Who's Who in Musicals:
Additional Bios IX
by John Kenrick
b. Feb. 4, 1889 (San Francisco, CA) - d. Nov. 4, 1960 (Los Angeles, CA)
Catlett's affable, blustery stage persona made him one of Broadway's top musical comedians in the 1910s and 20s. After debuting in a revival of The Prince of Pilsen (1919), he was featured in a series of national tours and forgettable New York productions before the Ziegfeld Follies of 1917 elevated him to star status. He scored well in Follow the Girl (1918), Little Simplicity (1918) and the London production of Baby Bunting (1919) before winning raves as "Otis Hooper" in the long-running Broadway hit Sally (1920). After the short-lived Dear Sir (1924), he played conniving attorney "J. Watterson Watkins" in Lady Be Good (1924), where he introduced the breezy Gershwin title tune.
Catlett had less memorable stage roles in the late 1920s, so he had little reason to hesitate when the advent of sound film brought invitations to Hollywood. A popular character actor in dozens of films, Catlett appeared in such screen musicals as Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) and Look For the Silver Lining (1949), and provided the giddy voice for evil fox "J. Worthington Foulfellow" (introducing "Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee") in Walt Disney's animated classic Pinocchio (1940). After portraying Al Smith in the bio pic Beau James (1957), Catlett retired, dying of a stroke three years later at age 71.
b. Mar. 29, 1867 (New York City) - d. Jan.21, 1949 (Beverly Hills, CA)
This German dialect comedian appeared in two short-lived musicals before winning raves as Boris in Victor Herbert's The Fortune Teller (1898), a role he repeated in London two years later. A sharp comic with a strong tenor voice, Cawthorn became an audience favorite in more than 20 musicals, including Fritz in Tammany Hall (1905) and Little Nemo (1908). Between 1913 and 1918, he co-starred with Julia Sanderson in five musical comedies, including The Sunshine Girl (1913) and The Girl From Utah (1914). After playing Marilyn Miller's father in Sunny (1925), Cawthorn left the stage for a long career in Hollywood. His dozens of screen appearances include memorable non-singing cameos in musicals: a singing doctor in Love Me Tonight (1932), Franz Schumann in Naughty Marietta (1935) and Ziegfeld's father in The Great Ziegfeld (1936). He suffered a stroke in his home, dying at age 81.
b. Dec. 1, 1844 (London) - d. Dec. 28, 1891 (London)
This gifted musician was a schoolmate of Arthur Sullivan, and their lives and careers would remain on close parallels. Both men developed reputations as composers in the 1870s, with Cellier alternating between conducting Sullivan's early works and composing comic operettas of his own. Cellier collaborated with William Gilbert on Topsyturveydom (1874), but scored greater success that same year with The Sultan of Mocha (1874). For several years he was principal conductor of Richard D'Oyly Carte's troupe, serving as musical director for the original productions of Gilbert & Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore (1878), Patience (1879), Iolanthe (1881) and Sullivan's grand opera Ivanhoe. Alfred's brother Francois then took over the D'Oyly Carte baton, freeing Alfred for other projects.
After a stint in the US, Cellier triumphed with the score to Dorothy (1886) a comic opera which became the longest running London musical of the 19th Century. Its success led to revivals of Cellier's earlier works. Always frail, he died while collaborating with Gilbert on The Mountebanks, which was completed by composer Ivan Caryll.
b. 1844 (London) - d. 1914 (London)
After his brother Alfred went on to other projects, Fred Cellier served as musical director of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company for some 35 years, conducting the premieres of such classic Gilbert & Sullivan operettas as Princess Ida, The Mikado, Yeoman of the Guard and The Gondoliers.
(b. Clifford Albyn Perry)
Actor, singer, dancer, producer, director
b. Sept. 3, 1891 (Bristol, UK) - d. Dec. 8. 1937 (Montana, Switzerland)
One of the most versatile talents in the history of the musical stage, Cliff got his start touring in British, Australian and American variety. He first won major attention as a bespectacled comic in the London musical His Little Widows (1919), where his extraordinary dancing led to his being engaged as choreographer for Andre Charlot's The Wild Geese (1920) and the revue Pins and Needles (1921). As a performer, Cliff introduced Londoners to "Swanee" in the long-running hit The Co-Optimists (1921), appeared in several replacement casts, and starred in the London production of George and Ira Gershwin's Tip Toes (1926).
