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Bolger, Ray (10 January 1904–15 January 1987), comedy-actor and dancer, was born Raymond Wallace Bolger in Dorchester, near Boston, Massachusetts, the son of James Edward Bolger, a painter, and Anne Wallace. After he graduated from Dorchester High School in 1920, Bolger initially was employed in office work, including positions with First National Bank of Boston, New England Mutual Life Insurance Company, and Kelly Peanut Company. His involvement with performing had been at the amateur level, and he found his way into a ballet school run by Senia Rusakoff (Roussakoff) because the institution required someone with bookkeeping knowledge and offered him free dancing lessons in return. Training in ballet and tap led to Bolger’s first stage appearance in 1922 as a soloist in Rusakoff’s dance recital, followed by a couple of years touring with the Bob Ott Musical Comedy Repertoire Company. This experience enabled Bolger to develop his craft in various musicals. He acquired skills in comedy and acting while continuing to broaden his range of dancing....

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John W. Bubbles As Sportin' Life in Porgy and Bess. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1935. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114802).

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Bubbles, John (19 February 1902–18 May 1986), tap dancer and vaudevillian, was born John William Sublett in Louisville, Kentucky, where he attended grammar and high school. His parents’ names are unknown. He began entertaining in his neighborhood as a singer beginning when he was about seven. For a time, he worked in vaudeville in Louisville and on the road. While working as a pin setter at a local bowling alley, Sublett met Ford Lee Washington. They formed a vaudeville act called “Buck and Bubbles” in 1915, with Sublett taking the name of “Bubbles” while Washington became “Buck.” Until Washington’s death on 31 January 1955, they worked together to become one of vaudeville’s legendary acts....

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Coles, Honi (02 April 1911–12 November 1992), tap dancer, raconteur, and stage, vaudeville, and television performer, was born Charles Coles in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of George Coles and Isabel (maiden name unknown). He learned to tap dance on the streets of Philadelphia, where dancers challenged each other in time step “cutting” contests, and made his New York debut at the Lafayette Theater in 1931 as one of the Three Millers, a group that performed over-the-tops, barrel turns, and wings on six-foot-high pedestals. After discovering that his partners had hired another dancer to replace him, Coles retreated to Philadelphia, determined to perfect his technique. He returned to New York City in 1934, confident and skilled in his ability to cram several steps into a bar of music. Performing at the Harlem Opera House and Apollo Theatre, he was reputed to have the fastest feet in show business. And at the Hoofer’s Club, where only the most serious tap dancers gathered to compete, he was hailed as one of the most graceful dancers ever seen....

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Sammy Davis, Jr. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1956. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-114446).

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Davis, Sammy, Jr. (08 December 1925–16 May 1990), variety performer and entertainer, was born in Harlem, New York, the son of Sammy Davis, Sr., an African-American dancer, and Elvera “Baby” Sanchez, a Puerto Rican chorus girl, both in Will Mastin’s Holiday in Dixieland...

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James Ross Moore

Dolly Sisters, identical-twin celebrities, were born Janszieka Deutsch and Roszika Deutsch (25 Oct. 1892—1 June 1941) in Budapest, Hungary, to Julius Deutsch, a tailor, and his wife Margaret Weiss, a painter. Janszieka became known as Jenny Dolly; her sister as Rosa Dolly. Raised and educated in Queens, at age eight the Dollys were performing with an acrobatic troupe; by 1909 they were dancing at ...

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Melissa Vickery-Bareford

Foy, Eddie (09 March 1856–16 February 1928), comedian, was born Edwin Fitzgerald in Greenwich Village, New York, the son of Richard Fitzgerald, a tailor, and Ellen Hennessy. Foy began his theatrical career at the age of eight busking on the sidewalks of Greenwich Village when his bootblacking business was slow. A fiddler noticed him one day and the two began to perform on the streets or in bars—anywhere that would allow them. As a youngster Foy spent hours hanging around the stage doors of local theaters watching performers in Emerson’s or Manning’s minstrel shows, learning the bits, dances, and songs of popular entertainment....

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Gilda Gray. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (POS - TH - POR .G73, no. 1 [B size] P&P).

