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"Mrs Fred Allen"
"An actor's popularity is fleeting. His success has the life expectancy of a small boy who is about to look into a gas tank with a lighted match."
In the States, he billed himself as "Freddy James and 'His Misses'" to acknowledge that juggling had become less important to his act. Booked for several weeks on the Western Vaudeville circuit, then the Pantages circuit, the work and the travel were hard and constant. Life on the road was filled with trial and adventure, and his act constantly improved.
Agent Mark Leddy booked him a return engagement to New York, handed him over to the Bostock Brothers agency, arranged to change his name so that he could demand a higher salary, and make his splash in Big Time Vaudeville. From 1917-1919, he just didn't quite make it. Not that his act was bad, but circumstance seemed to conspire to get him canned after a night or two in the big time theaters. In 1919 he was able to get a salary of $225 in the Big Time on the Keith Circuit, but wasn't offered a long term contract. His former agent, Mark Leddy was able to get him a contract with the Loew's and Pantages' small time circuits for a full year of work. At $275 weekly, the big time could wait.
He still had the travel and hard work, but now as a Head Liner with experience, the rewards and satisfaction were greater. He was finally offered a contract with the prestigious Keith Circuit for $325 a week, but agent Leddy advised him that the Shubert brothers were beginning a circuit to compete with the Keith, and would be desperate for talent. The Schubert's did hire him, for $400 weekly. J.J. Schubert saw him whenever he played in New York, and offered him a spot in the coming Broadway revue, The Passing Show of 1922.
The role of a monologist in a revue is to appear in front of the curtain and give the audience some laughs while the scenery is being changed for the next scene. The writers of The Passing Show naturally concentrated their efforts on material for the stars, so Allen was left to come up with his own material. One gag that exceeded expectations was "Old Joke Cemetery." Allen had a curtain painted as a graveyard, on the tombstones were painted the punch lines to 46 old jokes.
Touring a show after its run in New York was important to its profitability. The Passing Show spent six months in Chicago. While in Chicago Allen began seeing one of the chorus girls, Portland Hoffa. In order to maximize the profit of a show, after it had been on the road for a time, Schubert would often replace much of the talent below the star level. Allen was cut from the show in Williamsburg, Pennsylvania, as the show was getting ready to go to California. The big problem with that was the Old Joke Cemetery curtain was not property of the show, but of one Fred Allen. Not having the curtain in the show would have meant adding another song or dance number. Allen told Schubert that he had consulted a lawyer who would serve an injunction prohibiting The Passing Show from leaving Williamsburg with the curtain until his claim was settled. However, he was willing to rent the curtain to the company for $50/ week until the show closed. Schubert sent instructions to have the curtain returned to New York, but to first have it photographed so he could have a copy made up. This ruse backfired, however. The photo was not developed until after the curtain was shipped, and it hopelessly underexposed. "Justice triumphed."