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  • Everywhere outside New York City is Bridgeport Connecticut.

    Fred AllenYoung Johnny Sullivan, 18 years old and equipped with an act and a new stage name, Fred St. James, launched himself into the world of professional Show Business. The actor's world in 1912 Boston centered on Scollay Square, and the exoticism and fun intoxicated the young man.  His first engagement went well, and his next started the same, but the manager recognized him from his Amateur Night work, and sacked him.

    He took a menial job for a short time, but continued to refine his act. Although he had become a proficient juggler, he was less than willing to dedicate the practice time needed for the truly spectacular tricks. Turning his lack of talent into an asset, he began to emphasize the comic patter of his act and use the juggling to hold the monologue together. Billing himself as "Freddy James", he again began working the small theaters and amusement parks around Boston. Visiting acts assured him that he had enough talent to make it in New York.

    He considered the pros and cons of the move; he needed to continue to send money to his Aunt Lizzie, (who still didn't approve of his theatric ambitions,) but could see he would never make real money as a "Coast Defender" (a Vaudevillian who never takes his act away from the security of his hometown.) He took the risk while hedging as best he could. After saving a stake of $100 dollars, he took $60 to make the move to New York- when that ran out he was sure he could start over in Boston with the remaining $40.

    Arriving in New York in Sept 1914, billing himself as "Freddy James, the World's Worst Juggler," he found a short booking on his first day. However work was scarce in the following weeks. Fred Allen & HatOn his way to the Western Union office to wire for his safety $40, he was stopped on the street by a contact who booked him as a fill in act that lead to engagements on the Poli Theater circuit. Confident after this success, he found a new agent, Mark Leddy, who signed him to the Loew's circuit.

    He was regaled as a returning hero when he returned to Boston to play the St. James and Orpheum Theaters, although Aunt Lizzie had not shaken her belief that actors were doomed to a drunkard's grave. His act was seen by Benjamin Fuller, owner of the Fuller Theater chain based in Sydney, Australia. Fuller was sure the "World's Worst Juggler" would appeal to Australian audiences, and Freddy James was offered a guaranteed sixteen weeks work if he would make the trip.

    The adventure began crossing the US by train. There was no booking for him between Shreveport and San Jose, and he was late to San Jose because his train wrecked! From San Francisco he crossed on the S.S. Sierra.

    "In an angry sea the Sierra resembled a female housefly caught in a fizzing Alka Seltzer. She was in the middle of everything, but had no control over the situation."

    Just 21 years old, Australia was quite an exotic adventure for Freddy James. Being an American Act, he was automatically a headliner wherever he played, and he generally enjoyed good reviews. Fred Allen & BanjoAfter recovering from Dengue fever, ("Dengue is a form of malaria multiplied by seven," he wrote,) and only doing one show a night, he found he had time on his hands. He resumed his reading hobby, studying character and comedic situations in Dickens and Mark Twain, as well as others.

    The study, along with dealing with cultural differences, was invaluable in learning the craft of showmanship. He added a ventriloquist's dummy that he bought before leaving San Francisco and a banjo to the act. These took away from his juggling but added to his joke telling. Soon he became a fully fledged monologist.

    The Australians are and were a friendly people, and sympathetic to Americans. However part of his stay was during the aftermath of the Gallipoli campaign, which had been particularly hard on soldiers from Australia and New Zealand. Fred met with some animosity, as President Wilson was still working to keep the US out of WWI. It was under this shadow that Fred James returned to the States, however he returned a much more mature and able showman.

    Continue to "Small Time To Big Time " >>