From Overture To Final Curtain
By Peter Gorman
(As told to Olin J. Harris)
Re-printed from The Ottawa Journal January 5 – February 4, 1929
Reminiscences of the Great, the Near Great and Some Others of Note – An Absorbing Tale of Theatrical Life of the Past 50 Years As Told By An Ottawa Gentleman Cast In a Major Role.
Foreword By The Narrator
Publication of these reminiscences does not result from any desire on my part to appear as an author, but from continued insistence on the part of many friends that I endeavour to put into some words or less permanent form reminiscences of a somewhat variegated career. To these request – and particularly those of my daughter, to whom this story is affectionately dedicated – I have finally succumbed, and if I succeed in entertaining the reader to even a slight degree, I shall be well rewarded., for no pretensions are made to literary merit. I have simply told the story to my collaborator, on whom must be placed the responsibility for any embellishments. Peter Gorman
Foreword By The Collaborator
There is just one regret regarding this endeavor to translate into print the host of interesting stories that comprise the reminiscences of Peter Gorman. That results from the inadequacy of words to convey any idea of each incidence as described by the narrator – for in the telling he enacts the part of every character. It is for this reason that he has won fame as a raconteur.
In collecting, assembling and editing these chapters, I have simply tried to retain as much of the original story as can be told in type, leaving the rest to the imagination of the reader. In cases where I have not succeeded, the fault rests with me, not the narrator. Olin J. Harris
The musicians tune their instruments. The house lights darken. The footlights spring up. And this is the scene on which our curtain rises.
The locale is a little parish church in Mitchellstown, County Mayo, Ireland. The time is August 1852. The principals are Gerald Gorman, a young shoemaker of humble birth; a sweet colleen named Johanna O’Brien; her parents, and the parish priest – while the scene is rounded out by the usual ensemble of interested villagers.
It is a happy hour, for the reverend father has just pronounced the solemn words that unite Gerald and Johanna in the holy bonds of matrimony, and conferred his blessing upon them.
As the happy couple leave the church to the accompaniment of boisterous hilarity, a band comes swinging past, playing one of those lively airs dear to the hearts of every son and daughter of Erin. They are marching to an old time country fair in the nearby village of Fermoy.
Literally intoxicated by excitement, Gerald jubilantly rushes away from his blushing bride. He grabs the big base drum from an astonished bandsman and marches away, no doubt beating it with much greater vigor and less exactitude than would have been approved by John Philip Souza.
It is an amazed, hurt and angry Johanna who returns home with her parents that afternoon. Just a few moments ago she had been radiantly happy in the possession of a broth of a boy as a husband, and in the glory of the new gingham gown that was her wedding finery. Now she is deserted at the very door of the church. The neighbors would have something to talk about for many a long day.
Two days elapse before a sheepish Gerald returns to his Johanna, profuse in regrets and promises both. And, so together, they begin the years in which they are to share their joys and sorrows, their smiles and tears.
Gerald Gorman and Johanna O’Brien were my parents.
(NB – This is the first in a series of articles ‘discovered’ by John Gorman – eventually the complete series will be posted here. The material; has been reproduced exactly as it appeared first in The Ottawa Journal, complete with ‘errors’ in spelling, grammar and punctuation – and even geography).
As Irish as the Shamrock
A strange way to start a story, you say. Yes, I do it to provide an appropriate atmosphere for some of the incidents that must afterwards be told, and to give you an insight into the simplicity of their own lives, and those of their children.
Both Dad and Mother were as Irish as the shamrock, but conditions in their day were such that they were unwittingly forced – to leave the old sod a year after their marriage and proceed to London, England in order that Gerald might obtain steady employment at his trade. And in the English metropolis, at No. 7 Great Peter Street, were born to them eight sons. The ninth son, John, was the only one of the Gormans to first see the light of day in Ireland, being born there while mother was visiting her parents. Our only sister, Mary, was born in Ottawa.
By reason of the fact that it has a bearing on a somewhat interesting happening at Government House (Ottawa), many years later, it is worth mentioning – the fact that Dad, during spare-time occupation in London, came to know Mr. Arthur Sullivan (afterwards Sir Arthur). At nights, and in slack time, Dad was employed as ticket-taker at the High Holborn Theatre, and he frequently carried the then young musician’s music to the Temple of Thespia. That quite an attachment sprung up between these two so widely different types of men is evident from the fact that on the morning that Dad and Mother said “Good-bye” to the Old Country, they and all the young Gormans were guests at breakfast of Mr. Sullivan and his mother. Not long after, Gilbert and he began the association that was to bring them such a great measure of fame as producers of their unique and highly successful type of musical play.
In 1870 Dad and Mother decided to risk the future in Canada, the land of possibility, concerning which they had heard so much, and they took passage on the sailing ship ‘Midway’. This vessel took twenty-one days to make the trip owing to the violence of a storm that started to rage shortly after they left port.
Here I will interject a little tale that Dad delighted in telling in after years.
The passengers included a clergyman, who at one stage of the storm undertook to calm the panic-stricken voyagers to a strange land, by praying loud and long. Strange to say, the storm grew steadily worse as his supplications continued, but gradually lessened in intensity when, through utter exhaustion he finally ceased. (Later, however, the gale resumed, and the old vessel was blown miles off its course. Some months later, we learned that she foundered on the return trip).
From Quebec, the long since defunct St. Lawrence and Ottawa Railway brought the Gormans large and small, to Ottawa. Drawn by an old wood-burning locomotive which, to youthful members of the family, seemed to consist chiefly of an enormous smoke stack, the train slowly wheezed its way from the ancient City to the new Capital, arriving on Dominion Day, 1870 – just one day before I celebrated my fifth birthday in a decidedly modest manner.
I will pass lightly over the years that followed. Dad obtained employment in the City Waterworks, and afterwards entered the Civil Service, where he remained for 40 years. At 80 he was as active as many of us are when half that number of years have passed, and he worked until a short time before his death at the ripe old age of 83. Mother survived him five years. God rest their souls!
Mother a Great Dancer
If there is any solid foundation for the theory of heredity, Jerry, Mike and I can thank mother for whatever talent we have displayed as dancers. In the years that have elapsed since the Gorman family first reached Ottawa, I think I have seen every professional dancer of prominence in the theatre, but in my humble opinion none of them equalled her as an exponent of the old clogs, jigs and reels so popular in the long ago, and so strange to the generation of today. A way back in 1849, she was declared champion at one of the numerous competitions held in the old country, and the church fairs and picnics of that and later years counted on her as a feature attraction.
I had been the delicate one of the family until I was seven and except for two weeks was not sent to school. By that time, it was considered advisable that I contribute my mite to the family income, for the dollars, hard-earned, were few and far between. So, it was as a newsboy that I was cast in this hurly-burly which is Life. “Paper, Paper,” I shouted in behalf of the late Holland brothers, who at that time, published a newspaper in premises located at the rear of the Imperial Bank’s present location on Sparks street.
