Search This Blog

Friday, February 24, 2017

6 Duos of Vaudeville

Like there have been influential men and women in show business there have also been duos and group acts that have helped shape the business. It has been said many times, many ways where would we be without what came before? Would we be enjoying the work of duo acts like Penn & Teller or Siegfried & Roy, or even musical acts like Big & Rich or Sonny & Cher.

The Dolly Sisters

The Dolly Sisters were more famous for their looks than talent; though these identical twins were cabaret queens. They were born Yanci and Roszika Deutsch on October 25, 1892 in Budapest, Hungary.
Their parents, Julius (a photographer) and Margarethem, emigrated from Hungary to Brooklyn, New York when the sisters were five. Their mother urged them to start ballet training when they were young. When the rest of their family came to America, when they were thirteen their mother had them performing on the American stage. To their American audiences they were not known as Yanci and Roszika, but as Jenny and Rosie Dolly, their uncle managed them.
Jenny & Rosie Dolly Source
They danced on Broadway, in plays and eventually in movies, they were regarded as one of the best sister acts. Their act had them wearing identical clothing and imitating each others movements to perfection; to accomplish the desired affect they would use mirrors, light and shadow techniques. Many said that the act didn't matter because they were purring mirror images of each other that audiences went wild for. The sisters combined innocence with a seductive racy side with their looks and vibrant personalities, they captivated men all over the world as they climbed from vaudeville to Broadway as a cabaret dancing act.
Their professional dancing career started early in the local beer halls, they debuted in the operetta The Maid and the Millionaire in 1907. Due to their age they had to wait a few more years before they could perform in New York. While they waited to be old enough to perform in New York, they joined the Orpheum vaudeville circuit, where they toured the Midwest until 1909. They took the Dolly name after a friend had told them that "they were cute as dolls."
Once they returned to New York they worked with the Keith vaudeville circuit. They were billed as "The Dolly Twins" when they joined the Ziegfeld Follies in 1911. During the Follies the sisters performed their dance routine as Siamese twins. Their personal lives became strained when they passed on an important audition for Oscar Hammerstein when they became international headliners. Harry Fox married Jenny Dolly in 1914, and he performed with them in the 1918 Broadway musical Oh, Look; where they sang "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows."
On August 19, 1916 at the Republic Theatre the sisters starred in His Bridal Night; a farce by Lawrence Rising and Margaret Mayo who revisited and elaborated it. There was one feature length film that the sisters starred in together, The Million Dollar Dollies it was released by Metro in 1917. They were in other films, just separately; Roszika was in The Lily and the Rose in 1915 and Yancsi was in The Call of the Dance also in 1915. They became regulars at the Palace from 1916 on wards, despite the critics complaints of their non existent singing abilities and their lack of change to their dance routines.
They were billed as rivals from time to time to bring in a larger income at the door. The sisters occasionally would team up, separately, with other people. One of the people that Rosie teamed up with was Martin Brown, and together they performed erotic Spanish ballroom dances that audiences adored them for. Though they did team up with people aside from each other those partnerships didn't last for very long, and it would bring Rosie and Jenny back together and they would be better than before. Most commonly during the 1920s the sisters were performing in music halls throughout Paris and London, instead of performing on New York stages. Sime Silverman had said, "As two dandy looking twins who cannot be told apart, with class and who can dance if they want to, the Dolly Sisters are always worth the price of admission just to look at"; when he wrote a review of one of their Palace appearances for Variety on February 24, 1922.
They married and divorced while they were still very young, and soon they became swamped with many devoted admires who would often become obsessed with the sisters. After their retirement in the late 1920s, the sisters put all of their attention on the social scenes. They became the downfall of many rich men, including Harry Selfridge. Harry Selfridge had proposed to Jenny Dolly at least once every month. When the free money started to dry up during the Depression, it started the sisters downfall. Neither of them had ever truly accepted that being celebrities and having fame could be fleeting.
In 1933 while driving along the French Riviera with her fiance, Max Constant, Jenny Dolly got into a serious automobile accident when they drove over a cliff. She survived the accident but she sustained heavy injuries, including one punctured lung, skull fracture, she displaced her stomach and the right side of her face was torn apart. During the next six weeks she went through many unsuccessful plastic surgeries, she almost died a few times during this. She survived the surgeries and she cursed the doctors for saving her. While she recovered physically, she never truly recovered mentally. She described herself as a broken shell, after everything sadly she was very broken and unhappy in the end. She was found dead in her Hollywood apartment where she had used the drapes to make a noose and h herself on June 1, 1941.
A feature film,loosely based on Rosie and Jenny's lives, titled The Dolly Sisters starring Betty Grable and June Haver was produced at 20th Century-Fox by George Jessel in 1945. Rosie would attempt and fail at suicide in 1962, she would die of a heart attack in New York on February 1, 1970. Variety would report that she told them her one philosophy in life had been "If you drink Scotch, make it Black and White. It will never hang you over."

George Burns & Gracie Allen
George Burns & Gracie Allen Source
George Burns had been born as Nathan Birnbaum on January 20, 1896 in New York. His first try at show business was when he was seven years old when he was part of the Pee Wee Quartet after his father's death. He took the first name George from his elder brother, Isidore, that he admired and who had been called George by his friends. He would later work with Abie Kaplan, and they became known as the Burns Brothers due to their habit of following the Burns Brothers Coal yard truck, hoping to pick up any coal that fell onto the streets from the truck.
He and Mac Fry would form the group Mac Fry and Company, when Burns was only thirteen years old. His next partnership came when he teamed up with Sam Brown in the act named Brown and Williams (named for a previous member of the act). Following that he appeared as Glide in Goldie Fields and Glide, afterwards he participated in the act titled The Fourth of July Kids. He explains why he changed his name so frequently in his autobiography I Love Her, That's Why!, he had stated that because of a booker for a theatre had threatened to not give him any more jobs if he knew who he was. To further the confusion of his many names, while he was part of an act called Burns and Links he was the one called Links.
Gracie Allen was born on July 26, 1906 in San Francisco, California to the song and dance man Edward Allen. She described her father as "the first and best clog and minstrel man in San Francisco." She had been on the stage since her childhood appearing with her father first, and then later in an act called Larry Reilly and company with her sisters Bessie, Pearl and Hazel. In that act she performed an Irish jig as well as sang during it.
When Burns was twenty-four his fortune with vaudeville started to improve. By this time he was teamed up with Sid Gary, who would later become popular on radio and be known for his high sopranos voice. This partnership lasted for two years before they split up, and Burns partnered up with Billy Lorraine. Their act was called Burns and Lorraine- Two Broadway Thieves, where they imitated Broadway stars like Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor. While they were working together, Burns was developing an act of his own. The last place they worked together was Union Hill Theatre in New Jersey. While they were there Burns approached the headliner, Rena Arnold, with his plan and a risqué story. The story offended her but she told her friend, Gracie Allen, that Lorraine was looking for a new partner and that she should approach him about it. Allen then watched the act but confused the two men, and asked Burns for a job. It wasn't until three days later that Allen realized her mistake.
Burns and Allen appeared together for the first time at the Hill Street Theatre in Newark, New Jersey in 1922. They would get married in Cleveland four years later on January 7, 1926. Originally they were billed as George N. Burns and Gracie Allen, with their original roles being Burns as the comedian and her as the straight role. It took very little time for them to change this to Burns being the established cigar-chomping straight man and Allen being the dizzy partner. As a team they were unrivaled in show business; and it wasn't simply based on their talent, though they had talent in spades, it was their ability to understand and utilize each medium of entertainment that they came across.
They started in vaudeville, and then moved on to radio, followed by movies and ending in television. The public, just like now, could make or break a performer; but they are also capable of adoring and cherishing an act. The latter was the case for Burns and Allen. Burns would ask the straight man questions and Allen would give a dizzy response; and no matter what he said she always had a response.
The first success that was big for them was a sketch written for them by Al Boasberg called "Lamb Chops". "Lamb Chops" was filmed in the summer of 1929, featuring a song titled "Do You Believe Me?" for Warner Brothers, it is now preserved at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Aside from filing "Lamb Chops" in the summer of 1929 the duo went to England for twenty-one weeks. Several of these twenty-one weeks were spent in London doing performances at both the Holborn Empire and the London Palladium. The English took to the couple, especially Gracie, into their hearts. At their performances they were billed as "The Famous American Comedy Couple". The couple made a series of radio broadcasts for the BBC while they were in England.
Burns and Allen returned to the Palace in August and December of 1930 and April of 1931. Their BBC radio broadcasts was a happy prerequisite of things that were to come for the couple. CBS made them radio regulars in 1932, when they got signed to appear on the Guy Lombardo program sponsored by Robert Burns cigars at the time. It didn't take long for the couple to obtain their own show titled The Burns and Allen Show. The original set up of their show was a vaudeville-style entertainment show that would turn into a situation comedy in the early 1940s. The running joke of the show in the early 1930s was about Gracie looking for her lost brother, who was actually an employee of Standard Oil in San Francisco. The studio had them wonder in and out of other shows asking about her brother, who had hurt his leg by falling off an ironing board while he was pressing his pants.
When they filmed "Lamb Chops", their film career started. After "Lamb Chops" they started to appear in a series of Paramount features; including The Big Broadcast (1932), International House (1933), Six of a Kind (1934), We're Not Dressing (1934), The Big Broadcast of 1936, The Big Broadcast of 1937, Damsel in Distress (1937) and Honolulu (1939). While more commonly they were seen in films together, Gracie appeared in a few films by herself. The most notable film that she appeared in by herself was The Gracie Allen Murder Case in 1939.
Their radio show was successfully transitioned to television on CBS on October 12, 1950 after eighteen years on the radio. Their television show was thirty minutes long, and it was set up as a situation comedy. George and Gracie played themselves, the announcer Harry VonZell as himself, Ronnie Burns (their adopted son) as himself, Bea Benaderet as Blanche Morton (Gracie's friend and neighbor) and Larry Keating as Blanche's husband Harry made up the cast of the show. They would end every episode with one of their vaudeville routines and George's famous "Say Goodnight, Gracie". That last line would become one of the best known lines in TV history. The show ended when Gracie announced her retirement in September of 1958. George would continue with his own show featuring all of the same characters as the original show, after Gracie's retirement.
Gracie Allen died in Hollywood, California on August 8, 1964. After her death George continued his solo career, having success as a leading man in films and on the nightclub circuit. He would win the 1975 Academy Award for the best supporting actor for The Sunshine Boys. He recorded a few albums during his career, the first was "I Wish I Was 18 Again" in 1980 and the second was "As Time Goes By" in 1982. With the first album the title, "I Wish I Was 18 Again" became a hit single. With "As Time Goes By" he had recorded it and worked with Bobby Vinten.
It was July of 1992 when Burns announced his long-term commitment he had scheduled for his hundredth birthday was an appearance at the London Palladium. George Burns passed away in Beverly Hills, California on March 9, 1996 at the age of one hundred.

