For the writing prompt So Far Away
, I decided to take a less literal interpretation of the theme. Instead of looking at an ancestor who came to America from far away, or talk about visiting a research center in a distant location, I wanted to write about an ancestor whose occupation was very far away from the woodworkers, salesmen, railroad employees, etc. that I normally find with my male ancestors. Let’s talk show biz, instead.
My second great-uncle, John P. Hungler, was born on 2 November 1876 in Covington, Kentucky. His parents were John and Anna (Hightower) Hungler. His brother Albert was my paternal great-grandfather.
John was 26 years old and working as a tobacco salesman in London, Kentucky when he married 20-year-old Mabel Lillie on 26 November 1904 in Highland County, Ohio. Highland County is located about 70 miles northwest of where John was living. It is interesting that they got married in Highland, especially since Mabel's family was in Michigan at that time.
Not long into their marriage John and Mable became vaudevillians, performing under the stage names of Jack and Mable Price. Vaudeville shows, one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the United States and Canada from the 1880s until the early 1930s, were made up of a series of separate acts grouped together on a common bill. The acts might include comedians, singers, plate-spinners, ventriloquists, dancers, musicians, and animal trainers. The shows played to all economic classes in various auditoriums or theaters. It was on the vaudeville circuit that the saying “Will it play in Peoria?” was coined, meaning that if an act could succeed in Peoria, it would work anywhere.
I have been able to locate several newspaper clippings announcing the appearance of Jack and Mable Price. Their shows were comedy and singing skits, some of which were extremely racist. A listing in the November 6, 1910 Pittsburg Press
for the Family Theater on Fifth Avenue in New York stated that “Jack and Mabel Price, known as the ‘two corkers in cork’, will entertain with a black face comedy.” Another act was entitled “Chief Tenderhoe”, for which a reviewer proclaimed that Jack “is certainly an Indian of wonderful strength and his act i [sic] a big novelty." My dad remembered being told that at one performance the audience was so incensed that an Indian had abducted a white woman, several men ran onto the stage. Jack and Mabel had to escape through a back door.
In the 1930s, vaudeville began a steady decline and by the end of the decade it was dead. The Depression affected attendance, and the popularity of talking and singing movies also provided fierce competition.
It is unclear what year Jack and Mable Price went back to their lives as John and Mable Hungler, but the 1930 census indicates that they were living in Leoni Township, Michigan. My father said that they had a nice house on a lake there, as well as an additional residence in Florida. Their shows must have played well in Peoria!
They never had any children, which makes you wonder who inherited their estate. John died in Michigan in May of 1946 at the age of 69, and Mable was 67 when she died in Michigan in July of 1951.
Old actors never die, they just lose their parts.