Office, this one explaining the need for "New Towns." (1948) - Growing Girls, a filmstrip guide to puberty for young women (1951).
W. C. Fields appeared in the Earl Carroll Vanities in 1928. George Mann, part of the dance team of Barto & Mann, was on the same bill, and captured Fields in The Mormon's Prayers.
In our continuing series on pin-up girls of the past (previously and previously previously), this lady's costume was a source of some puzzlement. Welcome to the wonderful world of Poses Plastiques. [more inside]
Vaudeville Ventriloquist Dummy Portraits. Don't miss the mugshot of The Great Lester, who is noted to have "a wonderful way with the ladies."
The musical saw is an instrument with close to a 300 year history. The musical saw sprung out of the Appalachian hills with mountain music, and then it found a home in Vaudeville. Despite its spotty documentation, the musical saw lives on.
Harpo's Place A tribute to Harpo Marx, by his son Bill.
I presume it is your intention to start upon a Vaudeville career. How to Enter Vaudeville: A Complete Illustrated Course of Instruction by Frederick LaDelle. [more inside]
"...one of the most famous of all vaudeville tramps at the beginning of the 20th century was Nat Wills. He appeared on stage with a toothless grin, scruffy face, rough clothes, and oversized shoes, but he spoke like a gentleman and delighted audiences with his topical humor and observations on modern life. Released in 1909, his monologue, 'No News, or What Killed the Dog' took off like a wildfire and became one of the early recording industry's all-time biggest smash hits." // Collected Works of Nat M. Wills.
Behind them on the stage, a giant watermelon. In their hands, little tiny guitars, which they play like mosquitoes on speed. They scat, they dance, they get halfway through the alphabet. Their percussionist has the coolest little drum kit ever, but that doesn't stop him from playing the stage floor and the walls. Who are they? Why, The Five Racketeers, of course! And who's that lady who storms the stage for a little shimmy at the end of the clip? Well, that's Eunice Wilson, and she stuck around to do another number with the fellows. You want more, right? OK! Then let's head down to the All-Colored Vaudeville Show, for some serious oooold-school entertainment.
Every trade has a history, a culture and secrets, all most vividly expressed in the special terms used by its workers. The circus is, of course, no different as this handy dictionary of circus slang shows. It contains entries for both American and European circuses, and has a handy list of vaudeville slang words as well. These unique words used on the carnival lot around the world demonstrate a language that defines a world of wonders, and now you can use them to impress your friends and insult your enemies!
Virtual Vaudeville [shockwave] Watch a 3D simulation of legendary comedian Frank Bush in a vaudeville performance from a variety of perspectives. Switch between any of eight perspectives at any time and read the extensive hypermedia notes to gain a richer understanding of the performance in its historical context.
Let's pay a little visit, shall we, to everyone's favorite lasso twirlin', geetar strummin' stars of the Vaudeville stage, Otto Gray's Oklahoma Cowboys Then let's head for the South Pacific, for the "Hawaiian" sounds of Witt and Berg. And from the early days of the "talkie", Max Fleischer explains the new-fangled technology for us in the 1929 cartoon, Finding His Voice.
Borrah Minevitch & His Harmonica Rascals - Harmonica Specialty and Rascal Bill McBride's vocal turn on Always In My Heart are excerpts from Borrah Minevitch & His Harmonica School--a wmv video file of a Vitaphone Short which with no surprise we find at Vitaphone Shorts, a subsection of Dr. Macro's High Quality Movie Scans--which was first brought to our attention by the noble crunchland, albeit at another and now defunct URL, let it be noted. . [more inside]
Ben Dova the Drunk Daredevil, contortionist, Hindenburg survivor and one of the 10 most unfortunately named people on the internets.
I got a gal in Kalamazoo, and a lucky number. Jumpin Jive! Is that the Chatanooga Choo-choo? No, even better! It's the Nicholas Brothers!
In 2003, the Flying Karamazov Brothers workshopped a piece with The Bobs entitled "The Comedy of Eras". In 1992, they performed a show about Le Pétomane billed as "A Comedy of Airs". And in 1983, they started the cycle by creating a vaudeville adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Comedy of Errors". When they brought this adaptation back to the stage in 1987, PBS aired a performance live from Lincoln Center. Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of that broadcast, and if you enjoy good juggling or bad Shakespeare, you can celebrate by watching it online: part 1, part 2. (Last two links are Google Video, about an hour each.)