Pat Rooney Jr. & Marion Bent

Pat Rooney, Jr. was born in New York on July 4, 1880 into vaudeville's great Irish family of entertainers. There was an old vaudeville joke that said "Just because I'm a fool, don't think I'm Irish"; this joke never seemed to apply to the Rooney family though. Jr's father, Pat Rooney Sr., was the most famous member of the family in the nineteenth century, though the entire family was talented. They all took the Irish stereotype of low brow comedy up to an entirely new level of artistry.
Though he had an Irish name Pat Rooney, Sr. was born in Birmingham, England in 1844. He made songs like "The Old Dinner Pail", "Katy is a Rogue", "Pretty Peggy" and "His Old High Hat" famous during his lifetime. In 1892 Patrick James Rooney Sr. died of pneumonia. His son and daughter, Pat and Mattie, were appearing together on the vaudeville stage in a singing and dancing act called Two Chips Off The Old Block by this time.
Pat Rooney, Jr. started professionally dancing at the age of ten, appearing with his father (Pat Rooney Sr.) and mother (Josie Granger). Jr took after his father by becoming a classic clog dancer who was best known for his routine called "The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady" (written by Monty C. Brice and Walter Donaldson). which he performed with his hands in his pockets and hitching up his trousers with a grin on his face. He and his sister, Mattie, advertised themselves as "The Premier Eccentric Dancing Act of the Business- Bar None" in 1900. With his height at five foot and three inches, and his pixie like looks he was often compared with a leprechaun. He had a devilish smile and divine dancing; W.C. Fields had said, "If you didn't hear the taps, you would think he was floating".
Marion Bent was born the daughter of cornet soloist Arthur Bent on December 23, 1879 in New York. Bent and Jr had met when they were both children; when they first appeared on stage together professionally in Mother Goose, "a musical extravaganza" written by J. Hickory Wood and Arthur Collins. It stared Joseph Cawthorn when it opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre on December 2, 1903. It wasn't long after this production that Pat and Marion married and became vaudeville's best-loved couple.
While Pat Rooney Sr held the family fame during the nineteenth century; it was Pat Rooney Jr and Marion Bent who delighted audiences in the twentieth century for fifty plus years. When they appeared on stage they would throw in some comedy while they danced and sang. In their sketch "Dances of the Hour", at the Palace Theatre in May 1925, they were accompanied by a chorus of seven dancing groups; this would occasionally be an occurrence of their acts. Though it was received by Variety almost always the same way as they had noted about "Dances of the Hour" on May 13, 1925 when they said that it was "crammed with superlative action."
Bent and Rooney Jr had their son Pat Rooney III in 1909. When they performed together as a couple they would carry their son out on stage with them and he would carry on the Rooney family tradition.
Rooney Jr spent the time between 1915 and 1948 appearing in films and writing songs. He is the song writer responsible for the songs "I Got A Gal For Every Day In The Week" and "You Be My Ootsie, I'll Be Your Tootsie". Bent officially retired in 1932 due to advancing arthritis, but did come out for a special program at the Capitol Theatre on her wedding anniversary, April 10, 1935, to appear with Rooney. After she retired the couple's son, Pat Rooney III, replaced his mother and performed with his father in a double act. They would perform a precision dance while dancing with two men back to back. It had been very extraordinary and it has yet to be successfully copied. Rooney III performed as a single act after World War II.
His father filed a voluntary bankruptcy petition in February 1941. He didn't retire until 1950, and he was seen in many TV shows early on, and he was part of the original production of Guys and Dolls. Bend and Jr didn't have a happy marriage towards the end and the year before she died they officially separated. She passed away in New York on July 28, 1940. The father and son duo did reunite in 1956 in an appearance at the Palace. After which Jr returned to retirement until his death. He died in New York on September 9, 1962 at the age of eighty-two. His son continued his solo act until he too retired; after which he owned and ran a rather popular hot dog stand in Lake Blaisdell, New Hampshire until his death on November 5, 1979.

Bud Abbott & Lou Costello

Bud Abbott was born William Alexander Abbot on October 2, 1895 into a circus family in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Before Abbot and Costello met, Abbot managed burlesque houses. He also worked as the treasurer, the box-office manager,for other burlesque houses. During his time back stage he would study some of the top American comics, like W.C. Fields, Bert Lahr and the comic duo Bobby Clark and Paul McCullough. He met and married Betty Smith, a chorus girl, in 1918. She helped him produce his show Broadway Flashes and Bud started to work as a comic straight man.
Lou Costello was born Louis Francis Cristillo on March 6, 1906 in Paterson, New Jersey. When he was a young man he had admired Charlie Chaplin. He tried to start his show business career by joining the film industry in 1927 as an extra on set and stuntman. While he was doubling for leading lady Dolores Del Rio in 1928 there was an accident that left Costello injured. After this accident he quit his stuntman work and became a "Dutch" comedian in New York on the burlesque scene. Before this he had never worked on stage before, but he quickly rose to the top of the list of burlesque comics.
The two of them knew each other before they worked together; they possibly met as early as 1929. Occasionally through the 1930s they would work together. Through this time Abbott was working with Harry Evanson as a straight man and Costello was a straight man to Joe Lyons. In January of 1936 Abbott and Costello officially became a duo when the Minsky Brothers hired them to work in New York and Brooklyn burlesque theatres.
Abbot & Costello Source
As a duo they specialized in rapid fire patter and knock about slapstick comedy; and through this they became regarded as the archetypal team of burlesque comedy. Through their twenty years as a team; regardless of if they were on stage, in films, on the radio, or on television; their dynamics were the same. Abbott would portray the bully and schemer, while Costello would portray the hapless childlike patsy with catchphrases like "I'm a ba-a-a-a-d boy!" While their act was antiquated they were still able to entertain a generation of movie goers, and they became such a big part of American pop culture that they continue to amuse people into the present. Abbott and Costello are one of the few comedy groups credited with preserving, on film, many of American vaudeville's classic routines along with burlesque traditions.
During the summer seasons of 1936 and 1937 they worked at Atlantic City's Steel Pier. Late in 1937 the duo became part of a touring vaudeville show called Hollywood Bandwagon. Then in February of 1938 they appeared at Loew's State, New York; while at this appearance they met Ted Collins, Kate Smith's manager. After their radio debut on The Kate Smith Hour on February 3, 1938 Abbott and Costello obtained a national following. On March 24, 1938 they performed "Who's on First" on radio for the first time, though the skit had been part of their routine since roughly 1936. They continued to work with Kate on her radio show through the summer of 1940. Due to their work on the radio, they were chosen to star in the Broadway revue, Streets of Paris; which opened on June 19, 1939 at the Broadhurst Theatre. Between 1942 and 1949 they had their own radio show that originally aired on NBC and later transferred to ABC.
Their film debut came in the form of their supporting roles in the Universal Studios One Night in the Tropics, which was released in November of 1940. This was the first of thirty-six films that the duo made together, and only three of them were not produced by Universal Studios. The following year they stared in a film that better fit their talents, it was an army comedy titled Buck Privates. With the large success of Buck Privates they starred in an off branch series that lasted until 1956. Some of their better known comedies were: Hold That Ghost (1941), In the Navy (1941), Pardon My Sarong (1942), Lost in a Harem (1944) and The Naughty Nineties (1945). The film that is generally seen as their best film is Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948); in this film they battle with famous Universal characters like Frankenstein's monster, Dracula and the Wolfman. The final film that they were in together, before they separated was Dance With Me, Henry in 1956. Costello appeared in The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock (1959) alone. Universal later, in 1965, produced a film titled The World of Abbott and Costello.
Their initial TV debut was on July 19, 1939 in the program called So This is New York which ran for fifteen minutes per episode. When their box office numbers started to slide their television popularity became renewed in the early 1950s. Between 1950 and 1955 they frequently appeared on The Colgate Comedy Hour. They were also the stars of their own show The Abbott and Costello Show (1952-54).
After an appearance in December 1956 at the Sahara in Las Vega the team officially split up. Part of their break up came from the temporary lack of interest in their particular style of comedy. Later there was a renewed interest in burlesque-style entertainment that has resulted in the revival of interest in Abbott and Costello in the younger generations.
After the split Costello reprises some of their old routines for The Steve Allen Show. He continued his career as a comedian until his death. He passed away in East Los Angeles, California on March 3, 1959; three days before his fifty-third birthday.
After the split Abbott refused to continue performing due to problems with the Internal Revenue Service. He made two appearances in the 1960s. One of these appearances was a dramatic role for television's GE Theatre in 1961. The other appearance came from a 1967 Hanna-Barber cartoon about Abbott and Costello; he provided his own character's voice. He did have a few personal appearances in the early 1960s while he worked with Candy Candido. He passed away in Woodland Hills, California on April 24, 1974 at the age of seventy-eight years old.

