Hello. In the on-going saga of my research into my father’s life, as far as the book is concerned, I have completed my first draft. So emotional…..I had to come to the end. I cried for three days after I finished. Going so thoroughly into Eddie’s life was almost like being there. Of course, I still need to edit, add-on, delete, clean up the manuscript. And I need to add the TOC and a Bibliography, etc. But it is really happening!
In this blog, after showing you Eddie’s television debut in my last post, and after having already mentioned that Eddie opened a restaurant in Harlem in 1937, I am now at 1939.
“The Hot Mikado” was a 1939 musical theatre adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado”, with an African-American cast. Mike Todd originally produced it after the Federal Theatre Project turned down his offer to manage the WPA production of “The Swing Mikado” (another all-black adaptation of “The Mikado”). In this production, Eddie played, Koko, the High Executioner (formerly a tailor).
The musical was first produced at the Broadhurst Theatre from March 23, 1939 to June 3, 1939, running for 85 performances. The original cast included Bill “Bojangles” Robinson as The Mikado; Frances Brock as Pitti-Sing; Rosa Brown as Katisha; Maurice Ellis as Pooh-Bah; Eddie Green as Ko-Ko; Rosetta LeNoire as Peep-Bo; James A. Lilliard as Pish-Tush; Bob Parrish as Nanki-Poo; Gwendolyn Reyde as Yum-Yum; Freddie Robinson as Messenger Boy; and Vincent Shields as Red Cap.
The musical was then produced at the 1939–1940 New York World’s Fair for two seasons and was reportedly one of the most popular attractions at the fair.
The video below, which I found on-line and which is extremely rare, is a silent filming of portions of the performance at the World’s Fair. Eddie enters first as Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, and then you see him standing next to Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the “Mikado”. Eddie appears in a few more places in the film. As Ko-ko, Eddie performed a number of songs, including “Titwillow”, though this was not caught in the film.
“Titwillow” occurs in a scene with the love interest, Katisha. “Katisha wonders why death refuses to come and bring peace to her broken heart (she sings “Alone and Yet Alive), and Ko-Ko springs into action, telling her that he’ll die on the spot if she doesn’t accept his love. Katisha claims no one has ever died of a broken heart, so Ko-Ko responds with the tragic tale of TitWillow, a little bird who wasted away due to blighted affection.”
My mom, Norma, told me about Eddie singing this song in a play, but never did I think I would actually see a portion of this play with my own eyes. Picturing Eddie singing “Titwillow”, is not easy to do, but according to the Brooklyn Eagle on July 9, 1939: “Anyway, he gets a hilarious twist into Ko-Ko that Messrs. G. and S. never thought of, and when he swings “Titwillow” usually comes close to stopping the show.”
Eddie was living in Harlem, by now with wife number three, or four, and he already had a grown daughter. He had met my mother, through friends in Hollywood as he travelled a lot by then from New York, to L. A., but his home at the time was 138th Street in New York. After the “Hot Mikado” Eddie would begin making his own films.
I love sharing this information. It may be too old-timey for a younger generation, but keeping the achievements of those who came before us alive, allows the younger generation a chance to see from whence they have come and, also, to see how far they can go, especially with the knowledge, technology, and, yes, opportunities available today.
Hey, comments are welcome, keep comin’ back, and thanks, for stopping by.