Fred and Ginger are the screen’s most famous dancing partners, yet each had careers beforehand on the stage. Fred Austerlitz (1899-1987) of Omaha, Nebraska partnered with sister Adele (initially the more famous of the two) in vaudeville and on the stage in musicals such as, The Band Wagon, before signing with RKO. Fred was not so great as a solo dancer despite popular belief. Rather it was his grace in partnered dancing that made him a world-wide phenomenon.
The University of Arizona has a considerable collection of Fred Astaire sheet music from his earliest days partnering with sister Adele Astaire through his golden period with RKO Pictures.
What Ziegfeld did for Anna Held, the Shubert Brothers did five years later for Gaby Deslys. They made her famous in America before she first arrived from Paris and set foot on an American stage. Gaby Deslys was a willing partner in her exploitation.
George Burns (born New York January 20, 1896-died Beverly Hills, March 9, 1996) and Gracie Allen (July 26, 1906 - August 27, 1964) were the most popular comic duo of the 20th century in vaudeville and in the movies as well as on radio and television. Before they found each other neither had had tremendous success and for eight years after they got together they were only passably popular.
George M. Cohan (July 3, 1878 Providence, Rhode Island- November 18, 1942 New York City) is considered by most scholars of theatre and vaudeville to be the most important figure in the history of musical theater. He was not particularly talented in the classic sense-- his dancing was more hoofing and his singing voice had trouble reaching notes and ended up speaking the lines much of the time. Nor was he a great technical musician. But Cohan grew up performing in vaudeville and was already a veteran by age 8.
Gilda Gray (October 24, 1901 – December 22, 1959) was a major star as an actress, dancer and flashy personality in the 1920s. Extraordinarily beautiful and famous for her legs, she became one of the symbols of the liberated woman in the flapper era, along with the likes of Clara Bow, an image she enhanced by frequently appearing in exotic roles and wearing next to nothing. Her foreign accent also added to the mystery.
Harry Carroll (Atlantic City, New Jersey November 28, 1892 – Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania December 26, 1962) was a noted American songwriter and pianist. He was another of those vaudevillians who didn’t finish school and who was already playing piano in a silent movie theater before he was out of grade school. His dream was to move to the big city which he did at age 18, finding work in Tin Pan Alley, that early center for American popular music composition, as an arranger.
Of all the great forgotten stars of vaudeville, no one more regrettably forgotten comes to mind than the great Irene Franklin (born 13 June 1876 in New York City – 16 June 1941 in Englewood, New Jersey. Long before there were female comedy stand-up pioneers such as Jackie "Moms" Mabley or Joan Rivers there were other pioneers, including Jessie Mae Hall (The Doll Comedian), who did a routine with little dolls as if she were a little girl playing. There were also impressionists such as Nan Halperin and Elsie Janis, who also wrote music, organized shows and starred on Broadway.
Jack Benny: Forever 39
By Nicole Rapp
James Edward Barton (November 1st, 1880-February 19th, 1962) was a critically acclaimed master of dance, comedy, drama, and singing. His success spanned vaudeville, burlesque, Broadway, radio, film, and television. His stage career was launched by his performance of The Passing Show of 1919 when he performed a role intended for Ed Wynn.