George & Bert Bernard

Bert Bernard was born in Boston, Massachusetts on June 29, 1918; and his birth name was actually Herbert James Maxwell. He found fame on his own as a young dancer, who also played in the American vaudeville circuits and musical comedies before he became one of the Bernard brothers.
George Bernard was the dominant partner between the two, and before they paired up in 1932 his name had actually been Bernard George. They were billed as the Bernard Brothers, even though they were not brothers nor was their last name actually Bernard. It was 1935 when George had reversed his name in their singing and dancing act.
Their original act was just a dancing act with a ballet motif. At that time they were billed as the Bernard Dancers, performing more burlesque ballet routines. They performed all over North and South America and had several seasons overseas in Europe. Then in 1938 they topped the bill in Paris at the Folies Bergeres; they also made their London cabaret debut at Dorchester Hotel the same year.
During World War II the duo temporarily split up while Bert served in the U.S. Air Forces. He served in combat duty in many of the theaters of war, and for his service he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. While Bert was in the service, George continued as a solo act and for several years he entertained both American and Allied troops.
After the war they revived their act, and for a while they performed in England and France. While they were at a party in Chicago they started miming to gramophone records as a joke. Though later it would become a staple part of their act. It was a comedy mime act and with them parodying the Andrew Sisters and other female vocal groups of the era, they became an instant success.
With this new act they added a third, completely unseen, member to the act. The third member was George Pierce, and he controlled and operated the records backstage. In 1946 for ten months they appeared at the Lido in Paris, then in 1947 at the London Casino (currently the Prince Edward Theatre) they topped the bill. In Val Parnell's first Palladium pantomime Cinderella, in 1948; they topped this bill as well. Due to their popularity they returned sporadically throughout the early fifties to the theatre. They had similar popularity in Paris in cabaret; they had come to regard the Lido as their second home. They were one of the most popular comedy acts during the late forties and early fifties in British variety theatres.
Just as quickly as their miming act started it came to a sudden stop, when the record companies refused the duo permission to use their records. Despite this they continued to work as comedic dancers. While they were in the U.S. they were often seen performing at nightclubs in mainly three cities: those being Las Vegas, New York and Miami. They worked together until George's death on October 22, 1967, either at the age of fifty-five or fifty-six, in Vancouver, Canada after their final show of the night was finished titled Vive Les Girls at the Cave Theatre Restaurant. After George Bernard died, Bert continued the act with a new partner Les Bernard who was of no relation to George. Bert continued to work for majority of his time until his death on February 23, 2003 at the age of eighty-five.

The Duncan Sisters
Rosetta & Vivian Source
Rosetta Duncan, born November 23, 1894, and her sister Vivian Duncan, born June 17,1897, became one of the greatest sister acts to be seen on the vaudeville stage. The sisters were known and well loved for their wholesomeness, despite the rumors of Rosetta being an alcoholic lesbian and Vivian being married to a closeted gay man who had wanted to have her involved in three-ways.
Before they reached the height of their popularity they were more or less a conventional sister act. They started in 1916 with a yodeling act when Gus Edwards discovered them; one of their hit songs was a classic titled "Side by Side". The dynamics of the sister's act had Rosetta as the comedian and Vivian as the soubrette. They played in an act titled "'S that alright" at the Palace in 1922.
Even with the popularity of all of their acts, the Duncan Sisters were best known for their Topsy and Eva act; adapted from Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. They continued to use this act even after it was considered impolite to appear in black face makeup. The first full production of Topsy and Eva was mounted in 1923 at the Alcatraz Theatre in San Francisco. They performed Topsy and Eva in England, France, Germany and South America; they even performed the roles in the language of the country that they were in at the time. In 1927 the sisters filmed Topsy and Eva as a silent film; but it was not successful due to the need to hear them to fully take in their talents.
It has been said that the film was an ill-conceived mess from the start. The director that started the film, Del Lord, often clashed with Rosetta which led to him leaving the project. It was over budget and behind schedule from the beginning as well. Lois Weber was offered an opportunity to direct the film but due to the racial content he refused the position. Eventually D.W. Griffith was brought in to finish the project; he finished and edited the material. The intake for the film was $353,000; it just barely covered the costs to make it, which was $340,000.
Aside from Topsy and Eva they appeared in two other films. They had a cameo in Two Flaming Youths in 1927.Then in the 1929 film It's a Great Life, they introduced the song "I'm Following You" and a risqué version of "Tell Me Pretty Maiden". They even worked for the legendary producer Florenz Ziegfeld in his 1928 rendition of Midnight Frolies. Also in the late 1920s they returned to the vaudeville stage singing songs from Topsy and Eva as well as singing songs like "Sitting on the Curbstone Blues" while wearing children's clothing.
During the summer of 1932, the sisters announced that they were planning to do series that they wanted to call Adventures of Topsy and Eva; although it never went beyond the proposal stage. Even without the series they continued to perform as Topsy and Eva long into the 1950s. They had stated that they were going into retirement in 1942, it didn't last for long. After their return they performed mostly at nightclubs.
Then while driving home after an engagement at Mangam's Chateau on the outskirts of Chicago on December 11, 1959 Rosetta's car struck a bridge; she would die a few days later at the age of sixty-five. After her sister's death Vivian started a solo career. Her Los Angeles debut was in December of 1960 at Billy Gray's Bandbox. She joined comedienne Alice Tyrrell to sing Topsy's lament "I Never Had a Mammy" from Topsy and Eva. Vivian would spend the last twenty years of her life in retirement. On September 19, 1986 "Eva followed Topsy up to heaven" at the age of eighty-nine. "In an era when stage stars were among the biggest names in show business, the Duncan Sisters ranked right up there with Eddie Cantor, Burns and Allen, Al Jolson, Sophie Tucker, Jack Benny, W.C. Fields, Marie Dressler, Fanny Brice, Marilyn Miller, Ed Wynn, Frances Williams and the Seven Little Foys."
 So on vaudeville it didn't matter your race, ethnicity, gender, solo or group, siblings or couples everyone had a chance to perform. Not everyone made it famous or stayed famous, but some of these fore runners made a lasting impact on the business known as show business making the entertainment industry that we know and love today. Thanks to these and other past performers we have the wide variety of performances that make up some of modern entertainment.


Slide, A. (2012). The encyclopedia of vaudeville. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

Trav, S. D. (2010, July 04). Stars of vaudeville

Trav, S. D. (2009, December 17). Stars of vaudeville

Newley, P. (2004, May 10). Bert bernard. The Stage. Retrieved from

The duncan sisters. (2015). Retrieved from

Abbott and costello: American comedic duo. In (2013). The Encyclopedia Britanica. Retrieved from

Watson, S. The dolly sisters [Web log message]. Retrieved from

De Lacey, M. (2012, October 31). Way before x factor: The identical twin sisters with little talent who danced their way to fame in the 1920s and ruined the besotted harry selfridge. Daily Mail. Retrieved from

6 Women of Vaudeville

Madonna, Angelina Joelie and Jennifer Tilly are all female entertainers that many people are familiar with but what about some of the female entertainers that came before them in the long past and often forgotten decades before them or even before actresses like Bette Davis or Audrey Hepburn. In vaudeville there were so many entertainers and some of the film stars that are known got their starts in vaudeville due to vaudeville including many different kinds of acts. To do justice to all of the stars of vaudeville would take many days, so here are a few of the female performers from vaudeville both well-known and not so well-known.

Eva Tanguay
Eva Tanguay Source

"She wasn't the prettiest or the skinniest and quite intentionally her costumes were outrageous, but for over twenty years she was the favorite of both critics and audiences" (Slide, 2012). For her generation she was American vaudeville; she was the greatest female star for majority of vaudeville's existence (Slide, 2012).
Eva Tanguay was born August 1, 1878 in Marbleton, Canada (Slide, 2012). Her father was a Parisian doctor who was out for adventure on the Canadian frontier; but when he died in her early childhood it left the family destitute (Trav, 2009). Her parents had immigrated to Holyoke, Massachusetts when she was young; there at the age of ten she sang in the church choir and appeared in amateur nights at Parson's Hall (Slide, 2012). With the Rose Stahl Repertoire Company she played child parts for five years; she toured with the company as Cedric Errol in Little Lord Fauntleroy (Slide, 2012).
She performed very suggestive songs in a very inimitable way and delivered it in so blatant a manner that proved the point of her most famous song "I Don't Care"; and she actually didn't care what people thought of her no matter who they were (Slide, 2012). She was as much a tempest offstage as she was on stage (Slide, 2012). During an interview with Variety in 1908 Tanguay admitted that she knew that her crazy behavior is what her success in part relied on, and because she acted in an insane manner that audiences kept flocking back to see what she would do next (Slide, 2012). She seemed to be eternally young during her performances and those who had grown up watching her were able to forget the passing years; just by watching her changeless, ageless frantic gyrations (Slide, 2012). Though she acted crazy and seemed ageless, Tanguay understood the value of self-promotion (Miller, 2006). From many of her antics she often was billed as "The Genius of Mirth and Song" and "The Evangelist of Joy" (Miller, 2006).
By 1910 Tanguay was the highest salaried star in vaudeville beating out Ethel Barrymore by five hundred dollars; she was asking for and getting three thousand five hundred dollars a week (Slide, 2012). She was demanding a weekly salary of ten thousand dollars and a guarantee of three years work before she would star in any films in 1916, no production company took her up on it so she opened her own production company and starred in two films; Energetic Eva in 1916 and The Wild Girl in 1917 (Slide, 2012). Most of her songs like "I Want Somebody to Go Wild with Me" in 1913 or "Go as Far as You Like" also in 1913 never achieved any lasting fame like "I Don't Care" did (Slide, 2012). She began to bill herself as "The Girl Who Made Vaudeville Famous" (Trav, 2009).
She left vaudeville for three years but she came back May 1930 opening with "Back Doing Business at the Same Old Stand" followed by "Mae West, Texas, and Me"; a comedy number about how the mob had declared that she, West and Texas were "The Unholy Three" (Slide, 2012). Prior to this come back Tanguay had lost her fortune in the 1929 stock market crash and suffered from medical problems (Miller, 2006). In the early 1930s her vision had been dramatically affected by cataracts; with an operation paid for by her admirer Sophie Tucker, Tanguay's sight was restored (Miller, 2006). She was destitute and dependent on charity from the National Vaudeville Association and former colleagues by 1933 (Slide, 2012). She dropped out of public view and became reclusive in her Hollywood home when vaudeville died (Slide, 2012). She became further reclusive in 1937 when arthritis slowed her down (Miller, 2006). On her sixty-eighth birthday she gave an interview with the Los Angeles Times telling the reporter of her hopes of a film based on her life; this didn't come to pass during her lifetime, the film The I Don't Care Girl wasn't released until 1952 after her death (Slide, 2012). Her once vast fortune had dwindled down to five hundred dollars by the time of her death in Hollywood on January 11, 1947 (Miller, 2006).

