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Allen, Steve (26 December 1921–30 October 2000), comedian, author, songwriter, was born Stephen Valentine Patrick William Allen in New York City, the son of vaudeville comedians Carroll William Allen and Isabelle Donohue, who performed under the stage names Billy Allen and Belle Montrose. Literally born into show business, Allen toured the vaudeville circuit with his parents from infancy until his father died suddenly when Allen was only eighteen months old. Because his mother chose to continue her career, she left her young son in the care of her eccentric family in Chicago. In his first autobiography, ...

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Steve Allen Used with the permission of Bill Allen, Meadowlane Enterprises, Inc.

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Burnett, Alfred (02 November 1824–04 April 1884), entertainer and journalist, was born in Bungay, Suffolk, England. The names of his parents and other facts about his early life are unknown. In 1828 he was sent to live with an aunt in New York City. After four years of schooling in Utica, New York, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1836. He later became proprietor of a confectionery business and by 1860 owned three such establishments....

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George M. Cohan Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1933. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 236 P&P).

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Cohan, George M. (3 or 4 July 1878–05 November 1942), performer, writer of songs, musicals, and plays, and producer, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Jeremiah “Jerry” John Cohan and Helen “Nellie” Frances Costigan. (Cohan’s middle initial stands for Michael.) At the age of seven, Cohan was sent to the E Street School in Providence. His formal schooling lasted six weeks, after which the school sent him to rejoin his parents and sister, Josie, in their theatrical travels. He took violin lessons and played the instrument both in the theater orchestra and in a trick violin act he devised. The Cohans went on their first road show as a family in 1889; when the show failed they went back to ...

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Dixon, George Washington (1801?–02 March 1861), blackface minstrel and newspaper editor, was born probably in Richmond, Virginia. Little is known about his parents other than that his father might have been a barber and his mother a domestic. One account claims that Dixon was educated in a charity school. Around age fifteen he became an apprentice in a traveling circus and subsequently performed with several such troupes throughout the 1820s. By 1827 Dixon was enjoying renown as a singer of popular stage songs, especially those of a comic nature, which allowed him to advertise himself as “The American Buffo Singer.” His leap to fame came in New York City in 1829, when he put on blackface makeup and sang “Coal Black Rose,” impersonating an African American. He was, thus, one of the very first to practice a genre of stagecraft that came to be called blackface minstrelsy....

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Green, Ely (11 September 1893–27 April 1968), author, black activist, and clairvoyant, was born near Sewanee, Tennessee, the son of a college student, Edward H. Wicks, later a Texas attorney, and Lena Green, a fourteen-year-old kitchen servant and daughter of a privy cleaner who had been a slave. In Green’s own words, he “was a half-white bastard.” His mother died when he was eight. He was reared by Mattie Davis, a sympathetic neighbor who worked as a domestic. He did not finish the second grade but was largely self-taught. His phenomenal vocabulary came about because, so he said, “I studied from every man who would talk to me.”...

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Kalmar, Bert (16 February 1884–18 September 1947), vaudeville entertainer, lyricist, and writer for the musical stage and films, was born in New York City. Nothing is known of his parents. Born into a poor community on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, as a child Kalmar became known as “the marvel of the neighborhood” for parlor stunts, hat juggling, and sleight-of-hand tricks. He ran away from home at the age of ten and entered the world of entertainment in tent shows, initially as a magician. Kalmar created and performed good-natured parodies of the popular songs of the day, the high point of many comic acts. His professional breakthrough occurred when he was hired by Mortimer Theise to imitate ...

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Levenson, Sam (28 December 1911–27 August 1980), comedian, author, and educator, was born Samuel Levenson in New York City, the son of Hyman Levenson, a tailor, and Rebecca Fishelman. Levenson attended Brooklyn College (now part of the City University of New York), graduating with a B.A. in 1934. From that year until 1946 he taught Spanish in Brooklyn high schools, also serving as a guidance counselor for the final five years. In 1936 he married his childhood sweetheart, Esther Levine, with whom he had two children. His former students and academic advisees still remember him as a warm and funny teacher who took a personal interest in them and their future....