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Art Cinema Clown Photography Vaudevisuals Bookshelf

Vaudevisuals Bookshelf ~ ‘Limelight – Photographs of James Abbe’ in Time

A pioneering photographer of the early cinema, James Abbe captured the spirit of entertainment in New York, Hollywood and Europe in the 1920s with his magically-lit portraits of the stars of screen and stage. A unique album of show business personalities, this book brings together Abbe’s iconic images of silent movie stars, his exuberant studies of revues at the Folies Bergere, and his fascinating record of early British cinema. Concluding with his reportage of the turbulent politics of the 1930s, Limelight encapsulates an era through one man’s brilliant career.

Billie Burke ~ 1920

Born in Alfred, Maine, James Abbe’s boyhood took place in Portsmouth, Virginia. His family owned the most important bookstore in that maritime city. At its counter James sold his photographs of ship launchings and arrivals taken with an inexpensive camera. Saturated with the print culture of the period, Abbe realized that photography was underutilized as illustration in American periodicals. He began placing photo illustrations with magazines in 1916. In 1917 he moved to New York City.

A sociable, witty man, Abbe had little trouble placing photographs in periodicals, but his break into the world of theatrical photography took place when he made a number of memorable portraits of the Barrymore brothers on stage in costume during dress rehearsals for “The Jest” in 1919. Abbe became fascinated with the nascent movie industry. He did portrait photography for several New York based cinema groups, especially for D.W. Griffith, and became the third New York based camera artist (after Karl Struss & Frank Bangs) to venture to the West Coast and work as a lensman in Hollywood. He worked for Mack Sennett for several months, even directing a now-lost comic two reeler, and as a photographer for Photoplay for another several month stint. He was the first bicoastal entertainment photographer.

Abbe had a remarkable talent for inspiring trust in stars and Lillian Gish convinced him to come to Italy in 1923 to work as a lighting consultant and still photographer for “The White Sister.” He closed his Broadway studio, abandoned his wife and children, and moved to Italy. He spent the next period of his life in Europe, photographing movie and stage productions in Paris and London and working as a photojournalist. Several landmark photographs of Joseph Stalin in a trip into the Soviet Union during the late 1930s would make him a celebrity of news photography during the late 1930s. His book, I Photograph Russia, was one of the important volumes of early photojournalism. He signed his vintage prints with his last name in red crayon on the lower-left corner of his images. He used a credit stamp for publicity images. Despite the relatively short duration of his career on Broadway, he was one of the greatest portraitists of the great age of theatrical portrait photography.

Charlie Chaplin by James Abbe

Abbe’s theatrical work was one of three photographic specialties he cultivated during his career. He also became an expert movie still photographer in 1920 and an important photojournalist in the 1930s. Brought to New York by magazine publishers interested in his experiments for using photographs as illustrations for narratives, Abbe won overnight renown in 1919 for his stage portraits of performers in costume. Enhancing the available stage lighting with a battery of portable lamps, he made intensely vivid images suggestive of interrupted stories.

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Categories
Comedy History Marx Brothers Performing Arts Vaudeville Video

Home Again: The Marx Brothers in New York City

A Marxian multimedia adventure through New York City, in the company of its funniest sons and writer and performer Noah Diamond (I’ll Say She Is, Marxfest, The Marx Brothers Council Podcast). With special guests, a lot of laughs, a few tears, and a few surprises. Presented by Freedonia Marxonia.

What great fun I had watching this wonderful story assembled with so much care by the amazingly talented Noah Diamond!

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Categories
American Circus Art Big Apple Circus Circus Clown Exhibit NYGoofs Variety Arts Vaudeville Ventriliquist

Karen E. Gersch – Artist Portfolio

KAREN E. GERSCH

If anyone knows about the circus it is Karen E. Gersch. She has performed, created and directed circus and painted, drawn and illustrated it. Her work is beautiful and captures the whimsical nature of the circus soul. Here are a few choice examples of Karen’s work with her descriptive text.

