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  • I play a musical instrument a little, but only for my own amazement. 

    Fred Allen continued in show business through his life for a simple reason: Although he had many good influences through his early years, he had become hopelessly addicted to eating. Not that performing didn't bring him pleasure. The adulation of an audience is a powerful stimulant, but Allen seems to have derived a similar satisfaction from his performance that a master craftsman gets from a well crafted piece.

    Freddy James and His "Misses"His first success at the Library Talent show whetted his appetite enough that he decided to try at the Amateur Night performances that were very popular at the time. The concept of the Amateur Night will be familiar to fans of American Idol; a theater owner could attract an audience using low cost talent. However the local pool of talent was soon exhausted. A small industry developed around providing Amateur talent, young Johnny Sullivan took his act to former strong-man Sam Cohen, a rather successful booker in the Boston area. After lying about his parent's approval, Sullivan was booked in a one night line-up at the Hub Theater. Although stage fright rendered his patter inaudible, he made it through his performance. Although he wasn't selected as the "Winner" during the line up at the end of the night, he did receive a $1 bill from Cohen for his troubles and invited to return. The $1 trumped the 60 cents he earned for a nights work at the library.

    Sam Cohen was an innovator in the Amateur Night business, and booked for many theaters in the Boston area as well as introducing the acts. He eliminated the cash prize for the "Best" act, although he retained the audience judging. He paid his acts a flat fee, 50 cents for singers and dancers, a dollar for a magician, juggler, or other unusual act. There was more work than Cohen could handle alone, and Sullivan was soon taking a line-up to different small theaters and acting as Master-of-Ceremonys.

    At one show in an outlying theater Sullivan met and befriended a professional actor/juggler named Harry LaToy. LaToy helped with Sullivan's act and showmanship, in the process absorbing what extra change Johnny could afford. One night, due to a booking conflict, LaToy convinced Johnny to appear in his stead at a "Professional Tryout" under the name "Paul Huckle." To the surprise of all involved, there really were bookers for the Keith Theaters in the audience, and they were interested in "Paul Huckle." LaToy fabricated a story that Huckle was actually "Fred St. James" from "Out West," and had taken the Huckle performance as a favor. There followed a small flurry of activity as Johnny Sullivan became "Fred St. James" and launched his professional career as "The World's Worst Juggler."

    Continue to "Small Time Actor " >>