It’s always great to receive correspondence or comments on posts I’ve made here on Amnesiac Archive. I was recently contacted by Peter Townsend from Mesa, Arizona in the USA, whose great-great-great grandmother Effie Jeanette Townsend was the aunt of prolific vaudevillian Edith Clifford, who I wrote an article on last year. I was going to add an update to my original post but decided that Peter’s research is worthy of its own page, so I have shared edited excerpts from our correspondence below. Peter welcomes any information or inquiries regarding Edith’s biography and her career as an entertainer, so I have provided his email here: firstname.lastname@example.org
– Michael Alexandratos, May 11, 2018.
Edith Clifford was born Edith A. Mann in Chicago, Illinois, USA, c. 1891 and toured the international vaudevillian circuit as a singer, actress and comedienne from the 1900s right into the 1920s. Clifford was the daughter and only child of Charles Mann and Carrie Mann (née Sampson) (1861-1918). Her first reported stage performance was a production of Ben Hur at the age of five. She broke into professional show business in New York under the Schubert Theatre Company. Peter mentions below that he could not find any information on her career from the late 1930s – 1950s. Her last reported performance was at the Los Angeles Orpheum Theatre on April 19, 1950. She would have been 59 years old. The year of her death is currently unknown, but is tentatively placed within the decades of 1950 and 1960.
“I have seen show announcements and reviews of her performing throughout North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
Edith married 1st to John Michael McNamara (1886-1969), a fellow vaudeville performer from Gardiner, Maine, USA known professionally as “Jack Mack”. They were married in Waukegan, Lake County, Illinois on 13 July, 1913. After they were married they performed together professionally under the stage name “Clifford & Mack”. They professionally separated and presumably divorced by about 1920. By the early 1920s Edith was performing by herself again billed as “Edith Clifford”.
She moved to Hollywood in 1923 and became active in buying and selling real estate. She was buying up distressed properties in Hollywood at the bottom of the first major boom and bust cycle with intentions to sell the properties at a profit when the real estate market recovered.
Edith married 2nd to Carl Theodore Keller (1897-1947), known professionally by the stage name “Carl Kellard”. During a European tour, they married in London at St. George’s Hanover Square in April 1928.
Edith and husband Carl Kellard can be found in the 1930 United States census residing in the Manhatten Borough of New York City. Her occupation is listed as “Motion Picture – Actress”. In 1930 she also owned an apartment in Los Angeles, California. Edith divorced from Carl Kellard in 1934 in Los Angeles.
I have a gap between 1930 and 1950. Thus far, I can find no info for this time period. I found a show review published in the April 29, 1950 edition of “The Billboard” under the section “Vaudeville Reviews” which reads:
“Current bill hits on all eight. Wally Blair opens strong with tricky juggling on a unicycle, followed by Edith Clifford’s specialized chuckle-spurring songs. Adolph and Clara Del Bosque put their Arabian horse, Serenado II, thru sock dancing and bell-ringing paces. Reggie Rymal does some unusual things with a paddle ball for a refreshing novelty act.
Cedric and Algy toss British gags into their acro act to pull yocks and palms. Neal Stanley’s impressions of screen celebs are clever, but lad should trim off-color material for his Vaude audiences. Berk and Hallow’s trim tap routines are fast and smart. Lomas, Capen, and King, in the closing slot, knock ’em out with zany songs and dance routines.”
ORPHEUM THEATRE, Los Angeles (Wednesday, April 19, 1950)
The final piece of info is an excerpt from a 1985 newspaper interview with Jackie Cooper (1922-2011) who was a child actor and later a television director, producer, and executive. Jackie Cooper was a very well known actor in the United States and noteworthy as the first child actor (age 9) to receive an Academy Award nomination (Best Actor) for the 1931 film “Skippy”. The excerpt reads:
”What makes this movie [i.e., “Izzy and Moe”] so special is all three of us [i.e., Jackie Cooper, Jackie Gleason, Art Carney] have our roots in vaudeville,” Cooper said. ”When I was a kid movie star I worked as a specialty act in the waning days of vaudeville. My mother played the piano for Edith Clifford, billed as Singer of Risque Songs in some Chicago theatres owned by Al Capone.”
On “the nice boy”
“Regarding the lyrics to “He’s A Nice Boy” I think I share your take on the song as a strange homophobic ditty. Beyond that I can only speculate. Edith herself was married twice that I know of, so I guess she was probably straight. I recall once reading an interview article where she mentions that as a female vaudeville performer she would only consider marrying a man who was also in the travelling vaudeville show business. Her take on the issue seemed more practical and pragmatic than romantic. As a vaudeville entertainer, she could not envision establishing, sustaining, maintaining a relationship with a man who stayed at home while she was often away working on the road.
I have no insight on Edith’s personal views on the broader gay community. Regarding the “He’s a Nice Boy” lyrics, I think the song was probably penned to sell admission tickets to the general low brow vaudeville audience of the day. I view the song as a follow on to the earlier vaudeville black face minstrel shows in the USA that portrayed African American people in a very negative racist stereotype fashion. The targeting of minority groups for discrimination and ridicule was a part of the basic platform and history of vaudeville in the USA. It passed for entertainment and sold tickets to an uneducated low brow audience of the day. I suspect it had less to do as a creative expression of performance art, and more to do about a nuts-and-bolts business formula for selling theatre tickets. Vaudeville was a highly competitive business with success depending on giving people what they want.
Sheet music cover for “Love Lies”, composed by Carl Kellard (1897-1947).