STRANGE GH: Many vaudeville performers made their homes in the Tri-Cities

Dec 12, 2011


Winsor McCay, the cartoonist who created Little Nemo and who was raised in Spring Lake, had a stint on vaudeville beginning in 1906. He appeared on stage as an illustrator and introduced many of his animated cartoon films on stage. Some of these appearances interacted with the motion picture, whereas McCay seemed to walk in and out of the movie on stage.

While McCay’s name recognition is great, his period in vaudeville was quite brief.

Herbert and Howard Lyman, born on Sept.12, 1877, in Grand Haven to Charles and Mary Lyman, began performing at age 13 in penny shows for local kids. By 1895, they were performing professionally as The Lyman Twins and in 1899 were headlining their first major original musical comedy titled, “A Merry Chase.”

In “A Merry Chase,” the twins pioneered the “broken mirror illusion,” which the Marx Brothers made famous in their 1932 motion picture, “Duck Soup.” The routine involved the twins, dressed alike, facing each other in what appeared to be a mirror, but was an opened frame. They moved in unison to give the illusion one was the other’s reflection.

Historical sources, including Variety Magazine, incorrectly attribute the “broken mirror illusion” to the Schwartz Brothers circa 1912 some 13 years after the Lyman Twins introduced it.

The brothers, who wrote and performed in six original plays, spent summers at their cottage in Spring Lake before leaving vaudeville and moving to Florida in 1911. There they purchased an orange grove and started a fertilizer business.

Howard died in a diving accident in Orlando on July 7, 1923, and Herbert died at Daytona Beach on July 3, 1953. Both are buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Orange County, Fla.

In 1909, Air Dome owner Henry Ball discovered a retired vaudeville act was living on a farmhouse near Ferryburg and talked Carl and Francis Peterson into a week engagement at his outdoor theater on Washington Avenue in Grand Haven. The Petersons had toured the U. S. and Europe from 1896-1907 as Sampson and Madame Zaccho, “the world’s strongest man and woman.”

They came out of retirement for that one week beginning on July 5. Among the amazing feats of strength included Sampson catching a 25-pound cannon ball shot at a distance of 15 feet, and his spouse lifting a piano off the stage with her teeth using a pulley device.

Frank Harris and his wife Florence Randall, who toured vaudeville circuits around the country as the Harris Randall Co. from 1904-19, took residence in Grand Haven in 1917.

In 1905, the pair were working for the Minnelli Brothers Drama Co., which owned a popular pavilion in Ohio and operated a traveling tent show. There Frank and Florence witnessed 3-year-old Lester Anthony Minnelli perform. Lester, later known as Vincente, became a famous producer for MGM and was married to singer/actress Judy Garland from 1945 until 1951. They had a daughter named Liza Minnelli.

Harris and Randall’s best-known act was “Fifty Miles From Nowhere,” which they performed on stage for a decade. They retired from vaudeville while touring their final work, “A Temperate Woman.” Frank Harris was employed in the office of the Grand Haven Power Co., and later worked as shipping clerk for Eagle Ottawa Leather Co. for 18 years.

Florence died on Nov. 7, 1953, and Frank on March 21, 1955. Both are buried at Lake Forest Cemetery.

Frank Fisher and his partner/wife Eldrie Gilmore performed in vaudeville musical comedy from 1914-1933. Eldrie played the piano and both sang. Their signature routine was titled “Her Bashful Romeo.”  The pair toured nationally and abroad. One world tour, which lasted for 11 months, included performances in England, Australia and southern Africa.

While touring with the Keith’s Theaters circuit and in summer and fall of 1921 shared the bill with The Marx Brothers.

Fisher and Gilmore moved to Grand Haven upon their retirement from the stage in 1934. Frank went on to manage the Robinhood and Grand theaters for many years, and Eldrie operated Haven Beauty Studio for 20 years.

The two often revived their old vaudeville routines to the pleasure of many at the Grand Haven Rotary Club and Spring Lake Country Club. Florence died on July 14, 1974, at the age of 89 and Frank died at the age of 91 on Feb. 15, 1980. Both are buried at Rosedale Memorial Park Cemetery in Tallmadge Township, Ottawa County.


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