Cliff became a successful producer and director, still winning acclaim whenever he chose to perform. His long string of West End hits included Lady Luck (1927), So This Is Love (1928), Love Lies (1929), The Millionaire Kid (1931), Sporting Love (1934) and Over She Goes (1936) -- the last, a role Cliff repeated in the British screen version. Illness forced him out of the cast of Crazy Days (1937). He died during the run at age 46.
b. April 18, 1929 (London) - May 25, 1987 (Byfleet, UK)
An innovative stage director, Coe first turned his hand to musicals while serving as artistic director of London's Mermaid Theatre. For Lock Up Your Daughters (1959), he staged the action using several revolving set pieces by designer Sean Kenny. Coe and Kenny re-teamed to create the original production of Lionel Bart's Oliver (1960), a production they re-created successfully in the US. Coe had somewhat less success staging Pickwick (1963) and The Four Musketeers (1967), but showed his versatility directing such diverse projects as Decameron '73 (1973) and Ride, Ride (1976). After working with North American theatre companies for several years, he returned to London to stage several musicals, including Flowers for Algernon (198?), and the imported hits On the Twentieth Century, and Barnum (1981). Coe supervised London and New York revivals of Oliver in the mid-1980's, and was killed in a car accident at age 58.
(b. Charles Hayden Coffin)
b. April 22, 1862 (Manchester, UK) - d. Dec. 8, 1935 (London)
One of the most popular British stage baritones of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, Coffin made his London musical debut as John Smith in Pocahontas (1885). Coffin made his mark as Harry Sherwood in the record-setting hit Dorothy (1886), in which he introduced the popular "Queen of My Heart." Good looks and a powerful voice made him a favorite with audiences. He cemented his fame in such operettas as Doris (1889) and Captain Therese (1890), and spent a season in New York co-starring in several productions with soprano Lillian Russell (1892-1893). Coffin returned to London, redefining his career by starring in a series of hit musical comedies produced by George Edwardes, including A Gaiety Girl (1893), The Geisha (1896), San Toy (1899) and A Country Girl (1902). He also appeared in Veronique (1904), starred as Tom Jones (1907), and played Captain Charteris in The Quaker Girl (1910). In his later years, Coffin concentrated on dramatic roles, with occasional musical appearances in Young England (1916). He continued touring through the 1920s. For more, see his autobiography, Hayden Coffin's Book (London: Alston Rivers, 1930).
(b. Robert Allen Cole)
b. July 1, 1869 (Athens, GA) - d. Aug. 2, 1911 (Catskills, NY)
Johnson, John Rosamund
b. Aug. 11, 1873 (Jacksonville, FL) - Nov. 11, 1954 (NYC)
In a business that had little use for African-American songwriters, this talented duo posed a long-overdue challenge to the status quo. After getting his start as a performer, Cole formed his own all-black theatre company and presented A Trip to Coontown (1897), co-authored by Billy Johnson. Cole and Johnson composed for several forgotten shows until Johnson's drinking forced Cole to seek a new partner -- Billy's brother, J. Rosamund Johnson. The "new" Cole & Johnson toured in vaudeville, provided special material for other variety stars and interpolated songs into more than a dozen Broadway musicals.
Their best known song hit was "Under the Bamboo Tree," introduced by May Irwin in Sally In Our Alley (1902), and reprised years later by Judy Garland and Margaret O'Brien in MGM's Meet Me in St. Louis (1943). Cole & Johnson toured two all-black musicals that made it to Broadway -- The Shoofly Regiment (1905) and The Red Moon (1909) -- but racial attitudes made it impossible to attract profitable audiences, so the songwriters returned to vaudeville. Cole was forced off the stage by advanced syphilis, and committed suicide at age 42. Johnson continued to compose and occasionally perform, appearing in the original Broadway productions of Porgy and Bess (1936) and Cabin in the Sky (1940). He is also remembered as the composer of the popular Black American hymn "Lift Every Voice and Sing."
