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BE A BARBER
Says JOHNNY MARVIN
By Earle Ferris
RADIO has a singing son of the plains, a barber who bought a . ukulele and started out to see the world. His career might match that of the leading character in Edna Ferber's "Cimmaronn" or the leading character in the motion picture epic "The Covered Wagon." He is Johnny Marvin whose vocal tricks and agile guitar and ukulele strumming carried him many a long mile and now have made him one of America's best loved singers.
Neither his mother nor his father know exactly where Johnny Marvin was born because he was brought into the world in a covered wagon on a pine tree trail somewhere along the border of Oklahoma and Arkansas. His mother to this day says that he was born in one state and his father, in the other, so that when he gets a passport to go abroad, as he did once to sing before the Prince of Wales in London, he merely fills on his passport, Johnny Marvin, United States. After his family had settled in Butler, Oklahoma, and he had started out life very prosaically as a barber in a small Oklahoma town, he began to play the guitar and for many nights ■ his father and he rode twenty-five miles and back to play for square dances, earning the magnificent sum of two dollars and a half between them for playing five and six hours at a clip. One day he heard that a Hawaiian who was playing in a Hawaiian musical act had died at Clinton, Iowa. He hurried to that city and took his place, playing the guitar and the mandolin in Culligan and Hawkwell's Royal Hawaiians, in which they were all Hawaiians except Marvin. He gave that up later and returned home only to feel the lure of the wanderlust again, and working at his trade as a barber he made his way to St. Louis. While he was in
St. Louis he was offered a job taking care of a trainload of mules that were headed for South Carolina and he accompanied the mules from St. Louis as far as Washington, D. C, watering and feeding them. With his old guitar tucked under his arm he played it in Washintgon, to make his way to New York. He had four dollars and bought a round trip excursion ticket for three dollars and a half, selling it for two dollars and a half when he got to New York.
In two days his money ran out and although he had a room at Fourteenth Avenue and East Third Street, he sang on the street corners with his guitar to get enough money to eat while he answered ads for barbers. Each time he applied for a position they looked at his youthful face and decided he was too young. But finally a hairdresser on Eighty-sixth street in New York offered him a job shampooing ladies' hair. In a year's time he saved five hundred dollars on a salary of ten dollars a week and his tips. He sewed all but twenty dollars of the money into his vest and expressed his clothes ahead to St. Louis. With four sandwiches and two bottles of pop and wearing overalls over his new blue serge suit, he worked his way on trains to St. Louis, getting a job there as a barber until he saved up enough money to pay his way back to his old home in Butler, Oklahoma. There with the three hundred and fifty dollars he had left he bought the town barber shop.
|UT the wanderlust still called — another Hawaiian troupe needed a Hawaiian, and since he played a guitar, he became one and traveled with the troupe for a whole year getting twenty-five dollars a week and expenses. He went back to
Butler, Oklahoma, again and joined the navy in 1918, spending thirteen months at San Diego where he doubled as a member of the band and as the company barber, at old Balboa Park for the duration of the war. After the war he went to San Francisco and got a job as a barber next door to Tait's Cabaret, a place largely famous to musical circles as having been the spot from which Paul Whiteman was fired.
It was in San Francisco that he met Charlie Sergent who had also been one of the many four Hawaiians with whom Marvin had played. And together they organized a vaudeville act, known as the Sergent Brothers, which they played in until 1921. He played vaudeville steadily until 1924 when he met the famous vaudeville act of the Four Camerons and was booked on the same bill with them over a long while. On Christmas day in 1924, playing on a bill at Erie, Pennsylvania, he met a prima donna in an act owned by Frank Richardson, the old motion picture star. She was Edna May. Two months later she became Mrs. Johnny Marvin.
Later the Marvins left the Four Camerons and Johnny Marvin took his jazz band through the middle west, starting a tour in Omaha, and in two months he was flat broke. He scraped enough money to send his wife on to New York, and instead of paying the band, he gave them his old (Continued on page 46)