Al Jolson was called the greatest entertainer of his era. He was born in Imperial Russia and traveled to America with his family. He and his brother learned ragtime songs and performed in the streets. They were determined to break into show business. Assuming a common trend of the time, Jolson started performing in blackface in 1904. His performances grew more expressive: he danced, stamped, cried real tears, improvised risqué jokes, and outrageous physical gags—even sashayed about with wildly effeminate gestures.
This photograph captures a frontal view of an unknown actress. She is reminiscent of famed actress Bessie Love with her wide-eyes and her pursed lips. The woman is draped in a bright cloth, her left hand clasps the material at the center.
This portrait features an unknown vaudevillian actress dressed as Joan of Arc. She is shrowd in a linen garmet and head wrap that leave only her hands and face exposed. She turns away from the camera, offering a profile that is distinct against the black background. She holds a few long-stalked lilies to her torso with the flowers themselves positioned around her head. The two lilies, one out of focus behind her head and the other in focus hugging the curve of her chin, work to frame her face while also appearing as extensions of her head wrapping that creates a peculiar overall look.
In this portrait a vaudevillian starlet strikes a bashful pose, positioning her hands over her chest and the scarf of sheer material draped over it. She wears a headscarf and haircut typical of the flapper style. Although she turns her face away from the camera, she keeps a sensuous eye directed at it. Photo manipulations applied by Hixon in the development process emphasize her eyelashes while other markings obscure the bottom edge of the photograph and consequently her breast.
In this photograph stands an unknown woman against a stark black background holding an issue of Shadowland, a popular theater magazine that circulated in the 1910s-20s. The figure wears a tattered shirt and skirt and polka-dotted headscarf as a pirate-inspired outfit. She holds a large issue of Shadowland that covers her midsection and that has been perhaps brightened by Hixon in the development process to stand out against the figure and the photograph as a whole, appearing almost as if it was transposed onto it.
This portrait is of a WWI pilot; however, Hixon plays with the notion of the identity of the man. There is no information as to if this man is a true pilot or a silent film actor dressed as pilot. Regardless of his status, the intimate shot captures the deep emotion residing in his facial expression, perhaps pondering all that he has seen over a burning cigarette. The pilot gear framing his face makes the profession appear as a part of him, claiming him as inseparable from his experience.
Australia-born Annette Kellerman took up swimming as treatment for a childhood condition that may have been mild polio and became a world-record holder in the sport. A pioneer of the one-piece bathing suit, she was famously arrested in Boston for indecency in 1907. The "Australian Mermaid" parlayed her notoriety into a successful career in Vaudeville and on the screen, making her feature film debut in 1914's "Neptune's Daughter." MGM turned her life story into a movie "Million Dollar Mermaid" starring Ester Williams in 1952.
Armand Kaliz was born in Paris, France in 1892. He made his Broadway debut in "The Hoyden" in 1907 and became successful in vaudeville and silent films. He appeared in films such as "The Temptress" (1926) with actresses such as Greta Garbo, making some 82 film appearances between 1917 and 1941. Many of his appearances were small so there are a number of films that exist where he is uncredited for his performance. In this portrait, he stares outward under a stern brow and is fixated on a captivating subject.
Rose Marie Mazzetta was the last theatrical subject photographed by Orval Hixon in Kansas City. Mazzetta began performing as Baby Rose Marie at the tender age of three. She became an NBC radio star at age five and at age six made her acting debut in the 1929 musical short "Baby Marie: The Child Wonder." Mazzetta joined Rosemary Clooney, Helen O’Conner and Margaret Whiting in a musical revue, "4 Girls 4," that toured for eight years starting in the 1940’s.
Beth Beri was a dancer who appeared in two musical revues, "Jack and Jill" (1923) and "Rufus LaMaire's Affairs" (1927). Between those gigs, she played in the musical comedy "Kid Boots" (1923) which was successful enough to be produced in print and on Broadway. She is depicted here in humble costume wearing cut-off overalls, an oversized button-up shirt, and a sun hat. Her feet are postured coyly, shifting her weight away from the object of her attention. Yet as she peers out of the corner of her eyes and prepares to take a bite of fruit, she comes off as playful and seductive.
