Saturday, January 26, 2008

More Vaudeville Cats, Plus Special JJ Synchronicity Bonus!

I've just finished Douglas Gilbert's "American Vaudeville." It really is an exceptional book. Sloppy, yes, full of asides and written almost like a journal, but if you pay close attention you get a real sense of the interconnectedness of vaudeville; the stage hands, the performers, the booking agents, the theatre chain owners, the critics.

But of course you want to hear about the vaudeville cats.
The domestic feline--the writer, who adores them, regrets to say--never graduated with high honors in vaudeville although there were a number of successful cat acts. Of course, these cats are not dangerous, but they are unreliable, merely because they are supreme individualists, preferring to do the thing they want at the time they want to do it; which should be understandable...

Yet even [Tetchow] could get from his pets, for indeed they were that, but one trick each. His star performer was a tom who ran from the wings, scrambled up a rope hanging from the proscenium arch, got into a basket attached to a parachute and came floating down to the stage.
Heck, my cat could do that. Or at least she would if there was a toilet up there to drink out of.
It may be unnecessary to say that goats are difficult to work with and more unreliable than cats.
So no goats in baskets.

Special synchronicity bonus for reader jj! He mentioned this act last week, and what did I find on page 247?
Willie [Hammerstein] combed the museums and side shows for his freaks. In Philadelphia he found the wonderful Sober Sue...A number of the best comics of the period tried [to make her laugh]--Sam Bernard, Willie Collier, Eddie Leonard, Louis Mann. All failed. But the customers kept coming, not to see Sober Sue, but the comedians who (without salary) were contributing thousands of dollars in prestige and box-office take... When the engagement terminated it was discovered that her facial muscles were paralyzed and it was physically impossible for her to laugh.
Apparently Sober Sue suffered from the very odd Mobius syndrome, and her real name was Susan Kelly.


Anonymous said...

Cool. I dunno about you, but the though of this act has me grinning like an idiot. Among other reasons because it PROVES what social animals we are - smiling/laughing is contagious and it is impossible for someone not to smile unless something is wrong with his face. :)

Adam Thornton said...

I hadn't thought about it that way, but you're right. The jury's out on how hard-wired our smile reflexes are (there are isolated groups of people who don't smile the way we do), but there seems little doubt that there's a hard-wired "smile behaviour" somewhere down there. Which says something good about us, I think.

In a book by Kurt Vonnegut ("Galapagos"), he describes a race of dolphin-like creatures that evolve from humans over millions of years. He says they don't LOOK human anymore, but you can tell they're human because they all laugh when somebody farts.

Anonymous said...

Alright, are you now the first site that comes up if someone googles for dolphin farts? :)

Adam Thornton said...

I'm afraid it isn't, because other people are telling EXACTLY THE SAME VONNEGUT ANECDOTE. :)

But now I have something to strive for...