Showman (1937)

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SHOWMAN ley had learned to stiffen up and crash in the conven- tional way—and he got to be one of the best fallers in the business—that they'd tolerate him at all. Naturally we ran our own theaters, penny-theaters in abandoned cellars, equipped with a rough staging and broken-down benches and chairs, operated with juvenile casts. Black-face acts were the rage then—it was the heyday of the minstrel shows, the San Francisco Minstrels with their great trio of Birch, Wambold and Backus. I had a go at black-face myself—in a negro farce called "Where's the Boss?" which another fellow and I picked for our appearance at an amateur night at Miner's Theater—and got the hook in due course. But in my own penny-theater in a Division Street cellar I was already following my bent. I produced melodrama as thick with murder, ransom, "the papers," foundling children, disguises, duels and mysterious strangers as the boards of my stage would carry. Weber and Fields, Sam Bernard, Julian Rose, were only a few top-notchers who started in East Side penny-theaters, with amateur nights as the first step up. Nobody ever made a nickel's profit out of a penny-theater—I know I didn't. But I was only a kid when I found myself turning a profit on a real venture into giving the theater-going public what it wanted. It was Count Johannes who gave me the break. If you still remember Count Johannes—way back in the '70s, mind—I wish you'd tell me whether he was a clever faker or the most pathetic case of egomania in 19