FUNNY IN TIMES OF CRISIS

I’ve been doing what I like to do best-researching. I saw a story online about the 1918 Spanish Flu and it dawned on me that my father was alive back then. As a matter of fact, he was married to his first wife, had his first daughter, had signed up for WWI, had written a song and was on the road traveling down south with his “Deluxe Players”. The 1918 pandemic lasted from, I think, August of 1918 through December of 1920. Eddie began his first on stage vaudeville work in 1920. He was a comedian. The 1918 flu was targeting young adults. About half of the deaths were in the 20-40 range. Eddie was about 29. He had already experienced diseases and poverty being born in 1891 in Baltimore during a time of no indoor plumbing and rampant Leukemia in the East Baltimore slums. It’s one of the reasons he left home at nine years old and worked as a boy magician until someone suggested that he was so funny he really didn’t need a lot of props to entertain people. It seems that Eddie never got sick. Vaudeville and Burlesque were pulling people in. Eddie was performing in Tampa, Fla., in 1919 with his Deluxe Players when he applied for and got a job as a comedian in New York in 1920. The flu had hit Haskell County, Kansas In January 1918.

Thinking about it now, I never really thought about the chaos that was going on in the world during those years.

How did people continue to think up gags and write songs that weren’t sad and forlorn. Eddie wrote “A Good Man is Hard to Find” in 1917. In my book I wrote that maybe he was actually talking about the fact that the armed services were drafting men to fight in WWI.  In 1920 he wrote “Don’t Let No One Man Worry Your Mind”, but this was probably for lovers. Anyhow, the flu was still raging and Eddie still had to entertain if he was going to earn money.

I read that in order to maintain morale, World War I censors minimized early reports of illness and mortality in Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States, which may have contributed to the spread. However, papers were free to report the epidemic’s effects in neutral Spain, such as the grave illness of King Alfonso XIII, and these stories created a false impression of Spain as especially hard hit, and may have given rise to the name “Spanish” Flu.

Military pathologists eventually reported the onset of a new disease with high mortality that they later recognized as the flu. Their overcrowded camps and hospitals were an ideal site for the spreading of a respiratory virus. When soldiers were sent home there was a second wave of flu victims in 1918.

It was discovered that what we now call social distancing was paramount in surviving that flu. The French colony of New Caledonia  succeeded in preventing even a single death from influenza through effective quarantines. And the world went on. And got better.

The “Roaring Twenties”. Booze and parties. Eddie was appearing onstage in “All In Fun”, dancing and singing now along with his comedy. I read he and his partner were encored many times. So everyone must have been having a good time. Duke Ellington was coming along. Eddie opened a publishing business, a movie studio and wrote “King Tut’s Blues” because of the discovery of the tomb in 1923. And better things were yet to come. Even so, there was also the fact that in those early 1900 years racism was also a death sentence for Blacks. And Eddie was touring the country with Burlesque shows. In Blackface. And he was a hit everywhere he went. Fascinating when you think about it.

I believe I inherited my father’s ability to see the better side of life-to be able to focus on positivity and to help others to experience joy. Yes, tragedy and despair and horror exist, I know-but I refuse to let it take me all the way down. As Miss Celie said: “This life be over soon” anyhow. And as my brother, Lance, used to say “You only go around once, so you might as well do it with Gusto”. (Yes, he stole it from a beer commercial-LOL).

Brian, Lance, Brad

Hey, Love you all, please, keep coming back.

 

 

 

 

MY FATHER, A MAN OF MANY TALENTS

blackface 179Introducing Eddie Green and Dancers in “Connie’s Hot Chocolates”, in its fourth month at the Hudson Theater in New York, 1929.

When I was young, about ten years old, my mom told me that my father said that he had never performed in blackface.  The way she said it, sounded to me like she was saying, he would not stoop so low.  But, maybe, he told her he would never perform in blackface again, as he had already been there and done that, because clearly Eddie did perform in blackface as the above picture shows.  I found this picture while searching the net and I was shocked.  Like Mr. Fallon says, I was like “Eww!”  Which is where my mindset was about this type of performing.  Whether it stems from societal influences or parental influences, I realized, at that time, that I was embarrassed for Eddie.  And, I did not know how I was going to be able to present this to the public.

Hm.  Obviously, I had a problem.  One minute I am so proud of my father and the next I want to hide a portion of his life.  I had to take a good look into my thought processes.  I had to educate myself about the business of performing in blackface.  So I started reading.

I learned that way back in the 1700s actors were performing in blackface-supposedly as an exaggerated, humorous imitation of blacks as they were perceived in those times.  I learned that minstrelsy became wildly popular as time went on, with troupes performing in circuses in the US and the UK, and that a circus was not considered complete without at least one minstrelsy act.  I learned that at one time blacks were not allowed to perform in blackface on stage with whites.  It was exclusively a white thing.  I learned that though whites performing in blackface was basically about making a black person seem ridiculous, it also assured that a black person had no opportunity of performing on stage and, maybe, becoming famous.  This, as I now know was to change.

