Why do so many people care so much about celebrities? Who decides who gets to be a star? What are the privileges and pleasures of fandom? Do celebrities ever deserve the outsized attention they receive?
In this fascinating and deeply researched book, Sharon Marcus challenges everything you thought you knew about our obsession with fame. Icons are not merely famous for being famous; the media alone cannot make or break stars; fans are not simply passive dupes. Instead, journalists, the public, and celebrities themselves all compete, passionately and expertly, to shape the stories we tell about celebrities and fans. The result: a high-stakes drama as endless as it is unpredictable.
Drawing on scrapbooks, personal diaries, and vintage fan mail, Marcus traces celebrity culture back to its nineteenth-century roots, when people the world over found themselves captivated by celebrity chefs, bad-boy poets, and actors such as the “divine” Sarah Bernhardt (1844–1923), as famous in her day as the Beatles in theirs. Known in her youth for sleeping in a coffin, hailed in maturity as a woman of genius, Bernhardt became a global superstar thanks to savvy engagement with her era’s most innovative media and technologies: the popular press, commercial photography, and speedy new forms of travel.
Whether you love celebrity culture or hate it, The Drama of Celebrity will change how you think about one of the most important phenomena of modern times.
“The most astonishing expression of vitality.” Baudelaire
Exuberant, agitated, impetuous, horrified by tedium and relentlessly and infectiously gregarious. – The GreatNadar by Adam Begley
A recent French biography begins, Who doesn’t know Nadar? In France, that’s a rhetorical question. Of all of the legendary figures who thrived in mid-19th-century Paris—a cohort that includes Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, Gustave Courbet, and Alexandre Dumas—Nadar was perhaps the most innovative, the most restless, the most modern.
The first great portrait photographer, a pioneering balloonist, the first person to take an aerial photograph, and the prime mover behind the first airmail service, Nadar was one of the original celebrity artist-entrepreneurs. A kind of 19th-century Andy Warhol, he knew everyone worth knowing and photographed them all, conferring on posterity psychologically compelling portraits of Manet, Sarah Bernhardt, Delacroix, Daumier and countless others—a priceless panorama of Parisian celebrity.
Born Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, he adopted the pseudonym Nadar as a young bohemian, when he was a budding writer and cartoonist. Later he affixed the name Nadar to the façade of his opulent photographic studio in giant script, the illuminated letters ten feet tall, the whole sign fifty feet long, a garish red beacon on the boulevard. Nadar became known to all of Europe and even across the Atlantic when he launched “The Giant,” a gas balloon the size of a twelve-story building, the largest of its time. With his daring exploits aboard his humongous balloon (including a catastrophic crash that made headlines around the world), he gave his friend Jules Verne the model for one of his most dynamic heroes.
The Great Nadar is a brilliant, lavishly illustrated biography of a larger-than-life figure, a visionary whose outsized talent and canny self-promotion put him way ahead of his time.
A serious comedy inspired by the tumultuous life of Eleonora Duse and her poet-lover Gabriele D’Annunzio.
Sunday, February 18th only!
IMPERFECT LOVE is a story of love and betrayal, set just over 100 years ago, between the actress Eleonora Della Rosa, and her playwright lover Gabriele Torrisi. (Inspired by the real-life relationship between the great Eleanora Duse and the poet D’Annunzio). It’s a story set at the turning of an epoch, and the turning of two styles of theater: the more visceral and emotional style that Eleonora and Torrisi are exemplars of, and the ‘new’ psychological style epitomized by Nordic writers like Ibsen and Strindberg. Our characters Eleonora and Torrisi are both vulnerable and aware that their day may have passed, and along with it, their love. Should Torrisi abandon Eleonora and strike out for a collaboration with her arch-rival, the Parisian Sarah Bernhardt? Should Eleonora withdraw her support (and love?) from the possibly outmoded Torrisi and try to work with up-and-coming Ibsen? In the middle of all this is the classically trained leading-man Domenica, who doesn’t know which way to turn in his professional life, or in the tangled world of his emotional allegiances. One other delight of the play is how the traditional clowns Beppo and Marco not only comment on the action in a comical and human way, but how they themselves also embody the conflicting epochs – the rambunctious farce of the Commedia dell’Arte, set against a premonition, a whiff of the bold futurism of a Beckett or a Pirandello, a modernism that will eventually make all earlier styles redundant. In the end, matters of theater and matters of the heart come together in a climax both affirming and bitter-sweet. The play’s the thing. At least, until the curtain falls.