Perhaps inspired by my mother’s reputation as a dancer, I spent my odd moments in practicing various steps, which I had the faculty of picking up without any tuition other than that obtained by watching others. Jerry, my brother, also had an aptitude for dancing, and he and I staged many an impromptu demonstration of our ability for the entertainment of the newsboys. Mike also stepped a little, but his specialty in the way of entertainment was as a “Dutch” comedian.
We Make Our Debut In Newsies’ Concert
As a result of our inclination in these directions, when the time came to arrange the program for the newsies’ annual benefit concert, Jerry, Mike and I were elected to figure on the program, and so made our first public appearance in April, 1876, in Gowan’s Hall, Sparks street, (over Thorburn and Abbott’s Store of today). This was one of two places of entertainment in the Ottawa of that day, the other being the Grand Opera House, which commanded a rental far beyond the reach of paper boys. Both places were owned and operated by the Gowan brothers, who were Ottawa’s leading musicians of that period.
At the concert, Jerry and I appeared as a dancing team, while Mike chose to do his conception of a German trying to express himself in English. Having many youthful supporters in the audience, we were given a warm and vociferous reception, and scored quite a hit. This encouraged us in our efforts, and as a result, we were invited to many a picnic during the summer, enjoying the outings in exchange for staging exhibitions of clog dancing, Prizes were frequently awarded, and it happened that I managed to win the majority of firsts, while Jerry and Mike usually staged a hot argument for second place.
Early in the fall of that year (1876) it so happened that I became acquainted with that famous old-time showman, Tony Pastor, but little did I think that in later years I would appear at his own theatre in New York as a feature attraction. Pastor came to Ottawa at the head of his variety show, which entirely fulfilled its claim to be an all-star aggregation. A glance at the roster will interest those who knew the theatre of that day:
First the genial Tony himself, a great interpreter of the comic songs then in vogue. Harry Kernell, without doubt the greatest Irish comedian and mimic of his time. The celebrated Garnella Brothers, acrobats, Ella Wesner, the best male impersonator I have seen on any stage. Niles and Evans, who afterwards became producing partners themselves. Bryant and Hoey, perhaps best known for their later appearances as stars in “The Parlor Match” and other such successes. Paddy and Ella Murphy, Irish comedians and dancers. John and Maggie Fielding. The French Sisters.
What a program they presented! Their status was but hazily appreciated by me – a newsie with ambitions to become a dancer of some repute – but I did not neglect the opportunity to profit from their local engagement, hurrying down to the famous old Russell Hotel with my stock of papers as soon as they were off the press that afternoon.
Some of my juvenile associates in business had the same idea, of course, and I had them to thank for the fact that Tony Pastor witnessed an exhibition of my ability to step. With that wonderful consideration I afterwards realized was one of his great characteristics, Tony invited me to dance for him – and I had no hesitation in complying, staging an impromptu act to the accompaniment of a mouth-organ at the corner of Sparks and Elgin streets. My audience comprised Tony, several of his company and half a dozen newsboys, while my reward took the form of kindly words of encouragement from Pastor himself, the purchase of my entire stock of papers, and a pass for the evening performance in the Grand Opera House.
Feeling quite plutocratic by reason of having about $2.50 I decided to treat myself to a meal downtown, and visited Gibson’s Confectionary, which was located in an old wooden building on the site today occupied by the Toronto General Trusts Corporation. Afterwards, of course, the show – which had no more enthusiastic spectator than myself. Then home to receive the expected “licking” from Dad, who did not approve of young lads running at large until 11:30 at night, and who did believe in the old injunction advising against sparing the rod. To my surprise, I escaped this when I explained the circumstances and contributed my day’s profits to the family treasury.
“Under The Gaslight”
In September, the attraction at The Old Grand Theatre was a company headed by the late E. A. McDowell, then considered one of the leading character actors in America. He was presenting several plays, including one bearing the euphonious title, “Under the Gaslight”. Some one (I have never been able to learn the identity of this kind person) advised McDowell that he should engage both or either of the Gorman boys as a special attraction during the local engagement, and he invited me to show him what I could do. The exhibition apparently pleased, and on September 22nd I made my debut on the stage.
The audiences seemed to enjoy my efforts, and as an outcome I was invited to become a regular member of the troupe at the amazing salary of $4.00 per week, of which amount $3.50 went into the Gorman family community exchequer and 50 cents to myself for spending money. While such an arrangement would probably not be rewarded with favor by the youth of today, Rockefeller gets no more pleasure from his millions than I got from that first fifty cents, and I was regarded as a veritable plutocrat by my newsboy friends.
From Ottawa, the company proceeded to Toronto, and I made my first appearance away from the home town at the Royal Opera House on King street. The critics of that city were extremely good to me in their reviews of our performances, and I had visions of the Gorman name in the great big black letters, that spelled “Star” on the theatrical posters.
Famous Actress Becomes His Teacher
After a run of a few weeks, we journeyed to Hamilton, and it was in this city that I learned to write and tell the time. For the former accomplishment I am indebted to Clara Morris, long since dead. She was one of McDowell’s leading ladies, and regarded as one of this continent’s foremost actresses. During the entire season, she patiently tutored the young lad whose entire schooling had been limited to two weeks, and I was indeed proud when I was first able to write my name in such a manner as to win her commendation.
For learning to tell the time, my thanks are due to her brother, Felix J. Morris, one of the top notchers of forty years ago. While applied psychology was an unknown quantity in those days, he employed it in a most effective way.
Possessing the usual appetite of a young and growing boy, I was never missing at meal time. In fact, I was usually patiently waiting in the rotunda of the old St. Nicholas Hotel (located on part of the site of the present T. Eaton store in Hamilton), long before the gong struck to indicate that hungry troupers and other guests could proceed to the dining room.
One day Felix Morris chanced to ask me if I could tell the time, and when he learned that I could not do it, undertook to instruct me in this manner: “You just sit here with me, son, and I’ll show you how to learn”.
He said nothing more until the gong sounded, when I jumped up, ready to head the parade for the noon meal without delay.
“Just a minute, son” he said “You see that clock, with both hands pointing straight up”.
“Well, when those hands point like that and the gong sounds it’s twelve o’clock – time to eat”.
Anything associated with the necessities of the inner boy were naturally certain to make an impression. That night, I got my second lesson.
I was on the job long before the supper gong rang and Felix came over to me.
“Now, I want you to watch that clock again. See what happens when the big hand points straight up and the small hand points straight down.”
I watched very carefully, and immediately they reached that position, the gong sounded.
