Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Johnny Prindle: The Joy of Laughter (Part 3)

JP 03A Ad1885IowaSince the Beedles & Prindle tour of 1883 wasn’t scheduled to begin until May, Johnnie Prindle performed Reuben Chandler and other favorites on the western circuit with the Oakes Brothers, who were more than happy to have one of the biggest traveling stars for the tidy sum of $500 per week ($12,000 in 2015).

The Beedles & Prindle Pleasure Party toured again that summer, reaching a wide audience, but also visiting their fans back home. A show was held for appreciative audiences in Plattsburgh at Palmer’s Hall, where Johnnie’s career began, and at Ticonderoga, where the Sentinel noted: “They are meeting with greater success than ever. Houses crowded every night, twelve star specialty artists, silver band and classic orchestra, and headed by the greatest of them all, Johnny Prindle.”

Early in 1884, Johnnie advertised his pending availability after the Beedles tour, which was ending in May. In the meantime, he and Carrie welcomed their third child, a son, Glenfield, in April.

With the Beedles tour unexpectedly delayed, Prindle signed with the Boston Dime Museum Company, traveling with them on the western circuit until August 30. As a comedic star of considerable fame, Johnnie routinely played to full houses and answered many encores. Newspapers regularly touted his upcoming shows as must-see events.

In the fall, the Beedles & Prindle Pleasure Party toured Vermont and several upstate counties in New York, including Washington (Hubbard Hall in Cambridge), Clinton (Palmer’s Hall in Plattsburgh), St. Lawrence (Union Hall in Gouverneur), and Lewis (Ruscoe Opera House in Lowville). The review in his hometown was especially rewarding: “The audience was almost continually convulsed with laughter. Johnnie Prindle, like wine, grows better with age, for never did he appear to better advantage before a Plattsburgh audience, being, if possible, funnier than ever before.”

Touring for several years and performing so well at hundreds of venues made Johnnie Prindle a household name. But unlike others who traveled the same circuits and played to large crowds, Johnnie had the proven ability to generate great laughter and joy wherever he went, making him a major star.

While on tour in early 1885, he was joined once again by his oldest daughter, Carrie, for several weeks. Both father and daughter received excellent reviews for their singing abilities, and Johnnie, of course, for his comic caricatures. Newspapers in Watkins Glen, Rochester, and Buffalo singled out Carrie’s singing for praise as “one of the most entertaining parts of the evening.”

Shortly after Carrie returned home to Vermont, Johnnie joined her, having been disabled once again by malaria. Following a highly successful run of six months, the Beedles & Prindle show went on hiatus for eight weeks, allowing him time to recover.

JP 03B Ad1886ChicagoEver the trouper, Johnny soon resumed performing, and according to columnists and critics, he just kept getting better. Of all the impersonations in his repertoire that elicited wild laughter, the most favored were his old-man characters and his interpretations of country rubes. Also important to his success was versatility. A great singing voice, the ability to perfectly mimic the physical movements of his characters, a wonderful sense of funny, and a strong work ethic made him a star in the public’s eyes and a much-admired performer among his colleagues.

Throughout 1885, Johnnie was the standout act of a very good Beedles & Prindle Pleasure Party. Advertisements featured him as the “King of Laughmakers.” Praise for his abilities appeared in dozens of newspapers: “Prindle brought down the house in his country-cousin makeup; the comedy Reuben Chandler is immensely funny; sadness was assassinated from first to last; Prindle is better than ever.”

Johnnie was a bona-fide star, but fully aware that keeping it fresh was critical to success. Another new feature introduced that year, The Pirates of Sleepy Hollow, with Johnnie as the lead villain, was called “an exceedingly funny burlesque” by the Evening Sentinel of Lemars, Iowa.

In 1886, Prindle sold his services on the open market once again. At Cleveland, he appeared for the Dime Museum. At Chicago and other locations, he produced and starred in The Pirates of Sleepy Hollow. At Boston, he appeared for a month at Austin & Stone’s, one of the city’s premier venues. At St. Louis, he performed for the opening of the Palace Museum.

Returning to the People’s Theater in Cleveland, he appeared in the Atkinson’s Comedy Company’s production of Peck’s Bad Boy. Despite not playing the lead role, he made a strong impression on the Cleveland Leader, which said, “Johnny Prindle’s singing was admired to the extent that he received nearly a dozen recalls.”

In early 1887, illness once again forced him to quit touring and return to Glover. By mid-April, Johnnie was back on the road, and in May he received great praise for playing the lead in Peck’s Bad Boy at New York City’s Third Avenue Theater. Said the New York Clipper, “Prindle … in a comedy so popular it drew an audience that fully tested the capacity of the building.”

Performances followed in Massachusetts, at Lowell (“Johnny Prindle sustained several parts with astonishing success, his grotesque grimaces being simply extraordinary”) and Lynn (“Prindle’s songs and sayings made the people roar”).

JP 03C Ad1888At Philadelphia’s National Theater, the review of Peck’s Bad Boy heaped praise on Johnnie: “Peck’s … now funnier than ever, and included the great topical song, “It Ain’t Going to Happen This Year” (written by Johnnie), which consists of about 20 verses, and yet not enough to respond to the encores of last evening.… Mr. Johnnie Prindle as Mr. Bullock was among the stars of the cast.”

It was the same wherever the troupe appeared: Johnnie’s performance, no matter which role (or roles) he played, was a smash hit. Encore callbacks by the audience were numerous and routine.

In 1888, he performed in Peck’s Bad Boy across New England and upstate New York, while also preparing for a new show scheduled to begin around Thanksgiving Day. In early November, the Boston Evening Transcript announced the opening of “the sensational drama, Reuben Glue, or Life Among the Bushrangers, the title part to be assumed by John Prindle. The story of the piece deals with the adventures of a Vermont farmer of the true Yankee type in the wilds of Australia. It is full of exciting incidents and hundreds of laughable situations.”

Next week, the conclusion: Prindle’s Pièce de Résistance

Photos: Advertisements from 1885, 1886, and 1888

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Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.

2 Responses

  1. Tim Hubbard says:

    Another great set of articles Lawrence (so far)! I had heard of Johnnie Prindle before but only in quick historical references as I did some research years ago on minstrels. As I have told you before, my career keeps finding wonderful legacy connections (having been born in Ticonderoga, and growing up in Westport/Port Henry) to the many theatrical subjects that you continually discover for all our enjoyment. Prindle was right up my alley, and hopefully watched over & “nudged” me in my many comedic performances over the last 40+ years. I definitely felt kinship to his creative talents when I performed for 2 years at Gaslight Village in Lake George, NY (early ‘70’s) – a Gay ’90’s/Turn of the Century amusement park. There I performed characters in the Mellerdrama, did “period” comedy routines, and had to sing/play my trumpet as an entertaining waiter in the Opera House. I also really felt an affinity with Prindle with the minstrel show phase of his career (hence the above mentioned research), as I did 2 summers with The Stephen Foster Story (also ‘70’s) – an outdoor musical drama in Bardstown, KY. There we recreated the famous Christy’s Mintrel Show as part of Foster’s life (he wrote music for these shows). Can’t wait to read the final chapter…

  2. Larry says:

    Thanks very much, Tim. It’s interesting that you love history, and that you’re part of it as well, courtesy of other things, I’m sure, but especially in regard to your Gaslight Village connections. That’s a place many people look back on fondly, my wife included.

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