Kitty Doner

"Her vigorous, virile dancing was augmented by Character patter, thus cementing her credentials in the small historic pantheon of important drag kings" (Trav, 2011). Kitty Doner was one of the best known American male impersonators and was considered the only one on par with Vesta Tilley and Ella Shields, who were the best known performers of the art (Slide, 2012).
Kitty Doner Source
She was born in Chicago in 1895 to Joe Doner of Manchester, England and Nellie of London, England both were performers in their own right; before they married Nellie was a popular principle boy in British pantomime (Slide, 2012). After Nellie and Joe married they joined their pantomime acts together to create the act "The Escaped Lunatics" (Slide, 2012). From this background Kitty was a second generation vaudevillian that appeared to perfectly splice her parents' talents (Trav, 2011). When it was time for her to join her parents on the stage her dad dressed her as a boy and said "She might as well get started dressed as a boy because she's not pretty enough to compete with the beautiful girls in show business"; when she reflected on this while explaining some of the reasons on why she became a male impersonator (Slide, 2012). During that reflection she had said that because she was the first born she felt that her father was disappointed that she wasn't a boy and that she became sort of gawky as she grew up and with all of this compounding to help push her in the direction of impersonation (Slide, 2012).
She never did impersonations of well-known men, so her impersonations were unique unto themselves just as much as her female impressions were (Slide, 2012). She gained the title of "The Best Dressed Man on the American Stage" from her vaudeville act "A League of Song Steps"; and in 1922 she had an engagement in England, the home of male impersonation, where she topped the bill at London's Victoria Palace (Slide, 2012). Her brother and sister, Ted and Rose, were also in show business and they would often perform with her in vaudeville (Slide, 2012). In her first show, "The Candy Shop", she appeared in both male and female attire; it opened in 1912 at the Gaiety Theatre in San Francisco and as far as the West Coast was concerned she made her reputation with that show (Slide, 2012).
1914 is when her biggest break came, when she signed to play opposite of Al Jolson in Dancing Around , which at the Winter Garden Theater on October 10, 1914 (Slide, 2012). She and Jolson worked together at least twice more in Robinson Crusoe Jr. on February 17, 1916 and in Sinbad on February 14, 1918; and while they were working together on these productions they were also romantically involved with each other (Slide, 2012). Her weekly vaudeville salary through the 20s averaged about one thousand dollars and when she toured with the William Fox circuit in 1927 she was paid one thousand five hundred dollars a week (Slide, 2012).
Aside from her half dozen Broadway appearances, she had made it to the big time on vaudeville putting in many appearances at The Palace (Trav, 2011). Besides her stage appearances she had one on-screen appearance in 1928 in a Warner Brothers short A Bit of Scotch which she was paid one thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars for (Slide, 2012). On November 26, 1924 a Variety article had this to say about Kitty Doner: "If our cousins across the pond think they have a patent on the raising of male impersonators, they ought to get a load of this baby. In male clothes, she is as masculine as a Notre Dame guard, and in female togs as feminine as bare legs. As a dancer, she is in a class by herself" (Slide, 2012). She was a performer that adapted to the times as they changed; on November 25, 1934 she admitted to the San Francisco Chronicle "There ain't any vaudeville, but some people won't believe it" (Slide, 2012). Her act was the first complete stage act to be televised over a radius of over 100 miles, when on August 1, 1931 she performed her act on top of New York's Vanderbilt Hotel in front of a CBS television camera (Slide, 2012). She retired from performing in the 1930s but she worked in other jobs, even in her last decades she worked as a choreographer (Trav, 2011). During the 1940s she was a show director for Holiday on Ice, then in 1950 and 1951 she was responsible for auditioning the talents for Ted Mack's Amateur Hour (Slide, 2012). She died in Los Angeles on August 26, 1988; she lived for roughly 93 years and she spent majority of that time bringing entertainment to many audiences (Slide, 2012).

Marie Dressler

There are very few comediennes that are as fondly remembered or well known as Marie Dressler from vaudeville and the golden age of the motion pictures (Slide, 2012). There was a time that she was the highest paid star in the movie industry; earning more than Greta Garbo or even Mickey Mouse (Garrick, 1997).
Marie Dressler was born as Leila Koerber in Cobourg, Ontario on November 9, 1869 to Alexander Rudolph Koerber and Annie Henderson of Port Hope (Garrick, 1997). Her father was Austrian born, and he was an excellent musician who had taught music by his own method at Princeton University (Garrick, 1997). He had one problem though, his temper often got in the way of the family having a permanent home so they were always on the move (Garrick, 1997). Her mother would often put on short dramas for the community; during one of these dramas she dressed five year old Leila up as a cherub, placed her on a pedestal and told her not to move (Garrick, 1997). The young girl did as she was told but a curtain came loose and swept her off of the pedestal into the lap Lindsay's greatest "ladies man" causing the audience to laugh; this instant influenced the young girl to play the clown in her early years (Garrick, 1997).
Marie Dressler Source
At the age of 14 she wrote to the Nevada Traveling Stock Company requesting a job; she told them that she was 18 and an accomplished actress, without an audition she was hired (Garrick, 1997). In her later years she would look back on the company and call it "A cheap dramatic company of eleven but a wonderful school" (Garrick, 1997). To save her family from embarrassment she changed her name to Marie Dressler, after an aunt (Garrick, 1997). Unfortunately this job didn't last very long, the company got stranded in Michigan without any funds causing her to walk along the railroad ties going from Edmore to Saginaw to rejoin her family (Garrick, 1997). After that she joined the Robert Grau Opera Company as a chorus member where she earned eight dollars a week (Garrick, 1997). When the leading lady, Agnes Halleck, broke her ankle the company asked Dressler to take on the role of Katisha in The Mikado; through her career she would play this role a total of sixty-seven times (Garrick, 1997).
Due to her insistence of being paid regularly it led Grau to become annoyed with her and she sent her to Philadelphia claiming that a job would be waiting for her there; there was no job waiting for her (Garrick, 1997). Even though she had been tricked out of her job she didn't let that get her down and she simply checked the paper and found that the Starr Opera Company was in town (Garrick, 1997). She begged them for a job, but with the help of two actresses that had known her on the road and the manager, Mr. Deshon, who was outraged at the way she had been treated she got an audition and a job with the company (Garrick, 1997). After this she started moving from stock company to stock company until she arrived in New York, where she started out singing at the Atlantic Garden on the Bowery and Koster and Bial's Twenty-third Street Theatre (Slide, 2012). Broadway at this time consisted of musical comedy, serious drama, vaudeville, and burlesque; giving performers the choice of the form of entertainment that they wished to perform in (Garrick, 1997). On May 28, 1892 Dressler appeared in her first Broadway role, unfortunately the show was very unsuccessful and closed early (Garrick, 1997).
Then on November 24, 1893 at the Casino Theatre Dressler opened with Lillian Russell in Princess Nicotine; with its long successful run on Broadway the show went on tour of the country thus making Dressler well known across America (Garrick, 1997). Four years after Dressler first reached Broadway she had a real triumph with her performance as Flo Honeydew in The Lady Slavey (Garrick, 1997). It played for two years and then went on tour, but Dressler got sick and she returned to New York; her manager, A.E. Erlanger then accused her of shamming and got her blacklisted on the New York stages (Garrick, 1997). This blacklisting caused her to take to the road again, this time with the Rich and Harris Touring Company where she played Dottie Dimple in Courted Into Court, sang African-American songs, danced the "cakewalk" and continued to work with facial expressions (Garrick, 1997).
When she did return to New York she continued to work in musical comedy and vaudeville (Garrick, 1997). At the turn of the century she had become a favorite in vaudeville and burlesque with her impersonations and "coon" songs (Slide, 2012). Later parts of her costumes would become her trademark; she designed and made all of her costumes herself so that she could use the latest fashion fads to make outrageous dresses (Garrick, 1997). Being daring and adventurous Dressler decided to play the Palace Theatre in London, she did this particular show for thirty weeks and had an overwhelmingly positive response from the audience (Garrick, 1997). From the previous positive responses she then planned and tried two more shows in London but they failed and she fell into debt (Garrick, 1997). To work off this debt she had to work the vaudeville circuits for two years to become financially solvent (Garrick, 1997). In January of 1907 she offered impersonations of Mrs. Leslie Carter and Blanche Bates from the legitimate stage and she sang her almost theme song "A Great Big Girl Like Me" (Slide, 2012).
On May 5, 1910 Dressler introduced her character Tillie Blobbs in Tillie's Nightmare, "A melange of mirth and melody", at New York's Herald Square Theatre; during this performance she sang the song "Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl" (Slide, 2012). Due to the success of this production she was invited by Mack Sennett to star in the 1914 feature-length film Tillie's Punctured Romance; the film didn't help Dressler's career but it did help her co-stars Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand (Slide, 2012). She later stared in the following sequels Tillie's Tomato Surprise in 1915 and Tillie Wakes Up in 1917 (Slide, 2012). Throughout the first World War Dressler worked incessantly selling Liberty Bonds, but once the war was over so was her Broadway career (Garrick, 1997). During all of this she was still fairly active in musical comedies and in vaudeville, she also took part in the Actor's Equity Strike of 1919 as the head of the chorus girls division (Slide, 2012). In April of 1919 she received a rather small salary, one thousand five hundred dollars, when she headlined at the Palace (Slide, 2012). This appearance was almost the swan song of her career as it started to fall apart in the 1920s with her stage engagements far and few in between, but she did return to the Palace October 1925 and appeared on the "old-timers" bill (Slide, 2012).
She was considering leaving the United States permanently in 1927 to move to Paris and open a small hotel, this was something that she had been thinking about since 1901 (Slide, 2012). Then she landed a supporting role in The Joy Girl in 1927 and it lead to other silent film roles, and it was thanks to MGM screenwriter Frances Marion in large part (Slide, 2012). Dressler proved her worth as an actress when she played opposite of Greta Garbo in the 1930 film Anna Christie, also in the 1930s she played opposite of Polly Moran in a series of comedy shorts and featured films (Slide, 2012). She stared in Dinner at Eight in 1933, and it is still considered a classic like her films Christopher Bean and Tugboat Annie (Slide, 2012). When she took on the role of Min in Min and Bill, she finally reached stardom where she portrayed a housekeeper who sacrifices all of her savings to send the girl she is raising to a private school in hopes of giving the girl a better life (Slide, 2012). This role represented all of the parents of The Great Depression who were sacrificing so that their sons and daughters could have a better tomorrow (Garrick, 1997). For her work opposite Wallace Beery in Min and Bill, Dressler received the Academy Award for Best Actress (Slide, 2012). During her final years she had once more become one of America's favorite entertainers and one of the biggest box office attractions in the early 1930s (Slide, 2012). Even though she died on July 28, 1934 her image lives on in her many films (Garrick, 1997). In a radio tribute to her shortly after her death Will Rogers described her very accurately as "a marvelous personality and a great heart" (Slide, 2012).

