How Did Will Rogers First Become Famous?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to vaudeville and whether they are true or false.

VAUDEVILLE URBAN LEGEND: Will Rogers first made a name for himself in the New York scene by heroically roping a steer that had gone into the crowd during a Western performance at Madison Square Garden.

As I have noted in other legends (like this one involving Buster Keaton), the great entertainers often stretched the truth when it meant good publicity for them.

That’s only natural, right?

Well, in the case of Will Rogers, his big New York debut involved a dramatic story that, as unlikely as it sounds, apparently IS true – or, well, true enough, I guess.
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Did Buster Keaton Receive His Famed Nickname From Harry Houdini?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to vaudeville and whether they are true or false.

VAUDEVILLE URBAN LEGEND: Buster Keaton received his nickname from Harry Houdini.

Joseph Frank Keaton broke into the vaudeville business in 1899 as a member of his family’s vaudeville act, The Three Keatons when the young Keaton was only 3 years old.

He went by the nickname Buster, which is what he would go by for the rest of his life.

The act was based around a lot of slapstick, mostly involving Joe Keaton (the father) abusing his son, in a similar fashion to the antics of Homer and Bart Simpson on The Simpsons.

A major gag in the show would involve Joe picking up Buster and throwing him against the scenery, or into props or, occasionally, even into the audience!

There’s a famous story about how Buster got his nickname. As the story goes, legendary magician Harry Houdini was visiting the Keatons while they were all on tour (Houdini did, in fact, tour with the Keatons at the time) when he saw the young Keaton (still an infant at the time, so maybe around a year old) fall down a flight of stairs without injury or, in fact, any real reaction.

Houdini remarked, “That was a real buster!” (the term at the time was used to denote falls that looked like they could hurt/cause injury) and the name stuck.

That story was repeated for years and Keaton even told it in interviews for years.

But is it true?
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Did Jack Benny Gain Both His First and Last Name Due to Separate Legal Issues?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to vaudeville and whether they are true or false.

VAUDEVILLE URBAN LEGEND: Jack Benny’s stage name came from not one, but TWO separate legal issues, one for each part of his name.

Benjamin Kubelsky was born in Chicago in 1894 and by his teens, he wanted to be a performer.

A more than capable violinist, Kubelsky was actually offered a regular gig with the Marx Brothers in 1911 as their official accompanist, but Kubelsky’s mother would not let him go.

By the next year, though, there was nothing that was going to keep Kubelsky from pursuing a career in vaudeville. He teamed up with pianist Cora Salisbury for a vaudeville musical act.

However, this did not sit well with famed violinist Jan Kubelik. He felt that a vaudeville violinist with a name like Kubelsky would detract from Kubelik’s reputation, and Kubelik’s lawyers contacted Kubelsky with words (and threats) to that effect.

Now almost certainly, had Kubelsky actually pushed the issue, he likely would have been okay, but if you’re an 18 year old just trying to break into the entertainment industry, you likely don’t want to ruffle any feathers if you can avoid it, so Kubelsky changed his name to Ben K. Benny.

He continued under this name for a few years, with little to no success. He joined the Navy in 1917 during World War I, and he would often entertain the troops with his violin playing. It was around this time that he began to work comedy into his act.

By the time the war was over, Ben K. Benny was ready to make a name for himself as a comedian/violinist.

However, that name he would make for himself would not be Ben K. Benny, as he was once AGAIN contacted by the lawyer of another entertainer.
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