“That means it’s six o’clock” said Felix.
So ended the first two lessons, and from them I gradually learned to tell the time under the kindly tuition of Felix.
When our season ended, I returned to Ottawa, and enjoyed to the full the homage paid me by my old companions, who regarded me as somewhat of a celebrity, to be treated with due respect and admiration. I had been home only a short time when another opportunity presented itself, as a result of the Gowan Brothers having decided to take out a troupe called Gowan’s Grand Organization. They invited me to join the company, and I accepted before they had any chance to change their minds.
“Ould Oireland’s Colors”
A few days before we were due to start our tour of Ontario, I made a discovery that humiliated me beyond words. As a matter of fact, I cried. When I had returned home, I was the proud possessor of a pair of clogs that I had got while with MacDowell. They were a product of Roberts, of New York, who specialized in footwear for those of the theatrical profession. In accordance with the custom of the time, they were brilliant red in color, that being the only correct thing for clog dancers – but when I began to assemble my limited wardrobe I found that an amazing change had taken place. My red shoes were green!
I was dumbfounded, but finally told Dad and Mother of the awful thing that had happened, as a result of which I would not be able to present a proper appearance. Then the story came out:
To Dad, there was just one color, and it is needless to say what that was. So, without saying a word to either Mother or I, he had taken the clogs to Jack McKay, a painter located on Metcalfe street, where the Windsor Hotel stands today, and had their complexion transformed.
To my protests, he had the answer: “Hould your whist, lad. Nivver be ashamed of ould Oireland’s colors. ‘Tis something to be proud of”.
June, July and August were spent with Gowan’s company. They gave me splendid position on the bill, and in addition conferred upon me the honor of leading the customary street parade owing to the fact that my diminutive size commanded attention on the part of prospective customers witnessing our turnout. While engaged in the last-mentioned occupation I wore a plug hat that had been made to order and was almost as large as I was.
Jerry Becomes Envious
I returned from this engagement quite a sophisticated young gentleman of the theatrical profession – in my own estimation, at least. I was the possessor of several things that aroused more than a little envy on the part of Jerry, who during my absence had continued at the prosaic occupation of pulling laths at the old Bronson sawmill. For working from 6 a.m. until 12 noon, and then from 1 p.m. until 6, he earned 75 cents, while from his viewpoint – I was earning big money simply enjoying myself. Didn’t I have several suits of clothes? (Thanks to MacDowell, who bought me two or three of them while I was with him). Didn’t I have a regular man’s style hair-cut, all slicked back? Didn’t young gaffers of my own age regard me as a personage to be treated with admiration and perhaps a degree of awe, being a real, genuine actor, to wit?
This was sufficient to kindle Jerry’s ambition to at least equal my accomplishment. He declared with considerable emphasis that he could dance every whit as well as I could, and then and there decided to accompany me on my next tour – which at that moment was a matter of decidedly indefinite date.
“If Skinny Padder – (my nickname) can do it, I sure can,” Jerry told mother, referring to the fact that, being much more robust than me, he was physically qualified.
We Join the Holmans
Jerry settled down to serious practise, and Mother and I taught him all we could. Meanwhile, we planned the routine of our act, and impatiently waited for an opportunity to show just how good we were. Eventually it did come, through the assistance of Alec Jacques (father-in-law of the late C. W. Mitchell) who for years had been in the circus game, and had afterwards settled in Ottawa, but continued identified with the business to the extent that he did practically all the lithograph printing for theatrical attractions playing in Canada. He also controlled the majority of billboards in Ottawa.
Mr. Jacques favorably commended us to Mrs. Holman, who at the time was at the old Grand Opera House with her English Opera Company, and she invited us to give her an exhibition at the Windsor Hotel, where she was staying during the local engagement. Sitting down to the piano in the reception room, she played a variety of lively numbers, and Jerry and I “did our stuff”. Fortunately, we made a favorable impression, and were immediately signed as members of her company.
From Ottawa, Mrs. Holman went to Toronto, where she was very popular, and began a ten week run at the Royal Opera House on King street east. In the early days of this engagement Jerry and I got “the razz” for the first time. Rather, Jerry got it, but I shared in his humiliation. It happened in this way:
In our excitement of joining the company and making our debut as a team, we overlooked the fact that, while I had a presentable wardrobe and possessed an immaculate haircut, Jerry had neither. His costume had been improvised by Mother, and consisted of a white sweater and knee-length green trousers, which contrasted rather violently with my black velvet ones. His hair was long and shaggy, for saw-mill chore boys of that day didn’t have any spare pennies to invest in such luxuries as frequent haircuts.
No Laughing Matter
We got off to a fine start on our first appearance on the stage of the Royal, probably because the audience included a large number of Toronto newsboys, who had turned out in force to see “these Ottawa kids” who had graduated from their own calling. There must have been at least a hundred of them in the upper gallery, popularly known as “the gods”. They gave us a great hand when we appeared, and we were stepping enthusiastically, with visions of a wonderful reception at the close of our turn. The audience seemed to like our numbers for several seconds, but a titter finally came – and then the house rocked with laughter! Jerry and I were mortified, but stuck it out, and got a great round of applause when we finally made our exit.
Then came the explanation. The audience thought the contrast was deliberate, and that Jerry was playing a comedy type, in which his wildly waving locks were an intentional effect! Its hardly necessary to add that this illusion was immediately dispelled for Jerry and I were young enough to take our beloved “art” with the utmost seriousness. Being considered a comedian when you are in deadly earnest is no laughing matter, as many who have trod the boards can testify. The gravity of such a situation is particularly acute when you are in your early teens.
As a result of the incident in question, the Toronto newsboys christened “The Red- Headed Farmer from Ottawa”, and the name clung throughout the company’s stay in the Queen city.
Fifty Cents A Week
Our engagement with the Holman Company is among my happiest memories, for it marked the establishment of the Gorman Brothers as an act destined to win a certain measure of success in their field. Mrs. Holman herself was an exceptionally talented woman, led the orchestra and directed all productions, while her daughters Sally and Julia, were top notchers. Other principals included Jim Dalton and Charles Brandesie, both of whom have long since had the curtain rung down on their last performance. Incidentally, our act commanded the salary of $7.00 per week, of which Jerry and I each received 25 cents for spending money, the balance being sent home. The net result of our first engagement was a total of 50 cents a week to be frittered away in other than necessities – and Jerry and I were tickled to get even that much, for a “quarter” looked pretty big to us.
After Toronto, we played Hamilton, Buffalo, London, a return date in Ottawa, then Montreal for the balance of the season.