I met Joe Smith (Feb. 16, 1884 – Feb 22, 1981) at “The Conference on Popular Entertainment.” (1978) a convention produced at the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center. Each day was devoted to a unique form of Popular Entertainment. Tent Shows, Burlesque, Vaudeville, etc.
I attended the Conference every day but was especially interested in Vaudeville since I was a big fan of Joe Smith and his long-time partner Charles Dale ‘born Charlie Marks’ (Sep 6, 1885 – Nov. 16, 1971) Joe Smith was the only remaining half of Smith & Dale still alive. Joe was 92 years old that day when he came out on stage and did an excerpt from the routine “Dr. Kronkheit”.
After the performance, I spoke to Joe Smith, and he invited me to lunch at his residence in New Jersey to talk about his days in Vaudeville. I drove out to the Actor’s Fund Home in Englewood, NJ the following week to have lunch with Joe.
I picked him up at home and, we went to a local diner. It was great to sit down and eat lunch with this wonderful, legendary comedian/vaudevillian. His stories were delightful and funny! His memories of working with the Marx Brothers and Sarah Bernhardt at the Palace were amazing in the detail and emotional context.
I invited him to attend an upcoming event I was producing. A Benefit to raise money for The New York Variety Arts Theater at Theater of the Open Eye. It was to occupy a theater at 42nd St and 9th Ave. Phase 2 of the ’42nd St Redevelopment Project’. It had started and was now ready to begin renovating more buildings further West. Our New York Variety Theater was to be one of them.
The Benefit was great! Joe Smith became the ‘Honorary Chairman’ of the project and commented on ‘how wonderful it was to see Vaudeville still alive’ as he watched the show.
I visited him several more times and we had lunch and talked about Vaudeville. He died in Feb 1981.
Ron Hutchinson from “The Vitaphone Project” was interested in Smith & Dale and came across their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1953. I would like to Thank Ron for getting me this DVD of the show. Featured on this show was their famous “Dr. Kronkheit” routine.
Also posted here is the “Fireman Sketch” from the 1950’s TV show “Cavalcade of Stars”. They also performed on various television shows of the time, such as “Window on the World” and “Toast of the Town”.
Not a great copy of the routine here but it is all the was preserved!
Smith & Dale vintage album cover with some of their routines.
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Some background on the Comedy Duo
Smith and Dale were the archetypical vaudeville male two-act. When one thinks of a “vaudeville comedy team”, one thinks of something like Smith & Dale. Neil Simon based his play The Sunshine Boys on their act, although their offstage relationship wasn’t as dire as depicted—that part was based on Gallagher and Sheen.
Joe Smith and Charlie Dale grew up in the Jewish ghettos of New York City. Sultzer and Marks met as teenagers in 1898 and formed a partnership. They named their act “Smith and Dale” because a local printer gave them a good deal on business cards reading “Smith and Dale” (intended for a vaudeville team that had dissolved). Joe Sultzer became Joe Smith, and Charlie Marks became Charlie Dale.
By 1902 they joined two singing comedians, Irving Kaufman and Harry Godwin in a team known as The Avon Comedy Four. The act became one of the most successful comedy turns in vaudeville. For over 15 years they were top-of-the-bill performers on Broadway.
Later, as Smith & Dale, the two used a heavy Jewish dialect, with Smith speaking in a deep, pessimistic voice and Dale in a high, wheedling tenor.
During the 1920s, they became famous for their signature sketch “Doctor Kronkheit and His Only Living Patient,” which like “Who’s on First?” for Abbott and Costello, became one of the famous comedy sketches of the 20th century. The name of the doctor is an inside joke: Smith and Dale, both being Jewish, named the physician Kronkheit, which is Yiddish (and also German) for sickness. Thus we have that very oddly named medical professional Dr. Sickness. Indeed a hospital in Germany is called aKrankenhaus, or literally a sick house.
Their act can be seen (to excellent advantage) in the feature film The Heart of New York (1932).
The partnership, known among entertainers as the longest in show-business history, endured until Charlie Marks’s death at age 89, on November 16, 1971. Sultzer continued to perform, mainly in guest appearances on television sitcoms, until his death on February 22, 1981, at the age of 97.
So close were Smith and Dale that they are buried in the same plot, with a common headstone. The gravestone notes the name of the three people buried there, Dale and his wife Mollie and the unmarried Smith. Smith is identified only by his show business name of Joe Smith, while his partner is listed as Charles Dale Marks and Dale’s wife is listed as Mollie Dale Marks. The larger printing higher on the stone says SMITH & DALE, to which Smith had added the words BOOKED SOLID. So even in death there is still seen their cleverness and humor.