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Gray, Gilda (24 October 1899–22 December 1959), silent film and stage dancer, was born Marianna Michalska in Cracow, Poland, the daughter of Maximilian Michalski and Wanda (maiden name unknown). The family emigrated to Bayonne, New Jersey, in 1907 and then moved to Cudahy, Wisconsin, where Marianna was educated at a parochial school. In 1912 she married bartender John Gorecki with whom she had one son, Martin....

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Haley, Jack (10 August 1899–06 June 1979), comedian, singer, and dancer, was born John Haley in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of John Haley, a ship’s navigator, and Ellen Curley. Haley’s desire to be in show business began in childhood, when he appeared in a church entertainment at the age of six. After completing his schooling at Boston English High School, he became an apprentice electrician at his mother’s urging. As soon as he had saved up some of his apprentice earnings, however, he left to make his way on the stage....

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Hart, Tony (25 July 1855–04 November 1891), actor and singer, was born Anthony Cannon in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of Anthony Cannon and Mary Sweeney, both of whom had emigrated from Ireland. He put on amateur performances as a child, but a pattern of delinquency began with disruptions at school and culminated in the near murder of a rival during a performance; his parents placed him in the Lyman School (a state reformatory at Westborough, outside Worcester) in 1865. He escaped several months later and traveled to Boston, where he supported himself as a singer, a bootblack, and a newsboy, and then to Providence, where he sang and danced in saloons and was dubbed Master Antonio by a saloon keeper. He joined a touring circus, and then Billy Arlington’s Minstrels; in 1870, at age fifteen, he joined Madame Rentz’s Female Minstrels. Dressed as a little girl, he evoked tears with a sentimental song, “Put Me in My Little Bed.”...

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Lewis, Ted (06 June 1890–25 August 1971), entertainer, musician, and bandleader, was born Theodore Leopold Friedman in rural Circleville, Ohio, the son of an owner of a dry goods store whose name cannot be ascertained. Young Theodore began his show business career performing in a nickelodeon in his hometown and learned to play the clarinet in his school band. As a beginning clarinetist, Lewis was something of a prodigy. Although he was never regarded seriously as a musician, he played easily and improvised naturally. Having no desire to go into the dry goods business and still in his teens, he went to Columbus, Ohio, where for a time he demonstrated instruments in a music store. His freewheeling improvisations amused customers but eventually caused him to lose the job....

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Mills, Florence (25 January 1895–01 November 1927), entertainer, was born Florence Winfree in Washington, D.C., the daughter of John Winfree, a carpenter, and Nellie Simons, who did laundry. Educated locally, by age five Mills was winning contests in cakewalking and buck dancing. Her first professional engagement came as Baby Florence Mills in the second company (1902) of the Williams-Walker ...

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Ritchard, Cyril (01 December 1898–18 December 1977), theatrical comedian, dancer, and director, was born Cyril Trimnell-Ritchard in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, the son of Herbert Trimnell-Ritchard, a hotel owner, and Margaret Collins. After Jesuit schooling, in 1916 Ritchard entered Sydney University, where for one year he pursued a medical career. At nineteen he was a chorus boy in Oscar Straus’s ...

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Rooney, Pat (04 July 1880–09 September 1962), vaudeville, musical theater, and nightclub performer, was born Patrick James Rooney, Jr., in New York City, the son of Patrick James Rooney, Sr., and Josie Granger, entertainers. His mother had danced in the chorus of The Black Crook...

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Stratton, Eugene (08 May 1861–15 September 1918), music hall artiste, was born Eugene Augustus Ruhlmann in Buffalo, New York, the son of George Ruhlmann, an Alsatian saloonkeeper, and his wife Mary (maiden name unknown). Stratton’s American career was typical of its era. In later life he recalled attending the Christian Brothers school and working as a telegraph messenger, practicing acrobatics and dancing “five or six hours daily” (quoted in Barker). At age ten he teamed up with “a great big fellow” named Lesley, who would toss him around during their burnt-cork act, “The Big and the Little of It,” at Dan Shelby’s Saloon. Stratton next soloed as Master Jean, dancer and tumbler, and by age thirteen reckoned he had become “something of a champion in a small way.” Before he was fifteen he had played in a ...

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See Williams, Bert