Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Vaudeville Song

"Coontown Troubles" was written in 1919 by Bugbee and Berg, as music to be performed 'black face' on the Vaudeville stage. As such, the music and its theatrical performance can be considered one of the many ways American racial stereotyping surfaced in those times.

The sheet music is prefaced with suggestions as to how to stage and interpret the music.:

"To make this song more effective, all should be dressed in odd or outlandish costumes. They should carry dilapidated satchels and bags of all descriptions, and should appear very sad and depressed.
"During chorus they should appear to weep, using large bandana handkerchiefs. As they sing last two lines of the chorus, they appear to brighten a little.
"One character may represent Josephus Johnson, and another, Uncle Rastus, and each act very sad as their names and troubles are mentioned. All walk off with baggage at last chorus."

Cover (Click each page to enlarge and read song lyrics, if you like. Click again to enlarge even more.))

Page One

Page Two


Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Wedding That Went Before Me

My grandparent's, on my father's side. It was a wedding portrait. No white gown. No flowers. They were Appalachian folk. You wore the best you had, and that was the best you could do.

He was of uncertain origins. It is still not clear who his real parents were, since he was adopted by some Smiths, which makes me a Smith today. He became a coal miner at an early age, since in those parts, there were few options for making a living. He had a farm, but since he was in the mine all day, he was what people called, a 'moonlight farmer'. He worked the fields by moonlight. He was trapped underground for three days beneath a large slab of coal, and as the family stories go, when they brought him out, he had more broken bones, than whole ones. Prior to the incident he had been known as a faith healer in the small coal mining town he lived in. After the incident, he disappeared into the woods, carved out an untamed hollow, built a house at the very end, and spent his last days there; mostly content to be left alone.

She came up the hard way, as well. After her mother died, her father remarried. He then died. She was left as the oldest child in a large family of mixed-family siblings. She became the care-taker of these younger ones. She never attended a day of school, but somehow learned to read by following recitations of bible scripture in her bible. All her grandchildren called her 'Other Mom', because, quite simply, she was our other mom.

It is interesting to think of what it is that makes us up, besides all the stuff each day throws at us. In my own life, the other side of the family tree is all about Irish immigration to the US, and making it in New York City. So, I grew up with these clearly different histories, and in some way, I was some off-shoot of it all, living in a whole different world. And, now I have grandchildren of my own, and can hardly imagine what their future may throw at them. They come from hardy stock, so, I hope for the best.

Friday, February 18, 2011


Have you ever lost your keys? I have all these keys. I have no idea what they open or who they belonged to. There are Post Office mail box keys, security lock box keys at someone's bank, skeleton keys that open old doors, apartment keys, house keys, car keys, locker keys. If one of these is yours, let me know.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

San Antonio Postcard Souvenir

This vintage souvenir postcard portfolio has no printed date. It clearly precedes the advent of the now famous River Walk along the San Antonio River. I lived in San Antonio for awhile and loved the place, so I treasure this glimpse back to an earlier time.

The front of the portfolio features the Alamo, and the package is designed for easy mailing.

The back side reveals a pull out flap that opens the picture package. It is illustrated as well.

When you open a postcard portfolio, the many images unfold accordion-like. This one includes 22 colorful images of San Antonio. (Printed on both sides) (click to enlarge images, if you like) Many of the old buildings and missions shown here still stand today.



Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Three Family Portraits

I found these photos at a flea market. It is somehow strange, the way family photos such as these somehow drift away from their place in family history. Rather than being passed on from one generation to the next, they wind up lost and nameless in the public arena. Maybe a family line came to an end, and there was no one left to pass the photos on to. It's a mystery.

Looking at the last photo close up (click to enlarge) one gets the impression the family perhaps had a saw mill. They are standing on rough cut lumber, and a portion of a log can be seen on the right.

Looking at the reverse side of the second photo, it appears to have been adhered to a portion of a hand-painted sign. Notice it advertises paintings for 9 cents. But, the frame costs over five times the cost of the painting!

