Monday, 29 June 2015

The Original Gong Show?

Something in my nature always makes me want to cheer for the underdog so it was with interest that I read an article about the Cherry Sisters on NPR. I had never heard of them before, but apparently they were a vaudeville act in the early 20th century that was synonymous with "bad". According to the NPR article, "[t]heir variety act included original music, bass drum thumping, poetry, mouth harp playing, inspirational recitations, essay reading, fake hypnosis and other artistic expressions. And the audience responded to the whole shebang by hurling vegetables, shouting interjections and behaving rudely." The reviews of their performances were so bad, in fact, that the Cherry Sisters sued some newspapers for defamation.

But, in spite of everything, they continued to draw in audiences, and Oscar Hammerstein himself arranged for their debut performance in New York.

Were the sisters really playing on how bad they were? That's one school of thought--that being really bad was their "hook." The other is that the sisters were naive and actually believed in their talent. As they wrote in response to a particularly scathing review: "Although we have the best act in vaudeville and are the best drawing card on the stage, we have no swelled head, as some others have ... We have had more knocking since we went into the theatrical business than any act in the history of the world."

For the NPR article, please click here.

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