The ‘Nickel’ in this oil painting, “Nickel Storms the Ring” was my teacher and mentor, Nina Krasavina, a star acrobat, aerialist ad the first woman clown ever to grace the ring of the Moscow Circus. After defecting to NYC in the mid-’70s with her husband, Gregory Fedin, they traveled with 3-ring circuses throughout the US and Canada. Nina and Grefory opened their own school, the Circus Arts Center, in an abandoned department store in Hoboken, which they ran for years, training many acts that had longtime professional careers. 

Gordoon”: acrylic on canvas portrait of Jeff Gordon, whose inventive and acrobatic routines made him a beloved and longtime featured performer with the Big Apple Circus, as well as Cirque du Soleil, Ringling Bros., Walt Disney World, and various NYC theatre productions.

Kenny Raskin/New York Goofs”. Kenny is a physical comedian whose diverse and charming character work enlightens every stage, be it on Broadway, off-off-Broadway or Cirque du Soleil. He is someone I never tire of sketching; captured here during a New York Goofs engagement.

Little Tich” and his Big Boots Dance was a headlining act of the English music halls in the early 1900s. Tich (Harry Relph) was only 4’6” tall, but left large footprints with his eccentric and energetic dance routines, combining balancing skills with acrobatics. The slender wooden boots he performed in were 28 inches long! Relph is considered the forerunner of all screen comedy.

Darja is a Latvian-born acrobat whose professional partners happen to be small dogs and a potpourri of cats.  The setting for her act is a living room, complete with two dressers, a nightstand, and an oval carpet.  The drawers glide open and cats climb gracefully out, then jump in an arc to her shoulders, where they run and balance along with her extended limbs, as she turns walkovers, handstands, cartwheels, and splits.  A dog poses perfectly on her top hat while she executes back rolls and contortional poses.

    Darja performs primarily in Russia and Europe, in circuses, cabarets, and theaters.  Her animals travel with her – in carriers to the stage, but live uncaged in her hotel room, where they all share her bed.  I know, because I had the room next door to her in Leipzig, Germany, and was serenaded by her Siamese and Egyptian cats, who sang gustily all night!

“Richard Hayes”, also a British Music Hall performer, was a noted juggler and silent, deadpan comedian, often billed as “The Laziest Juggler in the World”. His oversized head, languid manner, and slow-motion moves distinguished his ball juggling routines.

This is a very early pastel sketch of Hilary Chaplain (1990’s) from the CircuSundays Series I used to run.  Hilary is one of the most prolifically funny and hardest working physical comediennes, whose recent work has delved deeply into emotional and historical elements.  In particular, her current production “The Last Rat of Theresienstadt” which takes place in the “Ghetto town”/concentration camp of Theresienstadt during the Holocaust.  Following a successful run in Europe, where she garnered top awards, the show will be presented at The Wild Project on November 13th and 14th.

“Senor and Friend”. Senor Wences began his career as an unsuccessful bullfighter before becoming a gifted ventriloquist. The Spanish performer was one of the highest-paid and most popular Vaudevillian acts in the world and appeared on the Ed Sullivan show throughout the ’50s and ’60s. Wences died at the age of 103 in Manhattan.

“Slava’s Snow Show”. I first saw Slava Polunin in Cirque du Soleil’s production of Alegria, back in the 80’s, and was delighted by his simplistic and organic clowning (finally oversized clown proboscis and makeup used well by the clowns who wore them!) His signature romantic imagery, the surreal environments and emotional physical work he creates were resurrected in his first “Snow Show” that appeared on Broadway. This drawing was one of many rendered from his second run in NYC at Union Square.

Born in Prague, Tomas Kubinek and his parents fled the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia and settled in Ontario, Canada, when he was only 3.  He fell in love with circus and clowns, began performing as a child and has never stopped, regularly traversing the globe with his imaginative and eccentric solo shows.

Waldo & Woodhead” (Paul Burke and Mark Keppel) were a couple of wild and zany guys, whose character-driven physical comedy and strong partner juggling made them a well known performing sensation around the globe. This painting, exhibited at several IJA Conventions, was sold three years ago.

