1-20 of 38 results  for:

  • Media and performing arts x
  • vaudeville performer x
Clear all

Article

Armstrong, Harry (22 July 1879–28 February 1951), vaudeville performer, pianist, and popular composer, was born Henry Worthington Armstrong in Somerville, Massachusetts, the son of Henry Armstrong, a piano salesman, and Elizabeth Stuart. Armstrong competed as a professional boxer before joining a street corner vocal quartet in Boston in 1896. He moved to New York in 1898 and played piano in a restaurant in Coney Island and later at the Sans Souci Music Hall in Manhattan. He composed and performed his own songs, many of which were published by the firm of M. Witmark, where Armstrong worked as a rehearsal pianist....

Article

Barton, James Edward (01 November 1890–19 February 1962), vaudeville performer and actor, was born in Gloucester, New Jersey, the son of James Charles Barton, an interlocutor with the West and Primrose Minstrels, and Clara Anderson, a vaudeville performer. At age two Barton was carried on stage by his parents in a production of ...

Article

Beck, Martin (31 August 1865–16 November 1940), vaudeville manager, was born in German Czechoslovakia. Little is known of his early years. At about the age of eighteen he immigrated to the United States as part of a troupe of European actors. Beck’s first theatrical experience was as a German actor, appearing at the Thalia Theater in New York and later with the Waldamer Stock Company in St. Louis. The group was not successful in America and soon broke up. Having no means of livelihood, Beck turned to any form of endeavor that would enable him to survive. After working at a number of menial jobs he turned up in Chicago as a waiter in a music hall where he also served as part-time bartender, earning the nickname “Two Beers Beck.” The year was 1893, and the World’s Fair was in full swing. Beck’s previous theatrical experience came in handy, and he soon found work as a part-time stage manager. Other jobs followed, and he quickly rose to the position of house manager and then bookkeeper....

Image

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).

Article

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....

Article

Cantor, Eddie ( September 1892?–10 October 1964), entertainer, was born Israel Iskowitz in New York City, the son of Mechel Iskowitz, a violinist, and Meta Kantrowitz. Orphaned at the age of three, he was raised by Esther Kantrowitz, his maternal grandmother. He was educated in the public schools of New York’s Lower East Side. His grandmother registered him as “Israel Kantrowitz,” but the name was subsequently anglicized to “Isidore Kanter” by a school official. Kanter, who altered the spelling of his name to “Cantor” upon embarking on a show business career in 1911, grew up on the streets. His grandmother, an Orthodox Jew, earned a living selling candles and other household items and by securing employment for young immigrants as maids in East Side homes....

Article

Clark, Bobby (16 June 1888–12 February 1960), clown, was born Robert Edwin Clark in a church rectory (his grandfather was the church sexton) in Springfield, Ohio, the son of Victor Brown Clark, a railroad conductor, and Alice Marilla Sneed. His father died when Bobby was six. As a young boy Clark sang in the church choir and played the bugle. His fascination with outlandish costumes, which became one of his theatrical trademarks, was apparent at an early age. When he was in the fourth grade Bobby met Paul McCullough, four years his senior, and a close friendship was formed that lasted over thirty-five years. The two boys soon put together a bugling and tumbling act that they performed at the local YMCA. Clark and McCullough’s act was received so favorably by the residents of the area that, at the ages of seventeen and twenty-one, respectively, they decided to embark upon a career in show business. They began to place advertisements in various theatrical publications. The response was favorable and Clark and McCullough, as they now called themselves, were hired by a minstrel troupe as tumblers, buglers, and handymen, with a combined weekly salary of twenty-five dollars. They were on their way....

Image

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

Article

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 ...

Article

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....

Image

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

Article

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...

Article

Dockstader, Lew (07 August 1856–26 October 1924), minstrel-vaudevillian, was born George Alfred Clapp in Hartford, Connecticut, the son of Chester Clapp, a bartender, and Harriet Gouge. Dockstader’s aptitude for the life of a minstrel appeared during his childhood years. He could play any musical instrument he picked up, yet until he was seventeen he confined his talents to an amateur minstrel band that brought him only local fame. He made his professional debut in 1873, joining the Earl, Emmet and Wilde Minstrels; at the same time he took the professional name of Lew Dockstader. A year later he toured the country with the Whitmore and Clark Minstrels, achieving great popularity with his song “Peter, You’re in Luck This Morning.” (Every minstrel show was a virtual potpourri consisting of softshoe dancing, comedy routines, brisk songs, and sentimental ballads. All of them were performed by white artists made up in blackface, who played on African-American stereotypes purportedly originating in the South.)...

