Adam Gertsacov, Acme Clown Company
14 Imperial Place #303 Providence, RI 02903
401-351-2596 kafclown@well.com


*Joe Frisco, Comic, Jazz Dancer, and Railbird*
Ed Lowry with Charlie Foy (Edited by Paul M. Levitt)
Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991. 181 pages $19.95


The theatre has a short term memory, and nowhere is that more evident than in the history of Vaudeville. The halls of Vaudeville Valhalla are littered with forgotten comics, obscure singers, and colorful entertainers whose fifteen minutes have long since passed.

One such comedian was Joe Frisco, whose wacky sense of humor, ad libbed dialog (he was illiterate, and thus unable to write his material down)., and trademark derby, cigar, and stutter took American clubs and theatres by storm in the 1920's and 30's. He was so popular that F. Scott Fitzgerald describes one of Gatsby's drunken revelers as "moving her hands like Frisco" Yet by his death in 1958, Frisco was a forgotten character--so much so that this manuscript was rejected by publishers in the 1960's because of his obscurity. The book languished in an attic for years until research and editor Paul Levitt found it.

This biography of Frisco is full of amusing showbiz anecdotes, rapier retorts, practical jokes, and racetrack stories (Joe was an avowed "railbird", or compulsive horse gambler.) Written by contemporary entertainers and friends Ed Lowry and Charlie Foy, the book follows Frisco from his humble beginnings in Chicago to his last years in California as second and third banana in films with the likes of Bing Crosby (who wrote the forward)

While some of the historical accuracies are questionable (Foy and Levitt are hardly trained historians), editor Levitt has done an excellent job of placing the many anecdotes in context. He also provides a bibliography, an essay on the chronology of the book, and perhaps most valuably, a glossary of people and places. If each of the people in the glossary were to have as thorough a biography of them, then perhaps the theatre's memory could last a little longer.


ADAM G. GERTSACOV Acme Clown Company (Providence RI)