“Rock and roll pretty much killed off vaudeville,” bemoaned Chuck McCann. “When we saw Elvis Presley on the Sullivan Show, we knew it was the end of one era, the beginning of another.” McCann was himself a 1950s television star, later a respected actor and voice-over artist. McCann came to love the variety stage early in life. “My father was a trombonist in the pit orchestra at the Roxy in Manhattan. The band was led by a fellow named Felix Ferdinando. All of the great stars played there, and I saw them all, either from the front row or from backstage.”
The two of us had been chatting about Romo Vincent, a screen actor and early star of radio and the variety stage. We had viewed Romo Vincent’s Soundie Gotta Keep Rolling, and both of us had delighted with the music, despite Vincent’s rather dated performance style. Vincent had been active in the 1920s and would ironically make one of his last appearances as a variety artist in, the same year that Elvis appeared on Ed Sullivan. (Vincent would continue to appear in small parts on television for many years, until his death in 1989.)
Gotta Keep Rollin’ was one of Romo Vincent’s regular stage numbers and when the Soundie began Chuck nearly explored, “Yes! It’s the taxi number.” (The actual song title is “Rollin’ Round Town.”) There was a pause in the conversation, then some more recollections. “He was on the radio, but you had to see him on stage. He was a large man, physically imposing. But also a regular sort of guy. The stage smile was genuine. During the 1940s he was everywhere. I don’t know how he maintained the size considering that he was working so much … film, radio, and always the vaudeville stage. The thing was, give him a song – a great standard or a real dog – and he would figure out how to put it across with a smile and a lot of class. This song was one of his specialties and I remember him performing it during the war years.”
At the time of this Soundie’s production in the spring of 1943, Vincent was booked at the Greenwich Village Inn in Manhattan. He appeared there nightly and you can bet this was part of the show! The “Soundies time machine” once again awaits you, your ticket to the Greenwich Village Inn show is waiting at the door.