From the theatre we graduated to the circus, joining the Shelby, Pullman and Hamilton outfit in the spring of 1878, and playing with it all that season and the two following summers (1879-80). Jerry ascended to the dignity of riding an elephant in the parade and staged a tumbling act during the main performance, while he and I worked together in the after-show concert, doing our dancing act. For this, our remuneration was $15.00 a week, of which Dad and Mother got $12.00, while Jerry and I split our percentage fifty-fifty. I got the better of the deal to the extent that I was paid a cent a piece for picking up circus lithographs that had been broadcast all over town by the advance men, and declined to hear Jerry’s contention that we should also divide the proceeds from this extra work.
Big Circus Parade – All Over Montreal
Montreal was the scene of one amusing experience with the circus. Whoever planned the parade route decided to cover the entire island, and the management decided to stage the most presentable appearance possible, all hands being called upon to turn out in some role or another. I unfortunately, was elected to lead a camel – and I certainly did! If I walked one mile, I must have walked twelve. I was the tiredest boy in all Canada when we finally got back to the lot – so footsore and weary that I could hardly make an appearance when our act was scheduled to go on. Jerry had the laugh on me that time, for he had thoroughly enjoyed himself as a passenger on a lumbering pachyderm. The upshot was that I threatened to quit the job, but was pacified when Pullman assured me that I could ride a camel in future, instead of leading the cranky animal.
The winters of 1878 and 1879 we spent with a troupe known to fame as Beadle & Pringle’s Pleasure Party and Bell Ringers. This company was well known in Eastern Canada, Vermont and New Hampshire, and covered a lot of ground each season. From town to town we went, making the jumps in carriages and sleighs, this form of transportation being less expensive than via railway. As a matter of fact, it was the only available means in a great many cases, for no hamlet was too obscure for the company to pass if there was a possibility of staging our entertainment anywhere.
“Gentlemen Prefer Them”
In the fall of 1880, Jerry and I had an experience that will remain fresh in my memory always.
Taken as a class, I think there are no more open-hearted people in the world than those of the theatrical profession. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule, and the Gorman Brothers had this fact very forcibly impressed upon them. It happened when we joined a company known as M-F-‘s English Blondes, a burlesque troupe. This engagement was arranged at the old Grand Opera House, by Dad, who was decidedly proud of our accomplishments, and who still continued in the role of Manager and Chancellor of the Gorman Brothers exchequer. By this time, our act was considered worth $30 a week, which seemed a veritable fortune.
M-F- was both prepossessing and plausible. She was extremely cordial in her negotiations with the humble, uneducated, honest Irish father of the two boys whose act she thought would help swell the box office receipts for the English Blondes. She professed a keen interest in our welfare; told Dad what an interest she had taken in our career to date: and promised to lend us every assistance in advancing further on the road to fame. However, she made no mention of possible detours en route.
Then, the lady made a suggestion in our own interest. She would give us whatever Dad thought we needed for spending money each week, and bank the balance. As a result, at the end of our session, we would have so much coming in a lump sum that we would be veritable plutocrats.
A Fine Arrangement!
Such a charming and gracious lady could hardly be other than sincere. Dad thought the idea a splendid one – and Jerry and I had nothing to say about it! He considered that in view of our increased earning power, we were entitled to $6.50 a week between the two of us, and we were mighty glad to get such a big allowance.
Fourteen weeks passed without untoward or particularly noteworthy incident. Jerry and I had a nice position on the bill, and ample opportunity to demonstrate our ability to step to music. Finally the season came to an end in Newburyport, Mass., where the company disbanded. When the time came for the “ghost” to walk, Jerry and I had a vision of receiving something like $340.00 as the accumulated capital for our engagement. Unfortunately for us, however, the vision had apparently not been witnessed by the captivating lady of the fair tresses.
She presented us with transportation home but no money other than the usual $6.50 spending allowance. I don’t recall whether it was Jerry or I who reminded our employer of her oversight, but I do remember that there was no delay in bringing this lapse to her attention. She convincingly explained that she had been sending our money home to Dad every week, to bank for us, and we were gullible enough to accept the explanation. However, we were badly disappointed, for we had planned to return to Ottawa with our bankroll, and jubilantly present it to the old folks as their reward for being the parents of two such clever and wealthy lads.
“English Blondes, Indade!”
It is hardly necessary to say that not one sou had ever reached Ottawa. Dad was chagrined to think that he had been so easily duped, and stated his opinion with great vigor, when he learned what had happened. His equanimity eventually became restored after we told him the story of our three and a half months away from home. An hour or two later, when the touchy topic came up again he made the remark:
“Do you know, Peter, I niver did trust that woman from the viry first. English blondes, indade! That shudday bin warnin’ enough”.
The following is from the Ottawa Journal Monday January 7, 1929
The opening installment Saturday was devoted to the fortunes of the Gorman family, originally of Ireland, until they reached Ottawa on Dominion Day 1870. Peter Gorman tells how he made his debut as a dancer with his brother, Jerry, at a newsboys’ concert in Gowan’s Hall. He then tells how he danced at Sparks and Elgin streets for Tony Pastor, famous showman of the ‘70’s who recognized his ability. Mr. Gorman describes his first professional engagement, which is followed by several others in the United States and Canada with theatrical troups and circus. Follow him on his road to fame and fortune in this chapter.
No engagement offered itself in the early part of 1881, but Dad had no notion of letting us remain idle. While we were waiting, like the celebrated Mr. Micawber, for something to turn up, he arranged with the late Michael Kavanagh for us to work in the Parliamentary restaurant in the House of Commons during the session. Kavanagh was lessee of the restaurant privilege, and also conducted the old Queen’s Hotel, which was located on Wellington street, where the Langevin Block now stands. He engaged Jerry as a waiter, and me as a barboy, with John Bergeron as my boss.
I had been on the job only a few days when I nearly lost it, through no fault of my own. While their names were known to me, I did not know the celebrities of the day to see them, and naturally had no idea that prosperity would afterwards render the verdict that “There were giants in those days”.
Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir Richard Cartwright, Sir Charles Tupper, Sir John Thompson, Sir Israel Tarte, Young Wilfred Laurier. To me, they were merely the names of members of Parliament.
Sir John’s Sherry
One afternoon, I was summoned in the restaurant by a man of distinguished appearance, of whose identity I had no inkling whatsoever. His mind was evidently occupied, and he was pacing to and fro as I hurried over to take his order which he abruptly snapped at me in the one word: “Sherry”.
I scurried over to the serving counter, and quickly returned with a small wine-glass full of sherry, which I tendered this perturbed gentleman. I doubt whether he even saw me as he quickly up the glass, and then to my amazement set it down with a jolt that caused the contents to splatter all over the tray. “Sherry, I said! Sherry!!” he said emphatically.
I hadn’t the least notion of what the trouble was, but thought perhaps John Bergeron had made a mistake, so returned and again asked for sherry without telling him what had happened.
