BILLIE REEVES BIOGRAPHY
This article appeared in:
The Evening Public Ledger, Philadelphia, 28 April 1915
(With sincere thanks to the Chief Librarian of the Free Library of Philadelphia)
The long-distance debate between Billy Ritchie and Charles Chaplin as to who was the original drunk in "A Night in an English Music Hall" has now become three-sided, with the entrance of Billie Reeves, now leading comedian with the Lubin Company, who not only announces that he was the original drunk in the production, but offers to separate himself from $1000 if his claim isn't correct. "
"There has been a lot of discussion as to who was the original drunk," said Reeves, "but after all the talk has simmered down you will find that I myself played the part. I first played the famous drunk part in an act produced by Fred Karno. It was originally called "Twice Nightly" and later was called "The Mumming Birds." In this country it was called "A Night in an English Music Hall," and I played the well-known role of the drunk in the stage box. This act was produced by Mr. Karno produced at the Star Music Hall, Bermondsey, London, England, in 1904."
"The cast at that time included Charles Bell, the noted 'boy in the box': Arthur Gallimore, as the wrestler; Miss Amy Minister (now Mrs. Reeves), the original soubrette, and Billy Ritchie, who played the 'bum' conjurer-Professor Bunco-and announcer for the wrestling match. The act was played throughout Europe, Australia, and South America and I played the part of the drunk.
"1907 I had an engagement in Vienna and could not return to open in the act as the drunk; and my brother, Alf Reeves, the manager, appointed Mr. Ritchie to play the drunk. I returned to the States and introduced the drunk character in the Ziegfield Follies in 1906, and continued in the Follies of 1909, 1910, and 1911.
"Mr. Ritchie left the act under my brother's management and was succeeded by Harry Royston. Ritchie went to Gus Hill's show burlesque show, "Vanity Fair," or "Around the Clock." In this show he played the business of the music hall act, which act was copyrighted. My brother sued Gus Hill and won the case.
"Charles Chaplin was brought from England by my brother, Alf Reeves, about five years ago. He was working in an act called "Wow Wows." The music hall act was in demand and my brother put Chaplin into the act in the drunk part. Chaplin played this role for about three years and was very successful. He closed the act in Kansas City in November 1913, and went into pictures.
"After the Follies, I went back to Mr. Karno and went into the music hall act. After that I opened in an act called "A Lesson in Temperance" or "Too Full for Words," in which I played the drunk character. While I was playing the role at the Palais de Ete this sketch, Brussels, Belgium, the war was declared, and I was given 24 hours to get out of the country. I returned to the States and opened with my act at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York.
STAN LAUREL - KARNO COMEDIAN