Article

Eltinge, Julian (14 May 1883–07 March 1941), female impersonator, was born William Julian Dalton in Newtonville, Massachusetts, the son of Joseph Dalton, a mining engineer, and Julia Edna Baker. His father’s profession took him to the West, where Julian went to schools in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Butte, Montana, as well as in Boston on his family’s return there. He was working as a clerk in a dry goods store at $3.50 a week when he auditioned for the First Corps Cadets of Boston, an all-male amateur theatrical troupe noted for the plausibility of its female impersonations. He played the small role of Mignonette in Robert A. Barnet’s burlesque ...

Article

Errol, Leon (03 July 1881–12 October 1951), stage, vaudeville, and screen comedian, was born in Sydney, Australia, the son of Joseph Sims-Errol and Elizabeth Adams. He was educated at St. Joseph’s College and Sydney University, where he took premedical courses in preparation for becoming a physician. An early propensity for comedy, however, stimulated Errol to write, direct, and appear in comedy revues produced by college groups. His parents, upon seeing him in a college operetta, capitulated to his desire to pursue acting as a profession. Errol dropped out of school to make his professional debut in 1896 at the Standard Theatre in Sydney, playing vaudeville. For the next decade he toured Australia, playing everything from Romeo to Macduff to low comedy. As he later said, “whatever success I’ve had in comedy I owe to my training in tragedy. In fact, you can’t play low comedy at all without an understanding of tragedy.”...

Article

Fay, Frank (17 November 1897–25 September 1961), comedian and master of ceremonies, was born Francis Anthony Fay in San Francisco, California, the son of William Fay and Molly Tynan, actors. He was carried on stage in Quo Vadis? (1901) and briefly had a role in ...

Article

Fields, Benny (14 June 1894–16 August 1959), performer, was born Benjamin Geisenfeld in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Nothing is known about his parents and little is known of his early life other than that he started singing at the age of five. He entered show business in his teens and soon became known as “the minstrel man of vaudeville.” Fields was primarily a vocalist, sometimes doing a solo act but often performing as a member of a team or trio. In 1920 he was appearing with the Fields, Davis and Salisbury trio in a second-rate nightclub in Chicago when he met Blossom Seeley, a popular blues singer during vaudeville’s heyday. Fields always insisted that it was Seeley who really discovered him. The two became romantically linked and were married in 1922. With Fields doing the comedy and a bit of vocalizing, they soon became a successful team in vaudeville. In 1925 ...

Article

Fields, Lewis Maurice (01 January 1867–20 July 1941), theater performer and producer, was born Moses Schoenfeld in Poland, the son of Solomon Schoenfeld, a tailor, and Sarah Franks. The family immigrated to New York City during his childhood. He made his stage debut at the age of ten as half of a bumbling blackface act in a Lower East Side amateur show. From that time on the stage was his passion and his meal ticket. Growing up in the Bowery slums in the 1870s, Schoenfeld embraced acting as an alternative to working in a sweatshop, as did his father and brothers, or running with a gang. He found early encouragement among his classmates at Public School No. 42 on Allen Street; they responded with laughter to his acrobatic antics while the teacher’s back was turned. From the very beginning, Fields’s philosophy was simply, in his own words, “to give the public what it wants.”...

Image

W. C. Fields. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111428).

Article

Fields, W. C. (29 January 1880–25 December 1946), comedian in vaudeville, film, and radio, was born William Claude Dukenfield in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the eldest son of James Dukenfield, an Englishman, and Kate Felton of Philadelphia. (A number of different dates have been reported for Fields’s birth; the one given here is the most widely accepted.) His background was working-class poor. Fields’s earliest recollections revolved around a sense of deprivation that despite his later affluence and popularity constantly gnawed at him. He always suffered from the knowledge of poverty and once wrote: “I was the oldest child. We were all very poor, but I was poor first.” In his early years, especially after separating from his family, Fields often engaged in petty thievery and scams, which occasionally landed him in jail. His fear of being penniless, an anxiety heightened by the stock market crash of 1929, led him to deposit his earnings under various pseudonymous accounts in different banks around the country, some of which have never been located. In contractual negotiations with small-town theater managers as well as with Broadway impresarios, Fields was known as an especially hard bargainer, even after becoming one of the highest paid performers in the business....