The performance was repeated – only more so! The member was quite angry when I returned a second time with another glass of wine, but quickly moderated when he observed my evident confusion.
“Tell him: Sherry, for Macdonald” he said.
Once more I returned, and told John what had happened.
“Oh, Lord. Why didn’t you say so in the first place?” he demanded.
I told him I didn’t know who “the cranky fellow” was. Meanwhile, he had filled a tumbler with Sir John A.’s favorite brand, and all was well.
Later, I learned that Michael Kavanagh was of a mind to fire anyone who could be quite so ignorant as not to know Sr. John A. Macdonald.
A Contrasting Experience
A short time later, I had an experience of an entirely different nature with the man who contributed so great a part in moulding the history of Canada – one which revealed another side of his character and temperament. In some way, the Premier became aware of the fact that Jerry and I were known as the dancing newsboys. And on the closing day of the session we were invited by Sir John A. himself to stage an exhibition for himself and other members. This we did, in the restaurant and never did we appear before a more encouraging audience than the Parliamentarians, who laid dignity aside once the labors of an arduous period were at an end.
We “gave them everything we had”, and at the conclusion of our exhibition it was Sir. John A. Macdonald himself who passed the hat, heading the contributions with a crisp five-dollar bill. The total amount of the collection was $57.50 – an amount that indelibly fixed itself on our memory for the reason that never before had Jerry and I had so much money at one time. – Dad was very proud when we arrived home and told the folks what we had done and was equally pleased, I’m sure, with the tangible expression of the performance. At any rate, Jerry and I got the fifty cents, accompanied by an admonition not to spend it all at once.
Shortly after the incident in question, Jerry and I “hit the trail” once more, and though we were not very hopeful of realizing our ambition, our one great desire was that it might lead us to the Promised Land of every performer – New York itself. We left Ottawa as featured members of a company organized by the late John S. Barnes, a prominent hotel man whose premises were located where the Banque National building today stands. His intention was to take his vaudeville show through to Winnipeg, which he eventually reached.
In the small town with one main street that has grown to the great western metropolis of today, we were told that we were the first dance team to appear on its stage. Here, the company was disbanded, and that engagement completed.
Kidding the Conductor
From Winnipeg Jerry and I headed for the Western States, having been successful in making an engagement at the old Theatre Comique, Minneapolis which city was the scene of two memorable incidents. To make the jump between these places as economically as possible we decided to exercise a little ancient strategy. Though we were several years beyond the age limit, we bought two half-fare tickets, deciding to bluff our way through if at all possible.
We got the train after our last performance that night, and proceeded to do a reducing act, the object of which was to make ourselves as youthful-looking as possible. Jerry occupied the inside seat, promptly curling up and feigning sleep, while I lounged down in the one on the aisle, prepared to act as spokesman in the inevitable debate with the conductor when he came along, and talk him out of the additional fare.
In about half an hours time, the conductor made his appearance, slowly lurching through the car as he tried to maintain his balance in spite of the combined efforts of the engineer and the rough road bed to defeat his endeavor. Without a word, I tendered him the two half-fares, while Jerry snored fortissimo. The uniformed gentleman naturally started the usual argument.
“How old are you?” he brusquely demanded.
“And this fellow here?” shaking Jerry to a semi-upright position.
“Fourteen! You mean forty”.
Jerry indignantly denied the accusation, but the conductor had apparently decided to collect the extra fares. It seemed that we had lost out until he happened to inquire what we going to do in Minneapolis. We seized upon this opportunity to get his mind off the financial aspect of the situation, and explained that we were actors due to appear at the Theatre Comique the following week. Luckily for us, the amusement house in question was his favorite place of entertainment during his lay-offs in the U.S. city, and with a warning to buy full fares in future he proceeded along the car.
“Jack, Ginger and Padder”
In Minneapolis we were fated for a pleasant surprise. Our brother, Jack who in his day possessed quite a reputation as a newspaper pressman, had left home in 1873 for Winnipeg. He had been engaged by Dr. Shultz, owner of the western city’s newspaper, to erect a press, and we had not heard of him from that time. With the thoughtlessness of youth, he had neglected to write any of the family, and we had no idea where he might have drifted.
Following our rehearsals in Captain Brown’s Theatre Comique, Jerry and I adjourned next door to an establishment which combined saloon, restaurant and billiard room. While watching the ivory balls respond to expert cues we engaged in conversation with another spectator, and in reply to an inquiry told him we were The Gorman Brothers, appearing at the nearby theatre. He remarked that his name was Gorman, too, and asked where we came from.
When we told him we were Canadians from Ottawa, he seemed surprised, but even then had only a suspicion of our identity. Eight years work many changes in growing boys.
“Who were your father and mother?”
We told him and to our amazement he quickly embraced us, with tears streaming down his cheeks.
“Thanks be to Heaven!” he exclaimed. “It’s Ginger and Padder”. (Mother’s nickname for Jerry and me). “I’m Jack, your brother”.
It was a happy reunion for us, and the week passed all too quickly. The smallness of the world had been demonstrated once more, and the incident served the purpose of bringing scattered units of the family together again for Jack lost no time in writing the anxious parents. Never did they have any anxiety regarding his whereabouts.
It so happened that Jack was employed in the establishment into which he had drifted quite by accident. So, naturally after the performance on the Monday evening, three of the Gormans got together to talk of the many events that had transpired since we were together last. In the course of the talkfest, Jack perpetrated an amusing joke on me.
His favorite dish was frog’s legs, with French fried potatoes. Rightly enough, he suspected that I had never enjoyed this appetizing meal, and decided that the time was opportune for the experience.
“Have you or Jerry ever eaten Prairie Chicken?” he said.
“No. I never even heard of it. What’s it like?”
“Greatest grub in the world. Try it and see if I’m not right.”
Jerry and I accepted the invitation, but failed to observe the wink Jack gave the old colored waiter when he placed the order.
“Bring us each a dozen of my favorite dish, Mose”.
Good? They certainly were.
Jerry and I both heartily endorsed Jack’s opinion. So much so in fact, that on the following night I decided to enjoy a feast. Without even waiting for Jerry when the performance was over, I hurried into the restaurant and found the place deserted except for a lone attendant. Its night trade was largely an after-theatre one, and I was early. Considering this a splendid opportunity to dine generously without letting anyone see me making a glutton of myself, I decided to have two dozen Prairie Chickens instead of one.
The ancient negro gave me a cordial welcome when shuffled up to ask my order.
Someone Was Wrong
“Two dozen Prairie Chickens, with those long, thin, fried potatoes.”
“Yassah, thank you ‘sah”, as he scrawled the order with a stubby pencil.
Mose conveyed my order to the kitchen then returned to set the table.
“How many’s dinin’ with you, sah?” he inquired.
“No one. I’m alone.”