For more information or to see other artwork, visit:

www.artbykeg.info on FB: “Art by Karen E. Gersch”

With the exception of “Waldo & Woodhead”, all the drawings and paintings here are unsold and available. Inquiries should be made to: keg37@frontier.com.

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Categories
Book Shelf Cinema Clown Comedy Performing Arts Photography Physical Theater Recommended Reading List Vaudevisuals Bookshelf

Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “Notes on a Cowardly Lion”

Notes on a Cowardly Lion by John Lahr

Back Cover

First published in 1969, Notes on a Cowardly Lion has established itself as one of the best-ever show business biographies. Drawing on his father’s recollections and on the memories of those who worked with him, John Lahr brilliantly examines the history of modern American show business through the long and glorious career of his father–the raucous low-comic star of burlesque, vaudeville, the Broadway revue and musical, Hollywood movies, and the legitimate stage. Here in rich detail is Lahr evolving from low–dialect comic to Ziegfeld Follies sophisticate, hamming it up with the Scarecrow and Tin Woodsman on the set of The Wizard of Oz, and debuting Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in America, which Kenneth Tynan called “one of the most noble performances I have ever seen.” In the examination of Bert Lahr’s chronic insecurity and self-absorption, the breakdown of his first marriage, and the affectionate arm’s length he kept between himself and his adoring second family, John Lahr’s book also brings the reader closer than any other theater biography to the private torment of a great funny man.

This edition of the book includes the award-winning essay “The Lion and Me,” John Lahr’s intimate reflections on family life with his distant, brooding, but lovable father. A first-class stylist, John Lahr takes the reader beyond the magic of show business to a dazzling examination of how a performing self is constructed and staged before the paying customers. Both as theater history and biography, Lahr’s book is superb.

“A book-length love letter. To open it is to enter a life, to participate in a sensibility and, perhaps most important, to laugh. Uproariously.”

Stefan Kanfer, Life

“Endlessly fascinating, excellent. . . . A work of literature, a work of history, a subtle psychological study.”

Richard Schickel, Harper’s Magazine

“This is a biography of the late Bert Lahr, that clown-comedian who played everything from burlesque to Aristophanes and Shakespeare, by his son, who is one of that rare species, an authentic theater critic. . . . John Lahr is frank and objective about his father. He sees that Bert was wildly funny on the stage and unhappy off. He was a haphazard father, a selfish lover, a thoughtless husband (his wife cherished him), a hypochondriac and a ruthless ‘professional.’ The past becomes present in this biography so that we come to know and understand the actor as clearly as the man. The book abounds in anecdotes that smack of the footlight world and its fascinating fauna. John Lahr is an honorable as well as a talented writer on the theater.”

Harold Clurman, New York Times Book Review

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Categories
Book Shelf Performing Arts Photography Quick Change Artists Recommended Reading List Women Writer

Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “The City & The Theatre” by Mary C. Henderson

The City & The Theatre by Mary C Henderson

“Whatever happens, the information and the images in this book provide us with food for reflection and many pleasant recollections of the way things have been in the past.”  Forward by August Heckscher

One of my favorite books when I want to go down memory lane and experience the plentiful theatres that marked New York City’s landscape throughout it’s colorful history.

Written by Mary C. Henderson and published in 1973.

(Mary C. Henderson was Curator of Museum of The City of New York)

Here is the forward by August Heckscher.

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Book description by Amazon:

Remarkably well researched and immensely entertaining, this definitive history of theater in New York City spans more than three centuries and relates the development of theater to the social, political, economic, and cultural climate of the time. Readers learn that it was in 1699 that a petition was first made for a license to perform plays in Manhattan and that 30 years later the first theater opened in Manhattan. From colonial New York, the story continues through the 20th century to the birth, and rebirth, of the theater district in Times Square and the revitalization of 42nd Street in the mid-1990s. An A to Z listing of every Broadway theater ever to exist is also included. Each listing features a photograph or illustration of the theater, its address, the architect, the opening production, historical information, and, if applicable when the theater was demolished.

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I met Mary when I was doing research for my book on ‘Quick Change’ in American Vaudeville. (which I never completed)

She was generous with her time and her patience was plentiful in dealing with my request about this very obscure topic.

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