From the George Mann Archives: The Tom Davies Trio perform the Wall of Death at Los Angeles’ Orpheum Theatre* (1928)


*[Update to this post: after reviewing other newly digitzed footage shot on the same day as the Wall of Death discussed below, George Mann’s son Brad Smith now believes that this footage was actually shot at the Oakland Orpheum Theatre, sometime between March 31-April 6, 1928. The act and the players were identical to what was seen in March 1928 in Los Angeles.]

Today On Bunker Hill is proud to present another little something special from the archives of George Mann, an artifact that predates his astonishing color photographs of Bunker Hill by about thirty years.

In March 1928, the comedic dance team of Barto & Mann were billed on the vaudeville stage of Los Angeles’ Orpheum Theatre with a slew of acts who are today mostly forgotten, but who had reached the top of a very competitive entertainment industry. It was during this run that the very-small-and-awful-tall Barto & Mann were praised by the L.A. Times as “a knockout team.”

A not-yet-39 Jack Benny was on the bill, as was the magician Cardini (still billed as “The Gay Deceiver;” later on, he became “Suave”). Charlotte Greenwood appeared “in her morning bath” — a bit in which the dancer-comedienne was forever stopped from disrobing by the inopportune arrival of a range of visitors. Also appearing were the pratfalling comic Lupino Lane (Ida’s uncle), Harland Tucker and Carl McCullough singing “When I Was a Dandy and You Were a Belle.”

Then there was the Tom Davies Trio–up at the top of the bill, but something of a mystery until the film snippet below was digitized by George Mann’s son Brad Smith, some 84 years after his father captured this astonishing scene.

Friends, we bring you the celebrated and terrifying Wall of Death, live on the Orpheum stage! And in July 2012, you can see the first exhibition anywhere of George Mann’s Bunker Hill photographs, just steps away from the Orpheum at the Take My Picture gallery.

Author: Kim Cooper

Kim Cooper is the creator of 1947project, the crime-a-day time travel blog that spawned Esotouric’s popular crime bus tours, including The Real Black Dahlia. She is the author of The Kept Girl, the acclaimed historical mystery starring the young Raymond Chandler and the real-life Philip Marlowe, and of The Raymond Chandler Map of Los Angeles. With husband Richard Schave, Kim curates the Salons and forensic science seminars of LAVA- The Los Angeles Visionaries Association. When the third generation Angeleno isn’t combing old newspapers for forgotten scandals, she is a passionate advocate for historic preservation of signage, vernacular architecture and writer’s homes. Kim was for many years the editrix of Scram, a journal of unpopular culture. Her books include Fall in Love For Life, Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth, Lost in the Grooves and an oral history of Neutral Milk Hotel.