The old servitor gave me a decidedly surprised look, but prepared my place, then started back for the kitchen. He went only a short distance when he stopped, hesitated, and finally returned.
“Two dozen Prairie Chickens, you said sah?”
“Yes, two dozen.”
He started off again, but did not proceed far. There was obvious perplexity on his countenance when he slowly retraced his steps to my table.
“’Scuse me, boss, but ah just wanted to make suah ah had youah oadah right. Two dozen Prairie Chickens, sah?”
“Yes. TWO DOZEN. And bring them quick, or I’ll go somewhere I can get a little service.” These needless delays had roused my Irish.
Mose was certainly thunderstruck, but slowly made his flat footed way to the chef’s domain. I was not feeling any too comfortable by this time, for his strange behavior suggested that the fellow was demented. As I waited, I had visions of a crazy colored man rushing out of the kitchen with a huge carving knife in hand, intent on converting me into mincemeat. I nervously gauged the distance to the exit, calculating how many jumps I could make it in, if necessary.
There were beads of perspiration on my brow when Jack and Jerry made a welcome appearance on the scene. I lost no time in telling them of my experience, but instead of tendering the expected sympathy, Jack roared with laughter. I was amazed by his conduct, and Jerry had no idea what it was all about.
Crazy – Like A Fox
Finally when he had enjoyed the joke to the full, Jack said:
“Mose crazy. Like a fox, he is. He thinks you’re cracked.” Without a further word, Jack hurried to the kitchen, and in a moment or two returned with fowl on a plate.
“That, Pete, is a Prairie Chicken. Can you imagine getting away with twenty-four of them?”
In view of the size of the sample, I certainly could not!
On the previous night, Jack had given Jerry and me the impression he was ordering prairie chicken because he thought that two small town rubes such as we might decline frog’s legs. No one enjoyed the jock more than myself, and I thoroughly enjoyed the delectable dish when it finally arrived. (It’s hardly necessary to remark that Jack had cancelled my order for two dozen prairie chickens).
There was an amusing sequel to the incident in question.
When Jerry and I returned home following out tour that season we thought we would introduce Dad to frog’s legs. One afternoon, meeting a youngster on the street with a pail containing three or four dozen for sale, we bought them, and took our purchase home for supper. We told mother how to prepare them and planned to give Dad a surprise when he got home from work.
Our plans miscarried. When Dad arrived, he was horrified to see the frying legs jumping about in the pan, and demanded to know the contents. Mother told him how we had planned to give him a new treat. With a bellow that could have been heard a block away, he roared:
“My God! To think I’d rare sons who ate frogs laigs. Since bayin’ on the stage they’re gone to the divil like Tigeen’s horse for sure.” (Old Irish saying: meaning obscure).
Tears actually came to Dad’s eyes, then he turned to Mother and said:
“God be with poor houly Oireland now”.
“And what has Oireland got to do with frog’s laigs, Jerry?”
“Sure, an at the toime of the great famine, there were frogs there with laigs the soize of dogs. And the poor starvin’ craithures wouldn’t ate them. And here’s yar own dood sons dare to bring thim benayth yer own roof.”
Dad did not eat them, either, but in later years he appreciated the joke, and often told it with gusto.
The following is from the Ottawa Journal of January 8, 1929.
Through the Good Offices of George Primrose The Gormans Win a World Dancing Championship – Their New York Debut.
This is the story of a family well known – in Ottawa, The Gormans, who came here from Ireland in 1870. Peter Gorman is the narrator, and in the opening chapters he has told of his life as an Ottawa newsie, how he worked in the Parliamentary restaurant and “did his stuff” for Sir John Macdonald, how he first started to dance at a newsboys’ concert in Gowan’s Hall, and one day danced on the street for Tony Pastor. He went on tour with his brother Jerry and in time the pair became famous, winning the toe, clog and reel world’s dancing championship and other honors. Later Mr. Gorman became manager of the old Russell Theatre. During his eventful stage career he came in contact with all the great stage personalities of the day, and in these reminiscences he tells many new stories about them.
Champions of The World
After Minneapolis, we obtained engagements in other Western cities, finally reaching Chicago after playing St. Paul, Milwaukee and Duluth. Here we had a run of six weeks, playing two each at the Lyceum, Olympic and Park Theatres.
During our appearance at the Lyceum, we made the acquaintance of a Canadian whose name for years bore high luster in the world of minstrelsy – George Primrose, who made his debut on the stage that is life itself in London Ontario. He was then one of that famous trio, Thatcher, Primrose and West, and on learning that we, too, were from the land of the Maple Leaf, he expressed a desire to help us in any way possible. This kindly action took the practical form of inviting us to take part in a dancing competition to be staged as a special feature of their own production, at Hooley’s Opera House, and intended to award the world’s championship for three types of dancing – clogs, jigs and reels.
The enthusiastic audiences which turned out to witness this added attraction were good enough to render their verdict in favor of Jerry and I, as a result of which we won considerable acclaim. No one was more cordial than Primrose, whose magnanimous action had made it possible for us to win this distinction, but West was of a different temperament, and we felt that he rather resented two “outsiders” stepping in and thus acquiring a title that, while unofficial in a strict sense, was generally accepted for some years.
In the Long Ago
At this juncture, a word or two is perhaps in order concerning the theatre of that day, as we knew it. Regardless of prestige or reputation, almost every performer had to be a veritable jack-of-all-trades, prepared to be a black-face entertainer or Irish comedian as occasion demanded; sing a song or do a dance; jump from an end man’s role to that of handsome (or otherwise) juvenile character. The bill had to be changed frequently, and the elaborate scenic and electrical effects of today were not even thought of. Each member of the variety (or vaudeville) and minstrel shows we were associated with for these several years had to put his offering “across” solely through sheer merit and force of personality.
The theatre itself was not the palatial entertainment which the public today expects and demands, while the artists expected none of the conveniences and fine accommodation enjoyed by even third-rate actors of 1928. Breaking the ice on a water-bucket to wash up after the show was a frequent occurrence during the winter back in the early ‘80’s.
Then, too making engagements was a much more difficult matter than today, when the majority of theatre folk have their own booking agents, who make their livelihood by getting a commission for keeping those they represent as steadily employed as possible. When Jerry and I were New York bound long years ago, there were practically no agents. Each act had to make its own arrangements for its week’s or season’s work.
Nonetheless, we were happy in our chosen work, and for the most part satisfied to take things as we found them – particularly as we felt we making headway towards realization of our ambition once our joint salary mounted to $40 and more per week.
The Promised Land!
At last it came! The anxiously awaited advice that we were to have our chance in the big city!