I learned that George M. Cohan, young author and actor, who became famous, appeared in blackface in 1891. he played  in his father’s production of “The Molly Maguires”; and he was co-proprietor and part producer of Cohan and Harris’ Minstrels, the first performance of which was at the Apollo Theatre, Atlantic City, N. J., July 27, 1908.*

I learned the  by the 19th century, blacks were allowed to appear on stage with whites only if they wore blackface. They painted their lips white and their costumes were usually gaudy combinations of formal wear; swallowtail coats, striped trousers, and top hats.  I learned that Bert Williams popped up, and of course, became famous.   Mr. Williams was the most popular blackface comedians of his day,and, was also the highest-paid in 1912, working for Ziegfeld Follies after signing a 3-year contract for $62,400 or $1.5 million today.  ( Strausbaugh 2006, p. 136)  I learned that It was through blackface minstrelsy that African American performers first entered the mainstream of American show business.*

I went back to some of the articles I have found in which Eddie’s performances were reviewed.  In an article of Stage and Screen it says:  “Eddie Green, late star of “Plantation Days, as he was billed on the program, was also exceptionally good.  His was a blackface number, dancing and singing and his droll manner won fave.  His talking song “Previous” was enjoyed.  He also did some clever dancing.”  The Utica Herald says “Eddie Green scores a hit with his softshoe dancing.”  A blurb in The Billboard from 1921 says,  Eddie “Simp” (his nickname to those who knew and loved him) Green, the acrobatic dancer is singing his own songs with “The Girls De Looks” Burlesque Show.  Eddie is a good business man and has his own publishing business. . . . He is contracted with the show for the next two years.”

Today, my personal perception of Eddie’s life as a performer has changed drastically.  My father was not degrading himself by doing blackface, he was presenting himself as the actor that he was in the makeup expected for the roles he played.  He had a plan.  He knew where he was going and what it was going to take to get there.  What to some was disgraceful, provided Eddie with a stepping stone to a better life.  He constantly received kudos.  I discovered new information from these articles, also.  Mom never told me that Eddie was an acrobatic dancer?  A softshoe dancer?  Really.  Eddie was exceptionally good at whatever he put his hand to.  That is the point.

Eddie wrote a letter to The Billboard in 1920 to let his fellow actors know about the most convenient place to get a room, the Hotel Francis, opposite the New York City Depot.  The editor of The Billboard had this to say about that letter:  “The following letter from Eddie (Simp) Green. . . . is beyond doubt the most unselfish communication that has come to us since the department has started, . . . Eddie Green writes something besides letters.  He wrote “A Good Man is Hard To Find”, “Algiers”, and the “Blind Man’s Blues.  He also has written himself into a class of regular fellows with the above letter.”

A class of regular fellows.  A good man.  A man of many talents.  My father, of whom I am proud.

p.s. I forgot to mention, is he surrounded by beautiful women, or what?

*Excerpts from Monarchs of Minstrelsy (1911)
by Edward Le Roy Rice (1871-1940)

A GOOD MAN IS…….

sophie tucker - a good man

Over the past month, I have been a bit depressed because a friend died, so I have not been so keen on posting.  It is much easier to sit back and contemplate the “why’s” of Life.  However, writing is something I like to do and life goes on, doesn’t it?  My friend was a good man.  According to his wife, he was a good man in her book, too.  As you can see from the above, my father, Eddie Green, wrote the song “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”.  I went online trying to find pictures that I could use in this post along that line, but I only found pictures like:

Benny Goodman - Stage Door Canteen
Benny Goodman – Stage Door Canteen
Pic showing how to find a good man-Tesla-Inventor-Alternating Current (AC)
Pic showing how to find a good man-Tesla-Inventor-Alternating Current (AC)

Then I remembered, I already had a good picture to use, of Miss Sophie Tucker, from 1919, advertising “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”.  This song actually became Sophie Tucker’s signature song for a while.

Sophia Tucker Says
Sophia Tucker Says

The paragraph in the oblong box reads:  “Miss Tucker has sung “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” nightly for 10 consecutive weeks, to thousands, in the Sophie Tucker room at Reisenweber’s and will continue to use it until her engagement terminates.  Hear her and be convinced.  Miss Tucker says:  “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” is the best blue number she has ever used.”  This is saying something, she has used “some good ones.”

For those of you who do not know, Sophie Tucker was known as “the Red Hot Momma” in her day, and she took a liking to Eddie’s songs.  Miss Tucker made special orchestra parts of Eddie’s 1921 songs, “The World’s All Wrong” and “You Can Read My Letters, But You Sure Can’t Read My Mind.”  This was in April, of 1921, Eddie had become a music publisher by then, and his business was doing so well that, according to the March 5, 1921 Billboard, Eddie would be moving his office into larger quarters the following April.   In this same Billboard article, it says “Miss Tucker also had Mr. Green write a special version of “You’ve Got What I Like”, another song Eddie wrote in 1921.  Sophie Tucker was famous and now I know that my father actually spoke to her! He probably was not as excited about it as I am.

I feel much better now that I have written this post.  My book is progressing slowly.  The fact that I am going to write something and publish it and then wait for someone to buy it, is daunting.  It seems like such a good idea when I remember that my purpose is to preserve the history of my father’s career, and to show my grandson just what type of stock he comes from.  (Poor English, oh well.)  Have you been inspired to research a relative?

Thanks for stopping by.