Beth Beri was a dancer who appeared in two musical revues, "Jack and Jill" (1923) and "Rufus LaMaire's Affairs" (1927). Between those gigs, she performed in the musical comedy "Kid Boots" (1923) which was successful enough to be produced in print and on Broadway. In this portrait Beri is positioned kneeling towards an open vase that appears to have smoke rising from its opening. Beri is attired in an off shoulder full length dark dress with pattern top and diaphanous skirt.
Beverly Bayne walked into Chicago’s Essanay Studios when she was 16 years old and immediately turned heads with her big brown eyes and soft, dark hair. She became a pioneering silent film star of the 1910s, forming a popular romantic duo with matinee idol Francis X. Bushman – most notably in 1916’s Romeo and Juliet. Their onscreen chemistry was real. The couple married in 1918, but it begot scandal as Bushman had been divorced from his previous wife for only three weeks.
Charles "Buddy" Rogers was born in Olathe, Kansas. He was a student at the University of Kansas with plans to become a band leader. While his dream of becoming a band leader did not come to fruition, he became a performer nonetheless. Rogers moved to Hollywood and became an actor. He performed in more than 40 films including the World War I silent film, "Wings", winner of the first best-picture Oscar in 1929. The talented musician performed with his own jazz band in some films.
Usually, rube comics were favored by rural audiences who liked their entertainers down to earth. In Chic’s case, you couldn’t get more down to earth than the outhouses that figured in his storytelling. Despite a preference for sophisticated monologists, Broadway audiences took to two of the cracker barrel types, including Will Rogers and Chic Sale. Sale portrayed a village full of hayseed characters in his storytelling of which “Grandpa” was the most successful. He also wrote a best selling book of outhouse humor called “The Specialist” which is still in print after 80 years.
This is a portrait of a circus and vaudevillian performer who went by the name of Chief All O'Fire. It is speculated that he was actually Deaf Bull, a Crow chief active in the 1880s. Deaf Bull's screen name, Good Eye, was attributed to the one good eye he still had after a military prison guard hit him in the other eye with the back end of a rifle. Here he crouches in an action pose with a marked bow and arrow ready. He is wrapped up to the chest in a wool blanket and is adorned with large non-traditional necklaces, a scarf and brooch, and wide silver cuff around his arm.
This is a portrait of a circus and vaudevillian performer who went by the name of Chief All O'Fire. It is speculated that he was actually Deaf Bull, a Crow chief active in the 1880s. Deaf Bull's sub name, Good Eye, was attributed to the one good eye he still had after a military prison guard hit him in the other eye with the back end of a rifle. Here he crouches in an action pose with a marked bow and arrow ready. He is wrapped up to the chest in a wool blanket and is adorned with large non-traditional necklaces, a scarf and brooch, and wide silver cuff around his arm.
Two Guns, the last Chief of the Pikuni Blackfoot Indians, was also known as John Two Guns and John White Calf. A widely held belief, by some historians, is that Chief Two Guns was the main model for the Indian Nickel. The Chief headed a secret group known as the “Mad Dog Society” whose purpose was to protect and sustain the Blackfoot Heritage. Chief Two Guns was very outspoken about US policies and the mistreatment of Native Americans.
In this portrait, Hixon has captured the playful youthfulness of Cleo and her friend. The two girls appear to be in a ship's cabin that is decorated with American flag streamers , a poster of soldier on horseback, and other miscellaneous items. Cleo is seated on the bed with her arms resting atop a life-preserver with the words "CLEO - Port of Kansas City" stenciled onto it. Her friend kneels behind her on the bed holding a pennant with the name "CLEO" on it. Both girls are dressed in nautical attire with fancy hats.
In this portrait of Cleo, Hixon depicts her in a seated profile pose. Cleo gazes in the distance with a bemused expression. She is dressed in a nautical outfit and holds a life-preserver with the name "CLEO" printed onto it. Cleo wears her hair up and a slight smile across her girlish face.
This photograph features Cleo Hixon, center, flanked by two friends while playing a game of cards. They appear to be in a casual seating area with a dense accumulation of memorabilia and small American flags strung across the walls. To the right of the gentleman in the photograph is a life preserver labeled "CLEO / PORT OF KANSAS CITY" which appears in a number of Hixon's scene photographs. Each of the figures is formally dressed with Cleo herself in nautical attire, a theme that reoccurs along with the life preserver in Hixon's work featuring her.