Tuesday, May 5, 2015

North Country Funnyman Johnny Prindle (Part 2)

JP 02A B&PColorAdIn March 1877, Johnnie Prindle left the troupe and joined wife Carrie at home for the birth of their first child together, daughter Vincentine. Family was important, but due to scheduling commitments, he rejoined the company before too long. After all, so many others were counting on the show’s star to help produce their income.

Tours lasted six to nine months, and sometimes a year, after which some performers took a break. Others, like Prindle often did, signed with different traveling shows and carried on. Earlier in the year, while on the road in Ontario, Johnny had begun advertising his pending availability. Before the tour ended in May, he had committed to a summer run with the Witherell Brothers’ Variety Combination, starring the locally famous siblings from Chateaugay, New York. For the remainder of the year they performed in towns and villages across Vermont.

In early 1878, amid the success of “Hard-Working Man,” a song he both wrote and sang, Prindle fell ill. Friends came to his aid, including Beedle’s Arcadian Bell Ringers. Johnnie had been their star attraction for five years, a favor they repaid with a benefit performance on his behalf.

After recovering, he performed locally in April with his ten-year-old daughter, Carrie. Later that year, he signed with the Oakes Brothers’ Concert Company and traveled the American West to great acclaim.

The Prindles’ second child (John’s third), Josephine, was born in late February 1879, but for Johnnie, the Oakes Brothers’ tour continued, generating effusive praise for his uncanny impersonations. The Iowa Liberal labeled him “the prince of character artists.” In Decatur, Illinois, Oakes Brothers was deemed “the best entertainment of any traveling company in years,” adding that the musicians and performers were great, but “Johnny Prindle beat ’em all.” In Wisconsin, the Waukesha Freeman said, “Prindle, the funny man of the company, is simply immense.”

Following a New Year’s extravaganza in January 1880, the Stevens Point Daily Journal (Wisconsin) wrote, “Johnny Prindle is a whole show within himself, and as a comedian he has but few equals.” Others cited his rendition of two comic songs, “O! Hannah! How’s Your Ma?” and “Dingle, Doodle, Dum,” as particularly memorable.

When his contract with Oakes Brothers expired in spring 1880, Johnnie returned to Glover before moving north about 30 miles to Coaticook in southern Quebec. With the family settled in, he toured in Canada with a traveling circus, the elaborately named Pullman & Hamilton’s Electric-Lighted Great London Seven-Fold Confederation.

JP 02B B&PAd1881IowaWhen the Pullman tour ended, Johnnie joined forces with his old partner, Charles Beedle, leader of the much-loved bell-ringers. They formed a new variety troupe, the Beedles & Prindle Pleasure Party, which began performing in late 1880. Word spread quickly—this was an act not to be missed.

It was a special time for Johnnie, and for several reasons. After honing and improving his skills for a decade, he was regularly cited as the biggest star of one of the best traveling shows in the country, playing to sellout crowds at most venues. To top it off, the singing talent he recognized in his young teenage daughter was now on display, for Carrie sometimes traveled with him as part of the show.

Together they received a glowing review in the Waterville Times (New York): “Johnny has improved wonderfully since his last appearance among us, while his daughter, ‘a chip off the old block,’ is just immense…. Sir Prindle in himself is a whole show, and kept the audience convulsed with laughter.”

From Vermont to Ticonderoga, Saratoga, the Catskills, western New York State, and through the American West, wonderful reviews continued for the Beedles & Prindle show as they played theaters and opera houses in dozens of cities and towns. Typical was the following snippet from the Friendship Weekly Register (New York): “This troupe gave universal satisfaction. Each actor was a star in his or her specialty. The bell ringing was good. Johnny Prindle is the funniest character man extant, is fresh, up to the times, and does not confine himself to the old stereotyped jokes of the stage. He is original and new, and never fails to bring down the house.”

Prindle’s talents and his great value to any troupe were personified in a review of an act he once traveled with: “Oakes Brothers did not give as general a satisfaction as their entertainment about a year ago. They have no one who can take the place of Johnny Prindle, and this of itself is a great disappointment to the audience” (the Stevens Point Daily Journal, Wisconsin).

Advertisements and updates on scores of entertainment troupes appeared weekly in the New York Clipper. Due to their promotional nature, the ads often contained extreme platitudes, but it’s still notable that among the stars of the day, Johnnie Prindle was touted as the “King of American Humorists.” That and other monikers placed him at or near the top of the elite comedians of his time.

The tour continued playing to full houses and rave reviews until spring 1882, when Johnnie was felled once more by a bout of malaria. Leaving the tour, he went home to Glover, where weeks of rest and relaxation led to a full recovery.

JP 02C B&PAd1882WiscIn late May, after visiting friends and family in Plattsburgh, Johnnie announced his imminent return to anxious and concerned fans: “I am pleased to inform my many friends and the public that I have fully recovered from my illness and will be with them, as lively as ever. My personal friends will be pleased to hear that my new house is completed, and I have made many improvements on my farm, which has kept me very busy since I came home, and also brought back my health. I was agreeably surprised by the presentation of a house and lot, located in Coaticook, P. Q. [Province of Quebec], valued at two thousand dollars [$47,000 in 2015], and a beautiful driving pony, from my father-in-law. With many thanks to my friends and the public for their more than liberal patronage in the past, I wish to state that the Beedles & Prindle Pleasure Party will be larger and better than ever before the coming season.”

Healthy once again, Johnnie rejoined the troupe and completed a very successful tour of the West through year’s end. New to the act was Reuben Chandler, a character that he would further develop in the coming year. But on November 11, the season ended early because of sickness in both the Beedle and Prindle families. For Johnnie, it was a bout of malaria, which he finally overcame by Christmas.

Next: The King of the Laughmakers

Photos: Beedle’s & Prindle Pleasure Party poster; Advertisements, 1881 and 1882

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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.

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