Louise Dresser

Louise Dresser was "A statuesque blond beauty who was once nominated as the natural successor to Lilian Russell"; she was a renowned singer and actress, and a star in both vaudeville and in musical comedies (Slide, 2012). She was born Louise Josephine Kerlin in Evansville, Indiana on October 5, 1878; after the death of her railroad engineer father she joined a burlesque show at the age of fifteen (Slide, 2012). The composer Paul Dresser had known her father and at the age of eighteen they met one another (Slide, 2012). Dresser took Louise under his wing and made her his protégé; he had even suggested that she adopt his last name and pretend to be his sister, this led people to believe that she was also the sister of Dresser's brother Theodore Dreiser (Slide, 2012).
For the first time in Chicago Louise Kerlin became Louise Dresser after her first performance from singing two of Dresser's better known songs "On the Banks of the Wabash" and "My Gal Sal" (Slide, 2012). At the turn of the century she appeared on the vaudeville stage as a singer backed by a group of African-American children; they were billed as Louise Dresser and Her Picks, which was short for pickaninnies (Slide, 2012). Even though her vaudeville engagements with this group was a small part of her career it was a significant part of the relations between Jewish performers and the stage (Kilber, 2009). Usually with acts like this the performers would use some form of a racial masquerade, like racial dialects or makeup; and these masquerades were particularly popular amongst the Jewish community so that they could establish their own American identity (Kilber, 2009).
Louise Dresser Source
Dresser's first vaudeville appearance was in the spring of 1906 and the first time that she played the Palace was in 1914; during that same year she expanded her talents as a vaudeville performer by appearing in the playlet A Turn of the Knob (Slide, 2012). At the height of her vaudeville career she was averaging one thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars a week (Slide, 2012). During her career she had been married twice; the first was to composer and vaudevillian Jack Norworth this marriage ended in divorce in 1908, the second was to actor Jack Gardner whom had been the original star of the operetta The Chocolate Soldier and it ended in 1950 with his death (Slide, 2012).
Aside from her vaudeville career, she also had a career on the legitimate stage and on-screen (Slide, 2012). Some of her well known roles on the legitimate stage was: Mrs. Burton in A Matinee Idol in 1912, Ruth Snyder in Potash and Perlmutter in 1913 and Patsy Pygmalion in Hello Broadway! in 1914 (Slide, 2012). 1922 is when she started her screen career, she gave many memorable performances a few of her roles on screen were as Catherine the Great in The Eagle in 1925 and as Empress Elizabeth in The Scarlet Empress in 1934 (Slide, 2012). Though she had many roles that were memorable she is probably best remembered for the films where she was playing opposite of Will Rodgers as his wife; like in State Fair in 1933 and David Harum in 1934 (Kilber, 2009). These roles were so well liked by their fans that to the fans they were actually husband and wife in their minds (Kilber, 2009).
In 1937 Dresser retired from her screen career, but she had planed a comeback for after her husband's death (Slide, 2012). Unfortunately she failed to reappear after his death in 1950 (Slide, 2012). She died in Woodland Hills, California on April 24, 1965 from a complication with a surgery for an intestinal obstruction (Kilber, 2009).

May Irwin
May Irwin Source
May Irwin was known as "The Dean of Comediennes" and was a legend on both the legitimate stage and in vaudeville (Slide, 2012). She was born Ada May Campbell in 1862 in Whitby, Ontario, Canada to Robert Campbell and May Draper ("May Irwin, actor, " 1998). Her father's death made it so that 13 year old Irwin had to support herself financially ("May Irwin, actor," 1998). She had started singing in the church choir, her sister Flo and she left home and started on the vaudeville stage together at Daniel Shelby's Adelphi Variety Theatre in Buffalo (Slide, 2012). Throughout the Midwest the sisters performed as "coon shouters", singing African American songs like "Don't You Hear dem Bells?" (Slide, 2012). During the sisters' travels and performances they were seen by Tony Pastor in Detroit, after which he brought them to New York to perform in the Metropolitan Theatre in 1877 (Slide, 2012).
In 1883 Flo and May split up when May had been offered a job by Augustin Daly to join his company (Slide, 2012). After joining Daly's stock company she spent several seasons in Toole's Theatre in London ("May Irwin, actor,", 1998). For the 1891-92 season Irwin returned to New York City and she appeared in the farce-comedy Boys and Girls ("May Irwin, actor,", 1998). She performed in a burlesque version of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windemere's Fan, which had imported characters from Hamlet in 1893; during the same year she performed a dance number with wine dummies called A Country Sport ("May Irwin, actor,", 1998). She got her first staring role in The Widow Jones as Beatrice Byke, where she stared opposite John Rice in 1895; the kissing scene from this show was recorded by the Edison Company and became known simply as The Kiss (Slide, 2012).
November of 1907 Irwin returned to vaudeville playing at New York's Orpheum Theatre (Slide, 2012). She topped the bill at the Palace in February of 1915, during this performance she sang "Kentucky Home" and "Those were the Happy Days" and she recited "Father's Old Red Beard" which had been written for her by Irving Berlin (Slide, 2012). Variety's Sime Sliverman gave this review: "As often as May Irwin may wish to return to vaudeville just so often will vaudeville always welcome her with open arms, for vaudeville audiences, regardless of what else may be said of them, never fail to recognize an artist"; of her 1917 Palace appearance (Slide, 2012).
Irwin had managed her money very well and in her later years she had become a millionaire ("May Irwin, actor,", 1998). In 1920 with her second husband and manager, Kurt Eisfeldt, she retired to her farm in the Thousand Island area of New York (Slide, 2012). She and Eisfeldt had two sons during their marriage ("May Irwin, actor,", 1998). She died in New York on October 10, 1938 at the age of 76 years old (Slide, 2012).

Kathleen Clifford
Kathleen Source
Kathleen Clifford was another one of vaudeville's male impersonators, she was most often described as the American answer to Vesta Tilley (Slide, 2012). Clifford would dress as a very dapper man sporting a monocle to go with her hat and tails, causing her to be billed as "The Smartest Chap in Town" (Slide, 2012).
Kathleen Clifford was born in Charlottesville, Virginia on February 16, 1887; British male impersonators were held in very high regards in vaudeville so more often than not she pretended to have been born in England (Slide, 2012). She started her career in straight musical comedy when she was a teenager, she performed and was featured in the 1907 musical extravaganza The Top o' the' World (Slide, 2012).
As early as 1910 Clifford was active in vaudeville, Variety's Sime Silverman had hailed her as "a dandy looking boy" but it was complained that she didn't carry herself well or how she wore her clothes including the hat (Slide, 2012). She appeared in in films from 1917 through 1928, she didn't always appear in male parts or in parts that required her to be in male disguise (Slide, 2012). Throughout the early 1930s she worked on vaudeville; but in the late 1920s she had been pursing a new occupation as a Hollywood florist (Slide, 2012). She wrote a novel about her years in Hollywood titled It's April...Remember (Slide, 2012). She died in Los Angeles on January 11, 1963; her body was sent to Belgrade, Yugoslavia the former home of her husband and was buried there (Slide, 2012).