This welcome new came from James Donaldson, manager of the London Theatre, one of New York’s leading variety houses, which offered us an opportunity to display our wares on the eventful Seventeenth of March, 1883. Success spelled a certain measure of fame – an increase in salary to $70 a week – and practical assurance of steady employment in a congenial field. Failure would result in our immediate suspension from the bill, for it was then customary for the management to book performers on the understanding that they would immediately discharge those who did not prove popular at the opening performances.
Our “spot” or position on the program that memorable day was second, and it was two mighty nervous young fellows who awaited their cue to go on, meanwhile trying to mentally compute our chance of succeeding on a bill of twelve acts, three of which were dance features. There was Miss Lizzie Derious Daly, billed as America’s greatest lady clog dancer – James Martin, who had defeated Horace Wheatley for the clog championship of England – the Gorman Brothers, who were comparatively unknown in New York. Both of our competitors for the public’s favor had much better positions on the bill than we had been assigned. Miss Daly being seventh and Wheatley eleventh.
Never did an opening act on any program occupy so little time as the one on the London Theatre’s bill that day. The curtain was barely up – or so it seemed to Jerry and I – than it came down again. We were due to face the music. Make or break in New York! Nervousness gave way to determination as the orchestra played the opening bars of our first number, and we danced on the stage to face an unknown and reputed very critical audience. Fortunately, several old-timers on the bill had given us a certain degree of assurance by saying that anyone who could get by in Chicago could do so in New York.
March The Seventeenth
Perhaps the fact that it was March 17 had something to do with it. At any rate, the house seemed to thoroughly enjoy the efforts of two Irish-Canadian lads who worked that afternoon as they had never worked before. They gave us a wonderful reception, and after the act was over, Ed Gooding, the stage manager, tendered encouraging congratulations, the sincerity of which he demonstrated in a practical manner, by changing our position on the bill to the choice one of eleventh. We had realized our ambition and lost no time in sending a telegram to Dad and Mother informing them of our good fortune. Jerry was 19, I was 17. And never were there two prouder boys.
Our natural jubilation was heightened on the following day, when we were agreeably surprised to receive a visit from the celebrated Harry Kernell, who had for some time headed his own company each year, and who at that time was principal owner and artist in an organization known as “The Kernells, Wheatley and Trainor”, which was playing at the Hyde and Behman Theatre in Brooklyn. He had witnessed our performance on the Monday afternoon, and on the strength of it tendered us a contract to join him in the Fall, replacing Wheatley and Trainor. The offer was a tempting one, and Jerry and I accepted it.
The following is from The Ottawa Journal of Wednesday January 9, 1929
Story Has Aroused Great Interest
Many Incidents Are Now Recalled
A Word To Journal Readers
“I little expected that publication of my more or less random reminiscences of bygone years would arouse as much interest as they apparently have done in the Capital. Since the appearance of the first installment in The Evening Journal on Saturday last, my phone has had little rest. One of the first to all was the Honorable Charles Murphy. Then came one from a prominent Bank Street boot and shoe merchant. And after that, a message from Rev. Father ——. These but inaugurated the apparently unendless series. All of whom had some incident to recall, some recollection to bring back.
“Regardless of how good a person’s memory may be it is a difficult task to undertake to recall all of the things that have happened in sixty odd years. These kind friends have brought back many incidents that were forgotten in the original preparation of the story – but if received in time, they will be included in the complete book publication of this tale, also in an addenda to ‘from Overture To Final Curtain’ as it appears in pre-release form in this newspaper.
“I will be very glad to receive any communications in this regard, addressed in care of The Evening Journal, and they will be published as received in supplementary form as part of the narrative.
“Thanking You, I am, very sincerely
The Gormans Meet Opposition in a Professional Line and Hear of “The Three Gormans” Meeting Tony Pastor; Again They Go To a ‘Regular Hotel’.
This is the story of a family well-known in Ottawa, the Gormans who came here from Ireland in 1870. Peter Gorman is the narrator, and in the opening chapters he has told of his life as an Ottawa newsie, how he worked in the Parliamentary restaurant and “did his stuff” for Sir John Macdonald, how he first started to dance at a newsboys’ concert in Gowan’s Hall, and one day danced on the street for Tony Pastor. He went on tour with his brother Jerry and in time the pair became famous winning the toe, clog and reel world’s dancing championship and other honors. Later Mr. Gorman became manager of the old Russell Theatre. During this eventful stage career he came in contact with all the great stage personalities of the day, and in these reminiscences he tells many new stories about them ——-.
On the strength of having made a hit in New York, and secured such a worth-while engagement for the following season, Jerry and I decided to capitalize the fact to the extent of inserting a small advertisement in the New York “Clipper”, at that time the leading theatrical journal on this continent. It was not only a matter of publicity, but a means of informing our many friends in the profession – in the West, particularly – regarding our reception in the big city.
“A Tremendous Hit”
The advt was a small one – a single column wide, and about an inch deep – and read:
The Gorman Brothers
Tremendous Hit At The London Theatre, Last Week
This Week – Hyde and Behman’s, Brooklyn
Next Week – Tony Pastor’s
Next Season – With Harry and John Kernell
This brief announcement (mostly set in minion type) cost us $10 for a single insertion, and that represented quite a little money to Jerry and me, although we felt it well spent.
Just a week after our little advertisement appeared, we had an opportunity of reading one five times the size that momentarily took the wind out of our sails. The effect of it was that “the Three Gormans” did not wish managers to confuse them with a couple of performers using their name who appeared at the London Theatre the week of March 17.
The Gormans in question were John, James and George. By a coincidence, they, too, were dancers and in their own long established act, while Jerry and I were practically unknown, they were well established.
Jerry and I first felt regretful for having apparently – but quite unintentionally – tried to appropriate undeserved honors. Then, our “Irish” was aroused by the implication that we had actually stolen a name to which we were not entitled, and were trying to gain prestige through this despicable but frequently observed practice. We decided there was just one thing to do: Inform these Gorman brothers and the profession generally that our name was Gorman, too – and Gorman it would remain. This we did, investing $20. to notify all and sundry to such effect.
“Who’s Thim Gormans?”
This did not end the argument, for next week the originators of the controversy in printer’s ink reiterated their resentment, and further aroused our ire. However, we cooled off in time to save ourselves contributing another $20. or $30. to the support of the old “Clipper”. We considered the best evidence regarding our ability was the fact that we were booked for a return date at the London Theatre; were engaged to appear in Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and had a contract to appear with the Kernells in the Fall.
A few weeks later there was an amusing commentary on the incident I have mentioned. Our season ended about the first of June and we returned home to Ottawa to spend the summer with the old folks, who avidly absorbed our account of the season’s experience. Eventually, we laughingly told of our encounter with “The Three Gormans”, but Dad saw nothing humorous about it:
“Who the divil’s thim Gormans?” he demanded.
