Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Comedy Comes to the Boston Museum

Back in the days before theatre was acceptable, the Boston Museum on Tremont Street staged dramatic performances such as John Wilkes Booth in “Romeo and Juliet”, as well as other cultural presentations. Calling the theater a museum somehow made it more legitimate, as if Shakespeare performed in a building called a theater would be déclassé.

The Boston Museum was also really a museum, however, with art and natural sciences exhibits. One wonders if any pretense to culture was blown out of the water when The Dalys came to town.

Above is an ad from Byrne’s Dramatic Times of October 18, 1884, announcing the two-week engagement of The Dalys at the Boston Museum beginning November 3rd. Their show was “their now famous athletic comedy” called “The Vacation - or- Harvard vs. Yale”.

Perhaps “athletic” was used for what would later be termed “slapstick”, but this was such a novelty at the prestigious Boston Museum that the ad declared, “The only comedy on earth that ever played an engagement at the Boston Museum in its regular season.” The show had come straight from a brief run at Tony Pastor’s in New York, billed as “the most pronounced hit of any comedy during the present season.”

The Dalys were a popular family of vaudeville performers in the late 19th century. Several siblings entered the business one by one, and eventually formed a troupe that appeared together in plays.

Author William Ellis Horton in his “About Stage Folks” (Free Press Printing Co., Detroit, 1902), gives us a bit of background on the performing Daly family. Brothers William and Timothy were song and dance men, later joining with Mort Emerson and Willis Clark to form the “Four King High Kickers”, which was, according to Horton, “at one time considered the strongest act of its kind in vaudeville.”

The siblings William, Thomas, Robert, and Daniel were joined by Thomas’ wife Lizzie Derious for the comedy “Vacation.” There were other brothers and sisters, either not involved in the theater, like their oldest brother Timothy, who was a prosperous merchant in Boston, or had their own acts, like sister Lizzie who was a dancer and married minstrel show man Billy Buckley.

At the time of Horton’s 1902 book, some 18 years after their appearance at the Boston Museum, we learn that Thomas had died from “the effects of a severe beating given to him by a cowardly set of ruffians” who were the stage hands at the Academy of Music in Chicago. There’s got to be more to that story.

Robert died of consumption, and sister Lizzie, now a widow, performed a dance act with her daughter Vinnie.

All the Daly siblings owned summer homes on Crescent Beach, back in the day before summer stock, when theatre folk took it easy during the summer months. The only “season” was the theatre season. They, or the ad men, called “Vacation” -- “The laughing success of the century.”

Note: the photo of the Boston Museum is from the Library of Congress, now in public domain.

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