Cudmore: Vaudeville days in Amsterdam

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Vaudeville was a mix of specialized stage acts including dancers, singers, comedians and even roller skaters.

Vaudevillians toured America, some visiting big cities and others going to smaller towns.

The Lyceum Theatre opened in 1909 on East Main Street in Amsterdam across from St. Mary’s Church. It featured vaudeville and movies and was managed by Joseph Galaise of Schenectady.

The Galaise Amusement Company prided itself on showing “good, clean, high grade vaudeville.”

Vaudeville acts changed twice a week at the Lyceum. Matinee admission was five cents for women and children and ten cents for men.

The Lyceum was renamed the Strand at some point and in 1949 the Strand was remodeled by the Gloversville based Schine Theatres and became the Mohawk.

The building was demolished in 1971. My father recalled he could watch a movie and four or five vaudeville acts at one of Amsterdam’s theaters for 25 cents in the 1920s.

One Amsterdam movie theater however prided itself on not providing vaudeville. The Orpheum, on Market Street, did feature movie stars on tour making personal appearances.

The Rialto Theater on Market Street was part of the Keith vaudeville circuit. Red haired Amsterdam native Inez Courtney was 15 when she performed a specialty dance act during a three day run in the vaudeville show at the Rialto in October 1923.

Her nicknames included St. Vitus, Mosquito and Lightning. Born into a large Irish-American family, she took up the stage after her father died.

By 1926 Courtney left vaudeville for Broadway, performing in “The Wild Rose” and other musicals. She won acclaim for her role in the musical “Good News” about college life. In 1930 she went to Hollywood under contract to Columbia Pictures.

She appeared in non-musical roles, often the wise-cracking friend of actresses such as Jean Harlow or Ginger Rogers. Courtney performed in 58 films between 1930 and 1940 including “The Raven,” “Suzy,” and “Turnabout,” her last movie.

Courtney married twice, the second time to an Italian nobleman. When she retired from the movies in 1940 she moved to Rome with her husband Luigi Filiesi, a wine merchant.

She died of undisclosed causes at a hospital in New Jersey in 1975 at age 67.

Another vaudeville act that originated in Amsterdam never made it to the movies. Hyman and his brother Barney Nathan were roller skaters.

According to the American Vaudeville Museum, there was a roller skating vogue in the early 1900s including stars like Dare Devil Frank, Fielding and Carlos and the Skating Macks.

The Nathan Brothers’ act apparently was created by Hyman or Hy Nathan. He ran a roller skating rink at the Colonial on Liberty Street in Amsterdam in the early 1900s.

The Amsterdam Recorder reported in 1911, “Hy Nathan of this city is now a full-fledged vaudeville performer, having appeared at two theaters in New York in a trick roller skating act. He has several weeks’ bookings in view.”

Hy and Barney Nathan toured on the Keith vaudeville circuit in 1918. They even performed in Europe.

In 1922 the brothers were touring Ireland and had performed during the first day of freedom for the Irish Free State. In 1924 the Nathan Brothers were in Paris and about to tour Germany.

In 1928 the skating brothers sent a card from Hamburg, Germany, to Amsterdam friend James Aiken via the mail service of the German dirigible Graf Zeppelin. A 1929 Amsterdam newspaper account of a contested will involving property in the Nathan family listed Hyman Nathan as one of the heirs.

No further word turns up, however, on the vaudeville roller skaters Hy and Barney Nathan.

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