Bert Williams: Vaudeville Superstar

If you have even a passing interest in learning about vaudeville–that hugely influential form of entertainment that today’s pop culture wouldn’t be the same without–and indeed want to acquaint yourself with early stage shows in general, there’s one name in particular that you should know: Bert Williams.

Bert_Williams_blackface

Oh yes, I can sense you raising your eyebrows right now–Williams (who himself was black) is in that cringeworthy blackface makeup, white gloves and all. This was how he appeared on the stage, and how audiences recognized him. But this man was much more than a dated makeup–this was a performer who transcended a stock character appearance by his sheer talent and charisma, and became one of the most successful performers of his time. A performer so beloved, that after his sudden death in 1922 from pneumonia over 5,000 fans filed past his casket.  Continue reading

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The History Of Those Darn Banana Peels

If you could sum up the idea of slapstick comedy film with a mere two phrases, one would be “custard pie” and the other would probably be “banana peels.”

Banana peel comic frame el paso herald Mar 18 '16

From comic strip The Whole Blooming Family, 1916.

But did you ever wonder where this classic gag come from? Why were banana peels in particular an ever-present hazard to a screen comedian’s life and limb? Continue reading