American Vaudeville Museum

All material © 1998-2012 American Museum of Vaudeville, Inc.  Page 52

Joe Frisco

As Joe Frisco made only a few memorable appearances in films, and these in films that were forgettable in themselves, the memory of him has faded.  Fifty years ago any congregation of former vaudevillians reminiscing about the old days would have featured more than a few stories about Joe Frisco.  Indeed, his witticisms, tales about his bad luck gambling and his constant state of indebtedness despite earning several thousands of dollars a week overshadowed recollections about his dancing.

It is as a dancer that Joe Frisco made his name.  It was some time before he added verbal comedy to his act.  His stutter seemed to aid rather than mar his delivery.  “After they made that guy, th-th-they threw away the sh-sh-shovel!.”

The Frisco jazz dance was a fast paced series of shuffles, camel walk and turns usually performed to “Darktown Strutters’ Ball.”  He was typical of the vaudevillian who seldom changed his act.  His dance act was a polished performance piece; it was what audiences expected to see and what they wanted.  Later in his career, ensconced in small night clubs where the bookies and the IRS lined up at the paymaster’s door, Joe had a less structured act, dancing less and less, working to the faithful who gathered for his stories.