“We’ve never met them”, I replied, “but I believe they’re three really good performers”.
“And they had the cheek to say your name isn’t Gorman, did they?”
“Well, I guess they thought we were trying to take their name”.
Then there came heatedly from Dad: “And it’s damn soon we’ll show thim fellers whether you’re Gormans or not”. With that he rushed out of the little kitchen where we were enjoying our gabfest, and into a shed at the rear. Mother, Jerry and I were completely mystified by this typical action, but it was only a few moments before we were enlightened.
Settling The Argument
Still boiling mad, Dad rushed back, carrying a large parcel under one arm and waving a two dollar bill in his other hand.
“Ye see this”, he said, excitedly, literally thrusting the money on me – and then starting to tear the wrappings from his parcel.
“Well, ye’ll take it – and ye’ll send it to that Clipper paper – and ye’ll tell them to put this on their front page next week – and then maybe they’ll know whether it’s Gormans ye are or not”.
With that he unloosed the final wrapping, and triumphantly handed an astounded Jerry and I a large tin sign, on which there had been painted these words:
Boots and Shoes Neatly
It was the old sign he had used long years before while working at his trade as shoemaker in the Old Country, measured at least 30 inches in length and 20 inches in depth, or thereabouts, and in Dad’s estimation provided indisputable evidence regarding our title to the name Gorman.
Poor Dad! Once we had recovered from our astonishment and swallowed the lump that rose at this latest evidence of his willingness to bear arms of any sort in the family cause, we gently explained to him that a full front-page advertisement in the “Clipper” would cost $500. or $600. for a single issue, and even then would be far smaller than his cherished sign. He was amazed
“Five Hundred dollars! My God, What in Hivin’s name did ye pay for that little thing we could hardly see?”
“Thirty dollars, Dad”.
He was momentarily speechless, then called to Mother:
“Johanna! Do you know what your two crazy sons paid for their name in the paper in New York?”
“Well – an’ mind this – THIRTY DOLLARS!”
“Oh, well Dad, you know they’re actors now”.
“Actors, is it? Damned fools, ye mean”.
It so happened that “the Gorman Brothers” and “The Three Gormans” became acquainted during the following season and a lasting friendship resulted. We had stuck to our billing and they to theirs – and no one was the worse for it. They were greatly amused when we told them of Dad’s intended means of retaliation as a concluding bombshell during the period of ill-feeling, and on their every visit to Ottawa in after years at the head of their own road show, they made a point of always having Dad and Mother as their guests in the old Grand Opera House.
They were fine fellows, all three – John, James and Jim. They were equally proficient in minstrelsy as song and dance artists, end men and clog dancers: and for this reason were for years featured with Haverley’s Minstrels. It is many years since John and James answered their final curtains, and after they passed on Jim Gorman specialized in the direction of big dancing numbers for Cohan and Harris, and other leading producers.
Our successful week at the London Theatre resulted in an immediate booking for a similar period at Hyde and Behman’s House in Brooklyn and following this I renewed the acquaintance I had made with Tony Pastor when I appeared before him as an illiterate and uncouth newsboy dancing on Ottawa sidewalk. He engaged us for a week at his famous old Bowery Theatre on 14th street and was most kind, expressing pleasure that we had managed to forge ahead to such an extent. Much more able pens than mine have paid deserved tribute to this famous showman of bygone days, but I wish to add just a word or two:
A Remarkable Character
In many respects, Tony Pastor was one of the finest characters I have ever met in show business. He was thoroughly clean in both his public and private life. He would never allow a performer on his stage to indulge in the slightest suggestion of smut or profanity, not even a “damn” being allowed, nor would he permit any player to indulge in the old decidedly cheap practice of “kidding the audience” by use of any “business” that would tend to humiliate any spectator or ridicule any person of prominence.
He was thoroughly sincere in his endeavor to provide high-class entertainments. and in his efforts to encourage” unknowns” along their often-rough road to success in the theatre.
Many of the most famous stars of the American stage were given their first try-out by this man, who compelled the admiration of all those fortune it was to know him – and well he deserved it!
Our spring season of ’83 was completed by engagements in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Boston and Baltimore, where we were well received.
Our summer layoff between seasons was short that summer, for we joined Harry and John Kernell early in the fall, and began a successful season that passed without particularly noteworthy incident. We were then at the zenith of our career as dancers, and consequently were headliners with the capable company assembled by the two justly celebrated entertainers. In recognition of this, the Kernells voluntarily tendered the act a $10 weekly increase when we reached Pittsburgh.
Famous English Jockey
This last-mentioned circumstance was responsible for Jerry and myself shortly after graduating from theatrical boarding houses supplying accommodation at $5 per week per person to “regular” hotels. Harry Kernell knew we were keenly interested in the racing game as a result of our brother Mike’s association with it. Consequently, the week before we played St. Louis he drew our attention to the fact that we would have an opportunity to meet England’s premier rider of all time, Fred Archer, provided we stayed at a certain hotel, the name of which has escaped my memory.
Arriving in St. Louis, we proceeded to the hotel, took a room, and then as an after-thought inquired regarding the rate, which we were told was $2.50 per day per person. This rather staggered Jerry and me, but we decided to make somewhat of a splurge. During the week, we became very friendly with Archer who possessed a genial disposition, and in writing home mentioned the fact to the folks, asking them to pass this bit of news along to Mike. On leaving for the next engagement, Jerry and I kept our receipt for $35 for the week’s room and board as a souvenir of our first stay in such palatial surroundings.
After the season ended and we returned home, Dad and Mother staged the customary home-coming dinner, inviting many old friends, whom we were expected to regale with a description of the events of the past few months – which, of course, lost none of their color in the telling. In the course of this narration, mention was eventually made of Fred Archer, who was at that time very much in the lime-light.
“And did he ask for me?” queried Dad naively. The acquaintanceship between Archer and he was entirely limited to what Dad had heard concerning the famous jockey’s turf exploits.
St. Louis vs. Murray Street
That gave Mother an opportunity to attract our attention to the fact that the dinner we had just enjoyed was surely the equal of any we had sat down to “at that swell hotel in St. Louis”, and we confirmed her belief. This prompted the woman-like inquiry regarding the cost of stopping at such a place, and in answer to it Jerry and I produced our receipt, which we had treasured for little other reason than to impress the old folks.
Mother glanced at it. “Well, that isn’t very expensive. Sure, they charge $3 a week at some Murray street hotels”.
This gave Jerry and me a momentary jolt, but we quickly recovered our aplomb and asked her what she thought the amount was.
“Three dollars and a half, isn’t it?”
“No, mother, it’s thirty-five dollars”.
“And ye paid that for a week’s board for the two of yez?”
“Good Heavens! I could keep house three months for that much money”, (and that was no exaggeration either).