Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Famous Aquaintances of James T. Powers

I discussed in a recent article that diminutive, red-haired comedian James T. Powers was a forefather of today's man-child comic and possibly a model of man-child icon Alfred E. Neuman.  But I was informed by Peter Reitan, the author of Early Sports and Pop Culture History blog, that Powers had a loose connection with another diminutive, red-haired man-child icon, Peter Pan.  In 1892, Powers produced and starred in "Walker, London," an early play by Pan creator James M. Barrie.  It was because Barrie was able to establish himself as a successful playwright with "Walker, London" that he was later able to acquire financal backing for his plays "Quality Street," "The Admirable Crichton," and "Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up."

It was an occupational habit for a popular comedian to cross the paths of famous men.  Powers wrote in his autobiography:
The great inventor, Thomas Edison, was a frequent visitor to the Casino [Theatre]; on account of his deafness he always sat in the front row.  Having a great admiration for him, whenever I had a humorous line to say, I would walk near the footlights, and camouflaging my intentions by not looking in his direction, I would fairly throw the line at him.  One morning I received a scathing notice in the paper to this effect:  'Mr. Powers, whose work I have always considered artistic and clever, has developed a technique that would do credit to a monologist at Tom Gould's 'Free and Easy.'  Last night he nearly hung over the footlights as he threw his lines at the audience.  I am disappointed in this young man.".
"Gentleman Joe, The Hansom Cabbie," a 1896 farcical musical comedy, provided James T. Powers made up as Teddy Roosevelt for a song number titled "Town Tropics."  Roosevelt was then New York's Police Commissioner and became known for his zealous reform efforts.  According to Powers, he mimicked Roosevelt's likeness by donning Roosevelt's "famous eyeglasses and prominent teeth."  The comedian described his comedy business as follows: "A man was shot before my eyes; nonchalantly I walked away, swinging my club, and took no notice of the crime.  But when I saw a poorly-dressed, pale little girl coming out of a salon with a can of beer in her hand, I clubbed and arrested her."  He wrote, "Roosevelt, who was sitting in the orchestra one night, laughed heartier than anyone in the audience."

One of Power's good friends was comedian Roy Atwell, who later performed the voice of "Doc" in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfes (1937).  Here is a clip of Atwell at work: 

You can read more about the comic man-child in "I Won't Grow Up!: The Comic Man-Child in Film from 1901 to the Present."

No comments:

Post a Comment