Gus Edwards: The Star Maker
Gus Edwards biographies:
(above) George Jessel, left (age 14 or 15), and Eddie Cantor (20 or 21) while in Kid Kabaret, c. 1912-1913. This was a vaudeville revue produced by Gus Edwards in which the (mostly) child performers pretended to be established nightclub singers and dancers. Wikipedia reports that Cantor created his first blackface character for this show, and that he was the only performer in the revue “over the age of 20.” Gus Edwards specialized in creating “kiddie acts.”
Excerpts from the Gus Edwards bio at Songwriters Hall of Fame:
Known as “The Star Maker” for his discoveries of Groucho Marx, Walter Winchell, Eddie Cantor and George Jessel, songwriter and vaudeville legend Gus Edwards was born in Hohensalza, Prussia on August 18, 1879. When he was 7 years old, his family immigrated to New York and settled in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn where they opened a family cigar store. As a child, Edwards worked in the family store and attended public schools until he found work as a singer in various lodge halls, ferry boat lounges, saloons and athletic clubs. Eventually, Edward was hired as a song plugger at Koster and Bial’s and later at the Bowery Theater while concurrently performing in several variety shows.
In 1905, Edwards formed his own publishing company in New York and began work on his own vaudeville revue entitled School Boys and Girls, which opened in 1907. The act was so successful that it ran for over twenty years. Edwards toured the country in search of new young talent to star in his revue. Some of Edwards’ discoveries included Groucho Marx, Eddie Cantor, Walter Winchell, Mae Murray, Elsie Janis, Sally Rand, Jack Pearl, Ray Bolger, Paul Haakon, Ina Ray Hutton[,] Lila Lee, Eddie Buzzell, George Jessel, the Duncan Sisters and George Price [better known as Georgie Price]. Edwards introduced so many stars that he became known as The Star Maker in the entertainment industry.
(above) In 1906, Julius (later known as Groucho) Marx recorded the song “Farewell Killarney” (m. Gus Edwards, w. Edward Madden) and two other songs from the show Gus Edwards’ Postal Telegraph Boys: “If a Girl Like You Loved a Boy Like Me,” and “I’ll Do Anything in the World for You,” both with words and music by Will Cobb & Gus Edwards.
In April 1906, Julius Marx joined the Gus Edwards “kiddie act” Postal Telegraph Boys then playing at the Alhambra Theater in New York City. Later that year he was recruited for Edwards’ School Boys and Girls, an act which was so successful it became the basis of a series of touring shows created and produced by Edwards over the next twenty years. The Gus Edwards bio at Songwriters Hall of Fame quoted above simplifies the account, saying that this one show ran for two decades. It didn’t. Rather, Edwards created a series of similar shows. The book Vaudeville Old & New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performances in America, Volume 1 by Frank Cullen, Florence Hackman, and Donald McNeilly (2004), p.350, provides a more detailed summary:
Over the years, Edwards gave his touring shows various titles, like “Kid Kabaret,” “Gus Edwards’ Song Revue,” “Gus Edwards’ New Song Revue,” “Kids in Candyland,”….The change of titles let the customers know it was a new act with new songs, but the same formula by and large.
The best-known songs with music by Gus Edwards include:
1905 — In My Merry Oldsmobile (lyric: Vincent P. Bryan)
1907 — School Days (lyric: Will Cobb)
1909 — By the Light of the Silvery Moon (lyric: Edward Madden)
The premise of a show set in, or revolving around, a school or classrooms has been a very fruitful one in television. Wikipedia provides an alphabetical index to their articles on dozens of such TV series, including US, British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand shows, here.