Showing to rather better advantage is the diminutive Frances White (identified by some inattentive copywriter on the disc label and liner notes as "Fences White," which makes her sound like a Damon Runyon character). A veteran of the Ziegfeld Follies, White was a temperamental and not entirely stable personality, but we can see here why she was, at least for a time, very popular with audiences. (In 1917 at the Bronx's Royal Theatre, an overenthusiastic audience kept her and her partner William Rock on stage for 55 minutes.)
In this 1928 short, White appears in three costumes: as a bustled and corsetted belle of the 1890s; as a lisping schoolgirl spelling "Mississippi" in song ("M-i-s...s-i-s...s-i-p-p-i..."), the number that so enthralled that Bronx audience in 1917;
...as a sultry vamp with an ostrich-plume fan, singing about her old home down south in Dixie. White was clearly versatile, and the Movietone camera, cooped up in its airtight, soundproof booth, certainly took a shine to her in a way it never did to the Locust Sisters. She might have had a real career in the sort of roles that went to the likes of Joan Blondell and Una Merkel, but it was not to be. As this short went into production, she was headlining at the Palace; two years later, she would end up in jail when she didn't have the funds to pay a $3.50 taxi fare. She retired from show business in the late '30s and died in obscurity in 1969. Now, 41 years later, she is back to entertain us again, only to be billed as "Fences White" by the Warner Archive.
Gus Edwards was a personality who is difficult to explain to people today, but in his own time he was nearly as famous and influential as George Lucas or Steven Spielberg are now. A composer of popular songs ("By the Light of the Silvery Moon," "In My Merry Oldsmobile," "School Days"), producer, impresario and entertainer, he also had an eye for young talent, and many of the kids he featured in vaudeville from 1905 to 1925 went on to major showbiz careers. Alas, no such happy fate awaited the mostly anonymous moppets in Kiddie Revue; on the whole, this 1930 short goes far to prove that the cute-kiddie schtick wasn't as easy as Shirley Temple would later make it look.
But where did they think such an act could take them? In vaudeville, it might have lasted them for years, even decades. In a movie, you do it once and within weeks it's been seen by maybe millions of people; at that point you'd better come up with something new -- the mid-twentieth century is strewn with the career wreckage of vaudevillians who never learned that lesson. Besides, seeing an act like this on stage is one thing; in closeup on a big screen, audiences in 1930 must have winced -- "Jeez! That must really hurt!" -- just as we do now. No wonder tip-toe-tapdancers like these don't show up in a lot of movie musicals.
But we can't let it go with just a single frame enlargement. Here's a YouTube clip that includes her performance. Our girl turns up 2 min. 48 sec. into the clip; before that, you'll see the mop-top little emcee, child actor Douglas Scott, introduce one "Madame Azusa" with a preternaturally clever send-up of stuffy coloratura sopranos ("A little bit of opera goes a long, long way..."). Then it's our girl front and center, and it's simply the damnedest thing you ever saw.
To Be Continued...