A real buster! When I was a young kid of about 12 years old I remember clearly sitting in front of the television and watching one of the “new comedians” from the 1970s. After watching a routine and not laughing very much I turned to my parents who were watching it with me, and saying “Why aren’t they funny like real comedians?” My mom said “What do you mean?” and I listed off all the comedians that I thought were real comedians. My mom looked at my dad and smiled and said “You like all the comedians from vaudeville. That’s because they’re the real old pros.”
I didn’t know it then, but that perception I had would guide my life in a way that that 12 year old kid could never have imagined. Culminating in a 40 year career in one of the last remaining vaudeville shows in the world. What my 12 year old self was trying to explain is expressed perfectly in this episode of the vaudecast.
When you put an old vaudevillian pro in place you can see the difference in the quality of comedy, singing, dancing and even acting in some cases. Simply put, after doing several hundred performances of the same 10 minute act as they travelled from one small town to the next – the vaudevillian honed their craft with a never ending process of mini-tweaks. Small adjustments that make a laugh better, or creates a moment of drama, or brings a tear to the eyes of the roughhouse men in the balcony. Vaudevillians learned how to act, sing, dance and make people laugh – in real time – in front of a live audience – night after wonderful night.
One of the most notable faces in the silent movie era of course was Buster Keaton. As you’ll hear in this show – his mastery of being Buster Keaton was learned as his family act toured vaudeville circuits from the time of his birth – until he made his way into Silents. Have you ever heard Buster Keaton in a song and dance number?
If you like vaudeville, one of the best movies you can watch to get the feeling of backstage life is the movie “Three Little Words” starring Fred Astaire, Vera Ellen, Red Skelton and Arlene Dahl. It was a show about the life of two of the most famous songwriters of the vaudeville era – Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby.
It also stars a very young Debbie Reynolds singing a song called “I Wanna Be Loved By You” . For some reason, they didn’t let Reynolds sing her own song. The voice you hear is actually the original “Boop-Boop-be-doop girl” Helen Kane.
This half of the show is all about Helen Kane and you’ll even hear Harry Ruby tell the story about how he and Kalmar discovered a new young Helen Kane.
Tune in to the Vaudeville Podcast and you’ll hear that and much more.