Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Life Was Cheap For the Vaudeville Felines (plus "socks")

In his rather informal book "American Vaudeville," author Douglas Gilbert often goes off on wild tangents, describing the long-lost vaudeville routines that he obviously pines for. He takes real delight in remembering the more bizarre acts for us, and I take a real delight in reading about them:
A performer whose name nobody can recall had an act called "The Cat Piano." It comprised a number of live cats confined in narrow boxes with wire netting on the front ends. Artificial tails extended from the rear. This performer was a marvelous cat imitator and miaowed the "Miserere" by pulling the cats' tails. Spits, snarls, and plaintive mews added to the effect of the back-fence serenade.
He also mentions "Nelson's Boxing Cats" in his huge list of standard acts from 1880 to 1930, sadly with no further details.

Here's another passage that I love:
Most of the museums pasted warnings in dressing rooms that the words "slob," "sucker," "damn," "hell," and "socks" were forbidden. The ban on "socks" may seem unreasonable today [1940] but in the eighties crude jests--"stronger than father's socks," or "I threw my socks at the wall and they stuck"--were common gags.
Next time I'm at a party I'll be sure to try out some of those sock gags. "The wine has a pungent bouquet...stronger than father's socks!"


Anonymous said...

how about my favorite Vaudeville act? The man who went on to marry Houdini's widow used to offer a thousand dollars to any member of the public who made him laugh/smile. What the poor "marks" didn't know was that his smiling/laughing nerves were paralyzed. Genius!

Adam Thornton said...

That jerk!

Yes, I've heard about that woman; she appears in a lot of the sideshow memoirs as an example of a typical scam.

I'll have to look her up, I'm curious to learn more now...

Eli McIlveen said...

"Words like 'swell!' And 'So's your old man!'"

Adam Thornton said...

And "winsome."

Seriously, it seems like every woman was "winsome" in the 1890s.