The stories of these women echo things that have been shown throughout all of history and what we learn almost every day of our lives. One day you can be on top of everything and then when things change around you and you don't adapt you are going to slide down the hill, causing you to have to climb back up the hill. Some times you will be able to make the come back you desire but other times you won't make it back to the top, it all varies on the things going on around you and your own determination. Through the ups and downs of life these women and others never gave up and kept getting back up to try again.Their stories can inspire the courage that one could need to decide to try to keep trying to accomplish their goals and dreams.


Slide, A. (2012). The encyclopedia of vaudeville. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

May irwin, actor, comedienne and singer (1862-1938). (1998, July 07). Retrieved from

Miller, J. (2006, June). Eva tanguay, vaudeville’s star. Retrieved from

Trav, S. D. (2009, August 01). Stars of vaudeville

Trav, S. D. (2011, September 07). Stars of vaudeville

Garrick, B. (1997). The dressler story. Retrieved from

Kilber, M. A. (2009). Louise dresser. In Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. Brookline : Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved from

6 Men of Vaudeville

Without some of these men as the forerunners for different entertainment styles would we even be enjoying the entertainment of today. Without the ventriloquists that performed on vaudeville would we be laughing at Jeff Dunham's antics with Peanut and the gang, probably not. These men have helped shape not only American entertainment and culture but also parts of the culture and entertainment around the world.

Dave Apollon
Dave Apollon Source

Born February 23, 1897 in what was then Kiev, Russia, he would take mandolin playing and turn it into an art form. He started his musical life playing the violin, but when he came across an old bowl-backed mandolin that his father had around the house he switched instruments. Throughout Kiev he was playing the mandolin in different theaters by the age of fourteen; his musical career was put on hold during the Russian Revolution when he became a solider. He continued to play his mandolin and dancing when he moved to the Philippines after the war.
In 1921 he immigrated to the United States and became an immediate success on the vaudeville circuit. The first recording of his material, a combination of American ragtime rhythms and Russian folk music accompanied by a troupe of Philippine string musicians, was released in 1932. He started playing his mandolin in a series of "soundies" based on his vaudeville routines around this time as well. He and his orchestra appeared on the last two-a-day program at the Palace on May 7, 1932; they were also the last vaudeville performance at New York's State Theatre on December 23, 1947.
He opened Club Casanova, a nightclub, on Manhattan's Upper East Side and he married Danzi Goodell in 1937. He appeared in the Universal film Merry Go Round and started a routine with comedian Ed Wynn on Broadway. A series of his performances accompanied by piano and guitar was recorded for the Decca label, but he would self release his album Lots of Love in 1956. Prior to this albums release he moved to California, earlier that decade. Lots of Love led him to a performance contract with the Desert Inn in Las Vegas; this contract would last roughly eight years ending in 1963. His exposure from this contract landed him a deal with the Coral label, with whom he would release three more albums through the late 1950s and the early 1960s. The last performances from his career were his Vegas engagements; he passed away in his home on May 30, 1972.

Bill Robinson

Bill Robinson is considered the greatest tap dancer in vaudeville, he stepped with a relaxed demeanor that film audiences came to appreciate and admire. His dancing style had a happiness that infected everyone that was able to witness his dancing no matter their ethnicity.
Bill Robinson Source
He was born Luther Robinson on May 25, 1878 to Maria and Maxwell Robinson in Richmond, Virginia. Unfortunately his parents died during his childhood in 1885, leaving his grandmother to raise him. He did many odd jobs to make a living, he reflected "I had to shell peas to make a living". In Richmond he had received the nickname "Bojangles" from "jangler" meaning contentious; though it is unclear how he obtained this nickname. He also invented the phrase "Everything's Copacetic" meaning tip-top. He held many more odd jobs after he ran away from home; he went to Washington, D.C. taking menial tasks like selling newspapers and shining shoes all the while dancing at night in clubs and beer halls for pennies.
Bill Robinson obtained his first professional job performing as a member of the pickaninny chorus for Mayme Remington with The South Before the War in 1892. He challenged Harry Swinton, the In Old Kentucky star tap dancer, in 1900 when he got to New York and won the challenge. He and George W. Cooper, an older African-American vaudeville dancer, formed a partnership when Robinson was only seventeen. They worked together from 1092 to 1914, they were bound to vaudeville's "two-colored" rule that had restricted African Americans to performing in pairs. Together they performed on the Keith and Orpheum circuits, but unlike many other performers they did not use black-face makeup. Marty Forkin, an agent, saw the two perform and from that performance he signed them.
Robinson was very professional; but like many others, he had his own vices, he was a gambler with a short temper and carried a gold plated revolver. After an assault charge in 1915, Cooper and Robinson broke up, Forkin convinced Robinson to go solo and he remained Robinson's agent for the remainder of his life. Slowly Robinson made the switch from black vaudeville to mainstream vaudeville, and in July 1915 he appeared at Henderson's on Coney Island where he danced, sang and imitated many musical instruments. Robinson became one of the few African-American performers to headline at the Palace Theatre in New York.
1918 is when he introduced his stair dance; it was distinguished by its showmanship and sound, each step produced a different pitch and rhythm. Robinson became a regular at the Palace and he had started to bill himself as "The Dark Cloud of Joy"; and in 1924 he was billed as "The Chocolate Nijinsky". He would appear in the second spot on the bill, but Douglas Gilbert would later recall that Robinson's position on the bill would often change because nobody wanted to go on after him; so he would mostly close the show. He appeared at the Palace in June 1926, April and September 1927, June 1929, February and August 1930, and January and February 1931.
Racial prejudices was still an issue that Robinson had to face due to the color of his skin. One instance that he was confronted with took place on August 21, 1922 at the Maryland Theatre in Baltimore. On this occasion he was appearing in his usual number two spot; when a group of women hissed at him, after they were asked to leave his performance was applauded enthusiastically by the audience. He married Gannie Clay in 1922, and she would become his business manager, secretary, and partner in the efforts to fight the racial prejudices. He was one of the founding members of the Negro Actors Guild of America.
Also during the 1920s Robinson expanded his career; he was a success at London's Holborn Empire in July of 1926. He also starred in Blackbirds of 1928 (where he introduced "Doin' the New Low-Down") and in the 1930 production of Brown Buddies. He turned to Hollywood films in the 1930s; which had been restricted to African Americans until then. His first film was Dixiana (1930) and it had a mostly white cast; whereas his later film Harlem is Heaven (1933) was the first all black film ever made.
Some of the other films that he worked on were: The Little Colonel, The Littlest Rebel both in 1935, Dimples in 1936, and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm in 1938. In many of his better known films he had teamed up with Shirley Temple. Robinson and Temple danced his famous stair dance in The Little Colonel. According to Eleanor Powell, Robinson had only taught Temple and herself his stair dance; Powell danced it in her film Honolulu (1939). He left films for a time to star in The Hot Mikado, which opened on March 23, 1939 at the Broadhurst Theatre.
Even as he advanced in age he remained active and never lost his vitality, on his sixty-second birthday he danced up Broadway for fifty-two blocks. Robinson was an extremely generous man, when it came to his own race, he gave away millions of dollars to worthy causes and individuals. His efforts in benefits are legendary with estimates of well over one million dollars that he gave in loans and to charities. Marshall Stearns, a critic, once wrote "To his own people, Robinson became a modern John Henry, who instead of driving steel, laid down iron taps". He gave so much to his hometown of Richmond, Virginia that they honored him with a life-sized statue that the base describes him as "Dancer, Actor, Humanitarian".
He was a member of many clubs and civic organizations, and an honorary member of police departments across the US throughout his life. Mayor William O'Dwyer of New York City honored him by proclaiming Bill Robinson Day on April 29,1946. Young tap dancers at the Hoofers Club in Harlem were very influenced by Robinson. He died in New York on November 25, 1949; forty-five thousand people stood in line to file past his casket, and more than one-and-a-half million people lined the funeral route from Times Square to Harlem. With the Copacetics Club founding it ensured that Bill Robinson's excellence would not be forgotten.

