I've been a fan of oldtime radio for a while now, listening to tapes of Jack Benny and Burns and Allen and whatnot since college. I've also read a lot of their biographies, and am currently making my way through the tales of Fred Allen. Allen has a lot of great stories about his vaudeville days, and it's interesting to think about a time in history when a person or group with a good eight-minute act could make a living for the rest of their life touring the various vaudeville circuits around the country. Of course, when radio came along, your fine polished act would be eaten up in a quick eight minutes, and then they'd say "what else ya got?"
Thanks to the existence of YouTube, we can peek into a little of what vaudeville was like and get aat least a taste of the unique vanished talent of that age. The picture accompanying this post is Mr. Wilbur Hall, who I had never heard of before today. He's performing a novelty violin solo act that is just amazing. You just don't see people doing stuff like this today. (And yes, he really is playing the violin here.)
I discovered that video after watching an incredible performance by Spike Jones and His City Slickers of a piece called "I Like To Sock Myself In The Face", but oddly enough, after being online for a year and viewed by over 45,000 folks, the uploader took it down sometime today. Anyway, here's another look at the weirdness and talent that is Spike Jones. Oh, and if you've never seen their classic short film for the post-prohibition song "Cocktails For Two", well check it out.
Some of y'all know I'm a huge fan of Cab Calloway. Through Cab, I discovered the amazing talent of The Nicholas Brothers, two of the best tapdancers that ever lived. Check out Cab and Fayard and Harold in this clip from Stormy Weather.
W.C. Fields got his start as a juggler, and here is his performing some of his old juggling act within the context of a larger movie. An amazing juggler who everybody knows as a movie comedian.
I was really hoping to find some footage from the movie "College Humor", which had some great vaudeville acts sandwiched in between scenes, but to no avail. Go out and rent it.