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 RobinsonBill 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 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 LauderRoughly 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.
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. FieldsW.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.
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 WencesMoreno 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|
Edgar BergenHe 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|
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.
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Severo, R. (1999, April 29). Senor wences, ventriloquist who was a tv regular, 103. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1999/04/21/arts/senor-wences-ventriloquist-who-was-a-tv-regular-103.html
Loftus, J. (2015). Dave apollon biography. Retrieved from http://www.allmusic.com/artist/dave-apollon-mn0000957070/biography
Sir harry lauder: 1870-1950. Informally published manuscript, Library: Special Collections, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland. Retrieved from http://www.gla.ac.uk/services/specialcollections/collectionsa-z/scottishtheatrearchive/stacollections/sirharrylauder/
Edgar bergen and his famous dummy. (2011, February 16). Retrieved from http://www.legacy.com/news/legends-and-legacies/edgar-bergen-and-his-famous-dummy/533/
Chamberlin, R. (1983, May). W.c. fields, the crown prince of comedy.. a juggler first!. Retrieved from http://www.juggling.org/fame/fields/chamberlin.html
Hill, C. V. (2002). Bill "bojangles" robinson (c.1878 -1949). Retrieved from http://atdf.org/awards/bojangles.html