Sir Harry Lauder

Roughly some seventy years ago Sir Harry Lauder's songs were well known and part of Scottish popular culture and quite possibly they are still well-known and just as much a part of today's Scottish popular culture. Some of his most recognized songs were: "I Love a Lassie", "She Is Ma Daisy", "Roamin' in the Gloamin'", "She Is My Rose" and "The End of the Road". Observing videos of him you will see a grouchy-looking Scotsman putting out lots of energy but not much personality into his songs and jokes, making it hard to understand his appeal even with the popularity of his songs.
Sir Harry Source
Near Edinburgh on August 4, 1870 Harry Lauder was born; he was the oldest out of eight children. His father passed away when he was twelve years old; causing his mother to move the family to Arbroath, where she had relatives living. He worked in a mill and a coal mine here, and on August 24, 1882 he made his first public appearance of his singing career. At fourteen his family moved to Lanarkshire, here he went to work in the pit. He kept singing and entered several competitions; through all of this he started to obtain paid engagements and joined a concert party, at the time this was a popular form of entertainment, and with them he toured Scotland. In 1894 Lauder had his first professional engagement. After this engagement, he formed a touring company of his own with Makenzie-Murdock, the violinist.
His first appearance at the Argyle Theatre Birkenhead in 1898 gave his career a big step forward, with his first "hit song" "Calligan- Call Again". He had toured in both professional and amateur settings for a few more years before making his London debut at Gatti's Music Hall in Westminister on March 19, 1900, where he was filling in for a sick artist. This venture was a big success, with him singing "Tobermory", "Calligan- Call Again" and "The Lass of Killiecrankie". He became one of the most popular and highest paid music hall artist touring the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia. Lauder sailed to America in 1907 making his fist appearance at the New York Theatre; he would meet William Morris, who would become his American manager, on this trip. The Americans loved him, audiences just would not let him leave the stage; at this first engagement the audience held him for more than an hour. Throughout the years he would return to America twenty-two times and William Morris handled all of his engagements in America until the last tour 1934.
Lauder was very loyal to Morris and others who worked with him; like Marlin Wagner, who was the company manager, and Jack Lait, the publicist. Audiences were just as loyal to him, as he was to the people who helped him. An example of the audience's loyalty is when he was booked in the Manhattan Opera House in 1911; (it was the first vaudeville performance there) because of fog and quarantine issues he was delayed on opening night until 12:47 a.m. The audience had waited for him since 8:15 p.m., his opening comment was "Ha' ye no hame to go to?".
During the winter season pantomime was the biggest part of it and it could make a career if a performer was successful at it. Lauder also participated in pantomime, his first was Aladdin at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow where he portrayed Roderick McSwankey and he first sang "I Love a Lassie". He premiered the song "Roamin' in the Gloamin'" in Red Riding Hood in 1910. To Jericho was his first phonograph recording in February 1902 and his last Always Take Care of Your Pennies and It's a' Roon th' Toon' in May 1933; there were later recordings, but they were not released. Typically his appearance on vaudeville would last for roughly one hour and fifteen minutes.
In 1904 he made an experimental talkie, his first film, called Inverary for the British Gaumont Company. Then, in 1914, before the war broke out, Lauder made fourteen experimental sound-on-disc films for the Cort-Kitsee Talking Pictures and Selig Polyscope Company. Though when the war did break out he was in Australia with his son John. Lauder continued with his tour while his son was recalled to his regiment, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. He wanted to be involved with the war work, but he was deemed too old to be sent to the trenches, so he had suggested that he could sing to the men in the trenches. Initially this idea was rejected, but he would later be given permission to entertain the Scottish troops wherever they were located. Aside from entertaining the troops he sold Liberty Bonds in the US and worked on recruiting troops. He had his own recruiting band, and he would give encouraging speeches to the young to join up. Through his work over 12,000 men were recruited.
Lauder was back in London in 1916 when he opened the review "Three Cheers" at the Shaftesbury Theatre. The final song he performed was "The Laddies Who Fought", and at the end of the song a company of Scots Guards marched on to the stage. On January 1, 1917, during this tour, he received a telegram informing him that his son John had been killed. He rushed back to Scotland to be at his wife's side, and three days later he returned to the show. In December of 1918, a year after his son's death, he was opening at the Lexington Theatre in New York. During his performance there were tears in his eyes as he sang "Wee Hoose 'mang the Heather", his son's favorite song, but the highlight of this performance was a plea called "Victory with Mercy" during which he asked "Don't let us sing any more about war; just let us sing of Love". He would make a similar tour in 1928 after his wife Nancy died in 1927.
He established the Harry Lauder Million Pound Fund for maimed Scottish soldiers and sailors in September of 1917. He was made a Knight of the British Empire in 1919 as a result of all of his war work. Aside from his musical tours and his war work, he was also in films and on radio broadcasts. Some of his feature films are Hunting Tower (1928), I Love a Lassie (1932), and End of the Road (1936). His last radio broadcast was for the BBC on December 25, 1942.
While Sir Harry Lauder had never played at the Palace, some of his early films were shown, each film showed him singing one of his well-known songs, but none of these films are known to survive to today. Somewhere along the way he had gained a reputation for stinginess, but in actuality he was very generous; he even returned $3,000 of his $5,000 weekly salary to William Morris for some performances that he had missed. His philosophy was to be honest, pay one's debts, work hard, and save; and he never strayed from these simple beliefs. The only downside of his personality was that he would never perform on a Sunday, maintaining that his audiences were deeply religious like himself.
His last on stage appearance was a concert in the Gorbals to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the local Rover Scout Group in 1947. Lauder officially retired in 1949 stating:"Retirement is a word I've simply been far too busy to use, a word that I've avoided. I've worked hard all my life and enjoyed every minute of it. Still, I suppose a man can't go on forever, although I'd be perfectly willing to. I daresay it's time I took a breather". Sir Harry Lauder passed away February 26, 1950 in Lanarkshire, Scotland at the age of eighty.

W.C. Fields

W.C. Fields holds a unique status in American entertainment, marked by him being the only vaudevillian, besides Will Rogers, to be honored with a commemorative stamp from the U.S. Postal Service on the 100th anniversary of his birth. He was a master juggler with a sharp wit and a mastery of euphemism with phrases like "drat", "Godfrey Daniels" and "Mother of Pearl". He was born on April 9, 1879 in Philadelphia as William Claude Dunkenfield.
W.C. Fields Source
He became entranced with a juggling act at the age of fourteen and it helped inspire him and lay his future in entertainment. His first professional vaudeville appearance was at an Atlantic City beer hall in the spring of 1896. When he joined a tour with the Keith Vaudeville Circuit at the age of nineteen is when his career got a jump start. Aside from his juggling act he did many jobs within the tour, like shifting scenery and playing in musical comedies to name a few. After eighteen months on the circuit he landed in New York City, where he got fabulous reviews and a new job with the Orpheum Circuit at $125 per week (which lasted for four years). Around this time he met a chorus girl from the Irwin Burlesquers by the name of Hattie Hughes. He would marry her, and she would join his act as his assistant and straight woman.
He would appear on stage dressed as a tramp with a stubble beard. To save on wardrobe costs he would wear old, torn, loose clothing that he already owned, to appear unshaven he would use make up techniques. It wasn't until his marriage to Hattie in 1900 that he added comedy to his act. Their act was about twenty minutes of comedy juggling. He would use a few props for his juggling; tennis balls, a balancing stick, a top hat and cigar boxes, with the tennis balls he could juggle up to six of them. In his early career he appeared as a young, trim and handsome juggler, but during the act he would remain silent hiding behind a tramp face. The signature W.C. Fields drawl and sharp wit were only present when he was off stage, until roughly 1915 when he added talking to his act. The silence worked in his favor while he was touring around Europe as it eliminated the language barrier.
He was billed as "The Eccentric Tramp Juggler" in 1900, and by then he had become a familiar and well-liked performer on American vaudeville stages. He developed a talent for the conscious error during his act. A review of his act in the San Francisco Examiner described it as:"It is impossible to tell whether Fields makes real or fake mistakes in his juggling. He will drop a hat apparently by accident in the middle of some difficult feat and then catch it by another apparently accidental movement. It is all so smooth and effortless". He made his first of may world tours in 1901, with this first tour he had been very successful in Europe and South Africa.
In 1902 he starred at London's Palace Theatre, his act was just juggling, but when he returned to London in 1904 at the Hippodrome he added a pool table to the act. Also, in 1904 his son, W.C. Fields Jr. was born, unfortunately this marked the end of Hattie's stage career and the beginning of the end of her marriage to Fields. Though they separated they remained married for the rest of their lives; Hattie would out live him. He continued to financially support both Hattie and Jr until his death in 1946. Jr would take up music in college and form his own band while he studied at Columbia University; after his graduation he became a lawyer.
After the separation he went to Europe with his brother, who was his new assistant at this point, for a second tour. During the following ten years he would have two world tours, many trips around Europe and a couple of tours of all of the US's best vaudeville houses. By this point in his career he was known for his comedy as well as his juggling. He was honored with a command performance for the King and Queen of England, the only American performer so honored, in 1913. He stepped into the vaudeville limelight in 1915 when he made his first appearance in one of the Ziegfeld Follies; by this point in his career he left behind the tramp makeup and gave more humor. He became part of the Follies crew in 1918, 1920, 1921 and 1925. In the 1921 performance he did no juggling at all during the act. His most important stage production was Poppy, a musical comedy, which costarred Madge Kennedy and opened at the New Apollo Theatre on September 2, 1923. He would later film it twice, once in 1925 as Sally of the Sawdust and again in 1936 as Poppy.
He is one of the few vaudevillians to transfer all of his routines to film, thus creating a new financially successful career and ensuring that his vaudeville acts were preserved for the future. His film career took off in 1925 with Sally of the Sawdust, and he passed a milestone in 1926 when he made his first film with no juggling at all. Some of the films that he appeared in were: That Royle Girl (1925), Tillie's Punctured Romance (1928), Her Majesty Love (his first talkie in 1931), Tillie and Gus (1933), Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1934), David Copperfield (1935), You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939), My Little Chickadee and The Bank Dick (1940), and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941). Though there was a level of crudity and vulgarity in some of his films, most noticeably in International House (1933), they were not part of his vaudeville routines. Through the early to mid 1930s he made a series of films for Paramount that help understand his essence and creativity as a vaudevillian. When he had been established as a film star in LA there was no return to vaudeville and the revue stage for him. He left New York and the stage for good in 1931 when he moved to Hollywood and became the W.C. Fields that is so widely recognized and remembered today.
Aside from juggling and comedy he was also a talented artist, though few knew it. He would design and draw cartoons for newspaper interviews and poster advertisements; and he continued this hobby for many years. Like many people he was a complex individual, an intelligent and maybe a bit of an introspective man he was not the drunken child hater that he has been shown as. He had been estranged from both his wife and his son, but there had been reconciliation when Jr got married. Fields Sr also showed his grandson a great deal of affection. He died in Pasadena, California on December 25, 1946 at the age of sixty-seven.

