Sunday, July 31, 2016

Scictler's Manikins and the ostrich that laid a snake egg

Vaudeville manikins

Quality entertainment used to mean watching a fake ostrich lay an egg and then a fake snake hatch out of that egg. This would have been in the late 1800s or early 1900s. 

I've been reading Joe Laurie Jr.'s 1953 book Vaudeville: From the Honky-Tonks to the Palace, which is less of a history of vaudeville than a 561-page catalog of vaudeville performers. It's a weird book that has never been reprinted since its original run.

In the chapter "Freaks and Odd Acts," Laurie writes: 
We loved Scictler's Manikins; [Scictler] had a juggler, three hobos, and an ostrich which laid an egg and a snake hatched out of it. One of the manikins made a quick change on the stage from a man into a woman. 
As I read the book, this act seemed particularly interesting and unusual to me. I wasn't the only one who thought so, because later in the book, someone had summarized the act in pencil on a blank page:

Feeling a kinship with this anonymous decades-old defiler of library books, I decided to look for more information about Scictler, for both of our sakes.

Unfortunately, Laurie must have misspelled the name, because "Scictler" isn't a real surname. The actual name of the act must have been something like Sichler or Schicter or Schickler. It's clear that Laurie—who was an old vaudevillian himself—wrote a number of names and titles from memory, sometimes phonetically. I've run across many misspelled names and titles in the book.

Vaudeville's mannequin acts ("manikin" was the preferred spelling in vaudeville) were jointed dolls that were manipulated with wires, kind of like marionettes. The manner of manipulation was a secret, so audiences enjoyed speculating about how the figures were made to move so realistically. 

Because of Laurie's misspelling, I couldn't find any images of, or even references to, Scictler's Manikins, but I've included a couple of photos of competing manikin acts. The photo at the top of this page shows Hunt's Manikins, and the photo below shows Jewell's Manikins. Sadly, neither of these competing manikin acts had an ostrich that laid a snake egg. 

The only new information I have to pass along is that Laurie misspelled Scictler's name. If you've come here because you read Laurie's 60+ year old, out-of-print book and were intrigued by Scictler's act and Googled his/her name, like I did, then this post is for you. 

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