Joan Rhodes, strong woman. Born ca. 1920 in England, as Josie Terena, ‘Joan Rhodes became famous in the 1950s and 60s as a strong woman,’ sometimes billed as The Mighty Mannequin. ‘She performed in cabaret, variety and vaudeville, stunning audiences with her amazing feats of strength. She could bend heavy steel bars that no man in the audience could even dent, she could break six-inch nails with her hands, and she could tear the 1000 page London phone book not merely in half, but into quarters.’
The Barrison Sisters, a vaudeville act of double entendres, would raise their puffy dresses to their knees and ask the audience, “Would you like to see my pussy?” They would reveal a kitten positioned in a pouch in their underwear. Here is a script from one of their performances. Lona Barrison, the group’s sultry leader, was involved in many affairs in Europe, including such auspices as Kaiser Wilhelm II, and also posed for mild erotica and a Toulouse-Lautrec painting. The Machinson Sisters were imitators from England.
Jump Jim Crow, through the hoops of one Robert Christgau's erudition as he surveys the literature extant in In Search of Jim Crow: Why Postmodern Minstrelsy Studies Matter, through multiple readings of Raising Cain: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip Hop, Demons of Disorder: Early Blackface Minstrels and Their World and and Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. Consider, too, The Minstrel Cycle from Reading The Commitments and other various and sundry attempts to peek inside the minstrel mask—all multiple readings reading blackface minstrels from the pejorative to the explorative, subversive to oppressive, past to future, unfolding tesseractly, if not exactly, with singing, dancing and extraordinary elocutions. Buy your tickets and step within for The Meller Drammer of Minstrelsy in The Minstrel Show 2.0…
While culling my clippings file for the big move, I came across Ragtime: No Longer a Novelty in Sepia, which led me to the The Rag-Time Ephemeralist, a labor of love by one Chris Ware , whose 'The Acme Novelty Library' and Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Boy In The World I had long admired. The Ragtime Ephemeralist's mention of Out of Sight - The Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895---here's a review from Musical Traditions--and, its very own links page, as a consequence, led to this post about Ragtime, Cakewalks, Coon Songs and Vaudeville, with a slight nod to Barbershop Quartets. There's more, of course...
"Your talent is so great that you can expect fruit and vegetables to be thrown at every performance." Long before William Hung haunted the American music scene, there were The Cherry Sisters, a Vaudeville act that people loved to hate. A review that read, in part, "The mouths opened like caverns, and sounds like the wailing of damned souls issued therefrom," so offended the sisters that they launched a lawsuit which resulted in an historic ruling regarding fair comment. Oscar Hammestein II proclaimed them "the worst act in the history of light entertainment." Alas, no recordings exist.
Vaudeville Slang. A boffo glossary of the language of American Vaudeville. Visit the main site for tons of links to famous performers and theatres. For more hokum, you can visit here to watch and hear some actual Vaudeville acts. No applesauce!
The Minstrel Show The Minstrel Show presents us with a strange, fascinating and awful phenomenon. Minstrel shows emerged from preindustrial European traditions of masking and carnival. But in the US they began in the 1830s, with working class white men dressing up as plantation slaves. These men imitated black musical and dance forms, combining savage parody of black Americans with genuine fondness for African American cultural forms. By the Civil War the minstrel show had become world famous and respectable. Late in his life Mark Twain fondly remembered the "old time nigger show" with its colorful comic darkies and its rousing songs and dances. By the 1840s, the minstrel show had become one of the central events in the culture of the Democratic party.. The image of white men in blackface, miming black song, dance and speech is considered the last word in racist bigotry for some. And yet, standing at the crossroads of race, class and high and low culture, blackface minstrelsy is one fascinating topic in academic circles. It’s history is intertwined with the rise of abolitionism, the works of Mark Twain and the histories of vaudeville, American vernacular music, radio, television, movies, in fact all of what is called popular culture. Details within.