The Actual Value of a Great Man

An illustration from a 40s era science book. (If you click twice to enlarge, you may be able to read the text)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

Two Pioneering Women of the American Stage

On the left, Mary Anderson (1859 -1940) and on the right, Helena Modjeska ( 1840-1909)

MARY ANDERSON was born in Sacramento, California. The family soon moved to Kentucky, and her father died a young confederate soldier in the American Civil War. Anderson became a notable actress of stage, although her career was only about fifteen years long. She was said to have been a friend of Tennyson, as well as Longfellow. In the play, "Farewell Pygmalion, Farewell", she played the role of Galatea, a stone statue who comes to life and then returns again to stone. At the age of 30, and after a grueling number of years on the theatrical circuit she collapsed on stage with severe nervous exhaustion, and subsequently retired. She died in a home she had built in the U.K in 1909.

HELENA MODJESKA was born in Poland in 1840, and was known as Poland's greatest actress of all time. In 1876, she immigrated to America to escape Russian censorship of her plays. She sailed across the Atlantic, and then on down the Eastern coast, crossed the Isthmus of Panama by rail, and then spent three weeks aboard a wooden paddlewheel steamer that brought her eventually to San Francisco. It did not take her long to be recognized as one of the greatest actresses of the Victorian era. She performed on the 19th century theatre circuit playing primarily Shakespearian and tragic roles. For nine months of every year she was traveling and performing. To travel in those days was primarily by train, steamship, and horse drawn carriages. Most venues she played were gas-lit. She later became a star on the New York stage, and also in London. After her death, Saddleback Mountain, in Orange County, California was re-named Modjeska Peak. Her home, in Santiago Canyon is still maintained as a National Historic Monument, and the portion of the canyon where it sits is now known as Modjeska Canyon.

While hand-written notation on the back of the photos shown here seems to indicate that Mary Anderson and Helena Modjeska performed together in a play called "There Were Giants", so far I have not been able to track that production, or where it was staged.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My Sis And I

Our family moved around a lot we when we were kids. Mostly, West Virginia, Texas, and Chicago. We went to a lot of different schools, since, even living in one city, we moved from one neighborhood to another. We were always close. She may try to tell you how I would always be trying to scare her. Jumping out from behind doors. Crawling on the floor into her room at night and making animal sounds. But, don't believe these tall tales. She's a great gal, and today is her birthday. Happy Birthday, Sue! Much love, big bro.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Two Short, and unrelated, tales here. " What Really Happened to Earle Larimore?", and "The Dawn of the Puppeteer". Both have to do with early 20th century theatre.

First: What Really Happened to Earle Larimore?

For a number of years, it was a bit of a mystery as to the downfall of Earle Larimore. It was a life cut short, that's for sure. We know he was born in Oregon in 1899. And that he was drawn to theatre and acting at an early age, and by the 1920s, and into the '30s, he was performing as an actor in a number Little Theatre productions in major cities. And he performed on the Broadway stage, as well. The photo below is a standard head shot, or publicity photo, of Mr. Larimore.

In the next photo, Larimore poses in costume for the noted photographer, Florence Vandamm. Her imprimiter can be seen in the lower right. He is in costume as Marco Polo, the starring role in O'Neill's Marco Millions ( not to be confused with 'Marco's Millions', a science fiction novel).

While Earle Larimore also appeared in several other O'Neill plays, for some reason he seemed to fade away into obscurity after 1935. He died at the early age of 48, in his New York apartment. While I haven't been able to find information on the cause of his death, there are some clues to his disappearance from theatre, and the public arena in general.

