Julius Tannen, Chatterbox

"Speaking the Public Mind"


Today we'd call him a stand-up comedian, but in his hay-days of playing the Palace Julius Tannen (18801965)
was known as a "monologist" -- the same title given to Will Rogers. Yet, for all his successful years on the
vaudeville stage and other performing venues, Tannen will always be remembered as the man who demonstrated the
"talking pictures" early in the classic film, Singing In The Rain:

Tannen started as a salesman, but his sales pitches were so good he'd find himself invited to entertain, instead.
Eventually this led to a stage act made up of improvisations, word games and silly stories. His signature exit
line, "My father thanks you, my mother thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you,"
was later by stolen by George M. Cohan.

His first Broadway show, Lifting the Lid, opened in 1905 at the Aerial Gardens and ran a fairly respectable
72 performances. He was able to go directly into Fritz in Tammany Hall at the Herald Square Theatre, which
only managed 42 performances. No matter, the Broadway stage would see him back about six months later in
The Governor's Son, a farce/musical revival at the Aerial Gardens that lasted 75 performances.

There was very little time between the end of Governor's Son before he opened at Wallack's Theatre in 1906 in
The Judge and the Jury, his first drama and a disappointment at 17 performances. Abe and Mawruss (1915),
an original play would run 196 shows at the Lyric Theatre, and in 1920 another musical, Her Family Tree
would run 90 performances -- beginning at the Lyric and carrying over it's final performances to the Shubert.

His first Broadway musical failure was Round the Town, opening at the Century Promenade on May 21, 1924 and
closing May 31, 1924. (One of the interesting sidenotes of the show was that fellow actor Heywood Broun would go on
to become a leading newspaper journalist dedicated to Socialist causes while his son, Hayward Hale Broun, became one
of televisions pioneer journalists.) After that, his Broadway appearances would be limited to the 1925 and 1926 versions
of Earl Carroll's Vanities, with which he would also tour extensively.

But in between stage productions, there was always vaudeville. He was famous for having played the Palace Theatre in
New York (the Vallhalla of all stage performers) more often than almost any other solo act. This fact alone gave him
a prestige in his profession enjoyed by few other performers. (Lucille Ball once said that seeing him perform when
she was a little girl made her want to become a performer.) There was also radio, and eventually - film.

When vaudeville stopped offering performing opportunities, Julius Tannen, like so many others, turned to Hollywood.
His new career as a character actor would last 25 years and he would appear in over 50 films (some uncredited, as
was his first film, a bit part in 1935's Stranded.) But by the 1940s director Preston Sturges had made Tannen
part of his chosen group of character actors and he would appear in eight films written and directed by Sturges. But
his face and voice will forever be remembered when, at age 72, he demonstrated a new technology: talking movies.


- Sing In The Rain (1952) -

Tannen's last film was an uncredited part in 1959's Train from Gun Hill for Sturges. He never retired, working
until a stroke in 1964, from which he died in 1965 at the age of 84 in the Woodland Hills Motion Picture Country
Home. His sons, William and Charles, were also successful in show business -- in acting and producing.


Julius Tannen with playwright George S. Kaufman and wife Beatrice in Atlantic City, c.1930


Links:

  • Palace Theatre / April 9, 1923

  • Return to Vaudeville Acts Index