Sunday, January 20, 2008

More Quirky Vaudeville Anecdotes

I'm having so much fun re-reading Douglas Gilbert's "American Vaudeville." His anecdotes about popular variety acts are priceless and rapid fire. I can't vouch for his accuracy -- heck, he was there and I wasn't -- but vaudeville was so exaggerated to begin with that you can forgive the occasional over-the-top description.

Here are a few more of my favourite moments in the book. First off, he reprints a wonderfully nasty song by Dan Collyer called "Tommy, Don't Wriggle the Baby."
Now I am the oldest one of a family numbering twenty.
At the tender age of one begun my troubles of which I had plenty.
The children I had to nurse, with an infant's nursery bottle.
And when they were twins, upon my pins!--the infants I'd like to throttle!

Tommy don't wriggle the baby.
Please don't tickle the baby.
Be pertickeler, perpendickeler
Always carry the child.
I think this would be a good companion song to the Talking Heads' "Stay Up Late."

I'm intrigued by the short chapter regarding Charlie Case, who Gilbert describes as "a natural Negro, a gentle neurotic (strange combination!)". Ahem. The transcription of one of Case's routines is unlike any vaudeville act I've heard before, so deadpan in its weirdness. It has a touch of the Marx Brothers to it but is so toned down...
Father was a peculiar man. Us children didn't understand him. Mother understood him. Mother could always tell when father'd been drinking. We couldn't tell. We used to think he was dead.
In the "synchronicity" department, just a few weeks ago I blogged about the practice of "paying the angles" on 1920s radio. This was just as big a problem in vaudeville, and Gilbert knows who to blame.
Lottie Gilson...almost ruined her art with an innovation that is still a nuisance in night clubs and on the radio--song plugging. She was the first of the pluggers, singing for an extra fee the most awful junk of the one-finger Tin-Pan Alley boys...
For an interesting article about the birth of the "hit song," see this parlor songs page.

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