Senor Wences

Moreno Wenceslao was born on April 17, 1899 in Penaranda de Bracamonte, Spain to an artistic Spaniard who played violin for a local orchestra and restored paintings. As a child he worked on throwing his voice and he made hand puppets to entertain his friends, he also occasionally caused some mischief for fun.
Even though he had practiced throwing his voice throughout his childhood he did not start out his early working days in show business, but in bullfighting. He was a bullfighter for four years before he spent three years in the army. He hadn't been a very successful bullfighter, as results of an injury after a bull got the better of him; he took up juggling to follow the doctor's orders to exercise his arms and fingers. This combined with watching matinees at his father's theatre he decided to start his show business career.
Senor Wences joined the vaudeville scene in its later years, but he brought vaudeville to new audiences with his forty-eight appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and multiple live performances throughout the years. He is quite possibly the greatest of all of the comedic ventriloquists. His act usually consisted of two characters, a doll and a disembodied head in a box. The doll was made by using lipstick to paint on the mouth, two onyx rings for eye and a tiny red wig added to his left hand. The head would always argue and threaten, and when Wences started to close the box the head's voice would get muffled slowly. More often then not there would be a three way argument between Wences, the doll and the head.
He had become very well known for both his juggling and ventriloquism by the 1920s and was in high demand in both Europe and Latin America. At an engagement at the Casino Theatre in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1928 when the house management put out an edict stating that only acts not needing musical accompaniment would be able to appear; as the result he took up the ventriloquism act that he had performed in his boyhood at school. In 1935 at the El Chico Club in Greenwich Village, after a successful tour in Europe, is where he made his first American appearance. He toured with Chester Morris and the Frazee Sisters in the Ice Carnival during 1938. Then, in November of the same year he made his vaudeville debut at the Paramount Theater in New York, incorrectly billed as "The Wences" in an eleven minute act. He became a big hit with the audience and the highlight of the act was him drinking a glass of water and smoking a cigarette while the doll sang in a high soprano.
After that debut he became part of a lengthy tour with Martha Raye, which kicked off on October 14, 1939 at the Earle Theater in Philadelphia. Though he was popular with the audiences there were some issues in the Midwest due to his accent being hard to understand. Also, in 1939 he was at the San Francisco World's Fair, there he met his wife Natalie; she helped with his act by translating his ideas from Spanish to English.
Variety hailed him as "one of the best ventriloquists around" on August 26, 1942, despite any language problems; and around this time is when he developed the head in the box. Originally it had been an entire dummy, but when performing at the Chicago Theatre it had been damaged during transportation. So, he took the idea of cutting off the head and using it and ran with it. Also, in 1942 when he appeared at the Alvin Theatre in New York, performing in Laugh, Town, Laugh he was billed as "From Portugal, a Gentleman of Originality" due to the situations in Europe and Spain's pro-Nazi stance.
His act was filmed as a cameo in the 1947 Betty Grable film Mother Wore Tights. He created a third character called Cecelia Chicken, when he was working in Egypt during the 1950s. Cecelia made her American debut on the TV series Your Show of Shows. In the fall of 1951 Judy Garland opened at the Palace; and Wences replaced one of the supporting acts, Max Bygraves a British singer. As time passed by Wences spent seven years in Paris at the Crazy Horse Saloon.
Senor Wences & the Doll Source
On February 14, 1970 one of his last major television appearances in One-Man Show aired on television. The finale of this performance consisted of him juggling four plates on sticks all while speaking in four different voices. A few days later, on February 18, 1970, Variety stated "a reminder that great vaude turns are getting scarce". November 1983 in Los Angeles he made one of his last stage appearances in the show It's Magic. Though he was aging he continued to work as much as he could, he even went on tour with Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller in Sugar Babies in 1986. His devotion "to entertaining generations of audiences and bringing countless hours of joy and happiness to millions throughout the world" is what made him the 1996 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Comedy Hall of Game. He died on April 20, 1999 at the age of 103 in the Manhattan home that he and his wife Natalie had shared for over sixty years.

Edgar Bergen

He was one of America's most famous ventriloquists, even though he was not one of the greatest. He wasn't fully able to keep his lips from moving, even before he was on the radio, but audiences were capable of overlooking that issue and truly believe that Charlie McCarthy and the others really did possess lives all their own. In virtually every way they were Bergen's alter egos; and they were just as special to him as his family was including his daughter Candice. The audiences felt that he truly believed in Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd and that their conversations continued long after the audiences left. His act underwent drastic change through the years; so much so that the ventriloquist performing at the Palace in 1926 and the star of later years held little resemblance to one another. Even though the act changed the humor remained the same, it had a gentleness to it, it might not have caused deep belly laughs, but it made a person feel good inside.
Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy & Mortimer Snerd Source
He was born Edgar John Berrgren to Swedish immigrants on February 16, 1903 in Chicago. He and his family moved to Michigan, where he grew up. After he watched the Great Lester, in vaudeville and read a book of magic called Hermman's Wizard Manual, he decided to go into show business. The first Charlie McCarthy was made by an Irish woodcarver by the name of Charlie Mack around 1920; his features were based off of an Irish newsboy who used to deliver papers to the Berrgren family. Charlie had been named after the woodcarver, he was originally made of Michigan Pine and stood four feet tall and weighed twenty-four pounds. His head attached to his body with a shaft that was about nine inches long. This Charlie was not dressed in his familiar top hat and suit, but he was dressed as a street urchin.
At sixteen Bergen moved to Chicago and he got a job working in a silent movie theatre, he started out sweeping and keeping the furnace lit, then he became the projectionist and the house pianist. They made their debut at the Waveland Avenue Congregational Church, after a little while they were appearing in the small Chicago theatres that were part of the Chautauqua vaudeville circuit. While he was taking classes at Northwestern University, and his popularity landed him larger venues to perform at. He wouldn't go on to finish his scholastic career, but he was given an Honorary "Master of Innuendos and Snappy Comebacks" degree. His career progressed gradually until he finally appeared at the Palace in a fifteen minute act in June of 1926.
Their first screen appearance occurred in 1930 in a series of Vitaphone shorts made by Warner Brothers; the first of which were called The Operation and the second was called The Office Scandal. Both of these shorts are preserved at the UCLA Film and Television Archive; with their preservation on it provides documentation of his vaudeville routines, which were lacking in warmth and were racier than his later work. After he obtained a booking at the Helen Morgan Club, a nightclub and speak easy, he decided that it was time to spruce up his act. From that decision we were given the second version of Charlie McCarthy; this version is the one that everyone is familiar with his top hat, tuxedo and monocle.
On December 17, 1936 when they were guest stars on Rudy Vallee's radio show is when their career caught a major break. They worked with Vallee on a rather regular basis until April 1937; then on May 9, 1937 they started their own radio show. They were sponsored by Chase and Sanborn Coffee; it was originally called The Chase & Sanborn Hour, but very quickly the name changed to The Charlie McCarthy Show, showing who really was the star attraction of the duo. They stayed on the air for the next twenty years; with the most famous part being the ongoing feud between W.C. Fields and Charlie McCarthy, the feud lasted from 1938until 1944. They were paired together in the film You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (19339), as a result of their feud.
Throughout his years on radio he introduced his other dummies: Mortimer Snerd, Effie Klinker (who looked like Sneezy), Ophelia (a querulous old lady), Maisie and Matilda (a couple of barnyard hens), Podine Puffington (a tall, glamorous blond), Lars Lindquist (a Swedish fisher man), and Gloria Graham (a real talker who was always moving and talked herself right out of show business). By this time Charlie wore size 4 clothes, 2AAA shoes, a 3 3/8 hat and weighed forty pounds; though his body needed changed every now and again his head remained the same.
He had a talent for keeping his humor up-to-date through all of the changes in the social climate through the years. Bergen left Charlie behind in 1947 to portray Mr. Thorkelson in the film version of I Remember Mama, he had said that it was one of his favorite parts because he didn't have to be Edgar Bergen. He would appear in many films, mostly with Charlie, some of these other films were: The Goldwyn Follies (1938), Song of the Open Road (1944), Fun and Fancy Free (1947), Captain China (1949), Don't Make Waves (1967) and The Muppet Movie (1979). The Muppet Movie was his last screen appearance, even though it was just a cameo the film was dedicated to his memory. At the height of Bergen and Charlie's popularity they were given an honorary Oscar that was made of wood.
While he had success in films and live performances he did not have the same success on television. Even though he was not as successful he made many guest appearances on different shows, and he also hosted the quiz show Do You Trust Your Wife? from January 1956 until March 1957. In September 1978 Bergen stated that he would be retiring from show business and that he would be leaving Charlie to the Smithsonian Institution. He would die on September 30, 1978 at the Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, where he was playing a farewell engagement. After his death Charlie McCarthy was taken in by the Smithsonian, where he can still be seen on display. He closed his last show with this: "All acts have a beginning and an end...and I think that time has come for me. So I think I'll just pack up my jokes and my friends".

Some of these men have helped lay down the ground work for the entertainers to come in a very direct way, whereas others weren't quite so direct with their influence. They have all made a mark on history that has stood out to someone and managed to stand the test of time to be remembered in some way in the future that they helped shape for show business.


Slide, A. (2012). The encyclopedia of vaudeville. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
Severo, R. (1999, April 29). Senor wences, ventriloquist who was a tv regular, 103. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Loftus, J. (2015). Dave apollon biography. Retrieved from

Sir harry lauder: 1870-1950. Informally published manuscript, Library: Special Collections, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland. Retrieved from

Edgar bergen and his famous dummy. (2011, February 16). Retrieved from

Chamberlin, R. (1983, May). W.c. fields, the crown prince of comedy.. a juggler first!. Retrieved from

Hill, C. V. (2002). Bill "bojangles" robinson (c.1878 -1949). Retrieved from