In those early years of the 20th century, homosexuality, or bisexuality in the world of theatre and cinema was, by and large, kept largely under wraps by the powers that be. Hollywood clearly made efforts to suppress rumors that Clark Gable was bisexual. Homosexuality, bisexuality, or lesbian labeling was the 'kiss of death' in the eyes of the general public of that time. However, in later years, when several biographies of Clark Gable hit the market, we find that he was in fact, bisexual. And we also learned he had affairs with a number of men. Out of fear that these 'lovers' might possibly out him to the public, Gable instead, outed them. to the press. Hollywood Production moguls managed to suppress Gable's complicity, but for these other men, their careers were essentially ended by the scandal. One of these was Earle Larimore.


While puppet and marionette performances have a centuries old cross-cultural history, the actual use of the word 'puppeteer' did not appear until 1915 when it was first mentioned in The Oxford English Dictionary. Surprisingly, it was Ellen Van Volkenburg who is commonly believed to have coined the word.

In 1912, Van Volkenburg, an actress and director, and her playwright husband, Maurice Brown founded the Little Theatre of Chicago. That theatre, while short-lived, along with the founding of Toy Theatre in Boston marked the earliest beginnings of the Little Theatre Movement in America. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Little Theatre Movement was an effort to turn away from the commercial trends of Broadway and mainstream theatre as well as the commercial trends in the cinema of the era. Little Theatre provided venues for new and more experimental works.

Ellen Van Volkenburg used the Little Theatre of Chicago to launch a 'marionette revival', moving the art away from the Punch and Judy kinds of works, and taking marionettes into Shakespearean Theatre. Her marionette productions sometimes called for the use of as many as 30 figures, which she made herself. Upon premiering a marionette performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, she used the term 'puppeteer' to describe the people behind stage who operated the figures, and provided their voices.

In the photo below, we see Ellen Van Volkenburg in the role of the title figure of a (non-marionette) play, The Mother of Gregory, written by her husband, Maurice Brown. The photo was taken when the play opened in 1924, at the Theatre of the Golden Bough at Carmel-by the-Sea, California.

Leo Tolstoy (1908)

A Postcard Reproduction announcing a new publication by Dial Press (1980):

PHOTOGRAPHS FOR THE TSAR: The Pioneering Color Photography of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, Commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II. Edited with an introduction by Robert H. Allshouse

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Reminiscence by a Blogger

'Shrinky' is a blogger I like to follow because she hits home in so many ways so often. Her most recent post is reproduced below. But better yet, go to Shrink Wrapped Scream and read it, and some of her other wonderful writings.



He sits at the table, awkward and gangley, steaming mug of tea hidden beneath calloused fists. He tunes out as she fills up the silence. This she knows, but doesn't mind.

It is their dance.

Work boots shuffling, he focuses on the sugar bowl, whilst my mother examines his box of freshly harvested produce. It is still wrapped in the rich earth smell of the allotments from whence they were recently torn. As always, she tells him his vegetables are the sweetest by far. As always, he nods this as true.

His hands are too big for the room, so huge they are all I can see of him. Watching, I follow as they lift the mug to his lips. He takes a swallow of scalding brew, placing it silently back down again to the linoleum cloth-covered table.

Big John is a regular visitor to our door, as he is to everyone else around these tenement blocks. The frequency of his calls vary with the season, come the winter they are sparse.

But he always comes back.

As he will continue to do so for the whole of my life.

My mother makes her selection and agrees a price, digging some pennies out from her black, worn purse. John smiles and stands up, up, up. I stare up, up, too, craning my neck to meet with his eye. Connected, he winks, as I knew he would, and my belly performs a flip-flop of delight.

Our ritual now.

Bending, he enfolds his iron girder arms around me, raising me up level to his lined, gnarly face, scratching a rough, spiky kiss across my now tingling cheek. I shriek, as he tosses me high, higher, sailing, sweeping the ceiling, and (OH!) a split-second before descent,


Time frozen...



Saturday, February 5, 2011

What Do People Look Like?

From Bernarr Macfadden's Eight Volume work, Encyclopedia of Health, published in the 1930s. In Volume Five, Macfadden discusses physical attributes of humans, stages of development, gender differences, and racial differences. Here are a few of his photo illustrations on the topic.