Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Vaudv* (for Vaudev*)

Acrobatic contortionists Harry and Friede DeMarlo were a "twisted couple," says Jennifer Lemak, senior historian at the New York State Museum, where she gave a lecture about the pretzel-shaped pair on October 13, 2010. Dr. Lemak used photos, costumes, scrapbooks, and other artifacts to describe the death-defying life of this creative vaudeville duo who toured the world from 1910 to 1928. By 1912 the DeMarlos had become famous for a bucolic bout of "bending" that featured husband and wife dressed in skintight, sparkly green satin and papier-mâché, and was set amid a woodland scene including "worms and bugs lit by tiny light bulbs." Over the next five years they would enact "Frog's Paradise" to great acclaim, and even gave command performances for the King of Siam, the Queen of Holland, and the Czar of Russia. Separately, Harry dazzled audiences as the "Devil on a Trapeze," while Friede awed the crowd with her ethereal "Symphony in a Box." Friede also once bit off a bit more than she could chew in the first-ever aerial trapeze act that involved hanging by one's teeth. Although badly injured, she almost literally bounced back after a month-long hospital stay, whereupon she continued to hone her stunt and strengthen her jaw. The two spent many years traveling with Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey, and later played smaller venues in cities such as Rochester and Buffalo. The DeMarlos retired to a farm in Walton, New York, in 1941 and spent the next several decades coming down to earth and training dogs for various circus acts. In 1987 a museum curator stumbled upon a lot of their costumes and props at a circus auction, and the remaining papers (which were on their way to the trash) were then donated to the State Museum. We discovered 13 instances of Vaudv* (for vaudev*) in OhioLINK today, and 217 in WorldCat.

(Friede DeMarlo, in "Frog's Paradise," holding the head that Harry made her, courtesy of the New York State Museum.)

Carol Reid

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