Friday, February 22, 2013

VAUDEVILLE....Just remembering and writing down some about a bunch of performers from the age of Vaudeville....Part 3

One of the group of performers who really had an effect on the age of vaudeville were the musicians.  Music and what was considered music acts were always popular. One of the people who found and promoted singers and songwriters was Gus Edwards. He found singers like Eddie Cantor and wrote tons of music that would ring in the sounds of the new century. Edwards discovered others who were not singers or musicians. He discovered Walter Winchell, the Marx Brothers, and the hoofer Ray Bolger. These were major players who would influence vaudeville.

The Marx Brother's were part of a vaudeville family.  All were musical, all had talents beyond comedy. They had a mother, Minnie, who pushed hard to make her boys a success. The Marx Brothers had an uncle in the business, his name was Al Shean.

Shean had been a average and not too famous vaudevillian till he teamed up with Ed Gallagher. They performed a piece that became a national craze. A piece called "Absolutely Mr. Gallagher, positively Mr. Shean". This became so popular that is was redone several times, always to acclaim.

The Marx Brothers became a zoo on stage. They did just about everything and became very popular in the smaller theaters around the country. It is interesting that around 1913 while playing in a Waukegan, Illinois vaudeville house, Minnie Marx asked a violinist in the pit, who she found worked very well with her boys if he could join the act. Well, this young violinist named Benny Kulbelsky went home and asked his parents if he could. He mother totally forbid it, so the Marx Brothers never had this violinist join their act.

 But, act together they would in the future. For that young violinist would become Jack Benny.

One of the great performers and writers of music in those early days of vaudeville was Irving Berlin. He had a wonderful knack for just popping out songs that would become popular. Some of his early songs had influence on the era.

 Songs like Alexander's Ragtime Band became an international hit. So much of a hit that it was played on the RMS Titanic as it sank.

His music more than most became the sounds of that wonderful era of 1910 -1925.  Berlin was a prolific writer who also was a shrewd businessman. He renewed every one of his copy rites for his music when he was close to 100 years of age. His family will be getting revenue from his music till well past the middle of the 21st century.

One of the great comedy groups of vaudeville was Smith and Dale. This duo of comedians performed in vaudeville, movies, radio and TV, and are one of the few groups from that era who would be memorialized in a Broadway Play and later movie called "The Sunshine Boys" Smith and Dale were the basis for the show.

They did many acts, but perhaps no lines became part of the American like theirs...

Dr. Kronkite, it hurts when I do this. Well, says the doctor, don't do this!

I got a chance to interview this charming old man at the Englewood Actors Home many years ago.  He gave me lots of information about vaudeville. But oh how many questions I have now!  But will never know, cause  everyone is long dead.

One of the musical masters of this age was Jimmie Durante. He was much more involved in music than most people know. He was known in his youth as "Ragtime Jimmy". He played all over New York working at times with a very young Eddie Cantor and George Jessel,

He would in time become part of some very famous bands such as "The Original New Orleans Jazz Band" and the "Frisco Jazz Band". These were important bands that recorded for labels like Edison, Columbia, and Okeh.

Durante would become a fixture in vaudeville and would in time go from vaudeville, movies to radio and TV.

In this vain of thought lets remember the team of Burns and Allen . They were one of the few vaudeville acts who never needed to change their act. They used the same material from the 1920's to the 1950's.

George Burns starting in the 1960's and went alone. Sometimes having a guest play Gracie Allen, even a few times with Jack Benny in drag. What is most interesting was that George Burns would play a vaudevillian in "The Sunshine Boys" His career was perhaps one of the most successful post vaudeville. As it went on till the 1990's He ranks with Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Milton Berle and Red Skelton .

Lastly in this post was the composer George Gershwin. His music became very important after Al Jolson used one of his songs in 1918 called Swanee. It was an instant hit and Gershwin was in the middle of vaudeville. its performers, developers, and the magic of Tin Pan Ally.