Comstock, F. Ray
b. 1880 (Buffalo, NY) - Oct. 15, 1949 (Boston, MA)
Comstock worked his way through various theatre jobs, producing several tours before he brought the profitable Fascinating Flora (1907) to Broadway. He followed this with Bandana Land (1908), Mr. Lode of Kole (1909) and The Beauty Spot (1909) -- all forgettable but successful enough to keep Comstock in business. His luck changed when he co-produced a series of intimate musicals at the Princess Theatre with scores by composer Jerome Kern. Nobody Home (1915), Very Good Eddie (1915), Oh Boy (1917), Leave It To Jane (1917) and Oh, Lady! Lady! (1918) are still celebrated for cementing Kern's reputation and for giving the Broadway musical a more "American" attitude. Comstock then switched gears, presenting a series of imported British spectaculars -- Chu Chin Chow (1917), The Maid of the Mountains (1918) and Mecca (1920). During the 1920s, he presented mostly non-musical plays, including the lavish drama The Miracle (1924). A series of flops and the crippling stock market crash of 1929 brought an end to Comstock's theatrical career.
Cook, Will Marion
b. Jan. 27, 1869 (Washington D.C.) - July 19, 1944 (NYC)
This student of Anton Dvorak became the first black composer to have a full score performed on Broadway when his Clorindy, or The Origin of the Cakewalk played the Casino Theatre's roof garden in the summer of 1898. He contributed individual songs to various shows, then composed the full score for In Dahomey (1903), a vehicle for Bert Williams and George Walker that became the first all black musical to play a regular Broadway theatre (The New Yorker). The brief Broadway run was followed by 251 performances in London. Cook wrote two more scores for Williams and Walker -- both Abyssinia (1906) and Bandana Land (1908) failed in New York but toured profitably. In his later years, embittered by the belief that racism had curtailed his success, Cook composed music for dramatic plays and led several jazz orchestras.
(b. Herman Nelke)
Librettist, playwright, director, actor
b. Mar. 29, 1888 (Waterford, NY) - d. Feb. 11, 1968 (NYC)
Crouse, Russell McKinley
b. Feb. 20, 1893 (Findlay, Ohio) - d. Apr. 3, 1966 (NYC)
Lindsay had directed Cole Porter's Gay Divorce (1932) and Crouse had contributed to the libretto for The Gang's All Here (1931) before producer Vinton Freedley brought them together to revise the book for Porter's troubled Anything Goes (1934), starring Ethel Merman. The result was the most frequently revived musical comedy of the 1930s, a hit that launched Lindsay and Crouse into a four decade partnership. They re-teamed with Porter & Merman for Red, Hot and Blue (1936), collaborated with Irving Berlin on the Merman hit Call Me Madam (1950), and contributed the book for Merman's Happy Hunting (1956). They created the libretto for Rodgers & Hammerstein's The Sound of Music (1959), as well as Berlin's poorly received Mr. President (1962).
Lindsay and Crouse's many non-musical hits included the Pulitzer Prize winner State of the Union (1945) and the record-setting comedy hit Life With Father (1939) -- in which Lindsay and his wife actress Dorothy Stickney originated the lead roles. Lindsay and Stickney also co-starred in one musical, playing the King and Queen in the original CBS-TV production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella (1957). For more, see C. Otis Skinner's Life With Lindsay and Crouse (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1976).
(b. Frederick John D'Auban)
b. 1842 (United Kingdom) - d. April 15, 1922 (London)
After building a reputation as an accomplished comic dancer on the music hall stage, D'Auban served as dance master for several West End stage productions. In the late 1870's, he began a long association with producer Richard D'Oyly Carte, staging the original dances for most of Gilbert & Sullivan's original London productions including The Sorcerer (1877), HMS Pinafore (1878), Iolanthe (1882) and The Mikado (1885). D'Auban continued with the troupe into the new century with his dances for The Gay Pretenders (1900) and The Emerald Isle (1901).