Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.

DECEMBER 20th

On this day in history in 1860, was born Dan Leno.

Leno was a music hall entertainer; know as ‘The Funniest Man on Earth’, whose routines set the standards for Twentieth Century comedy.

George Galvin first appeared on the stage, assisting his parents, aged four under the name Dan Leno. He was from a travelling family, tumblers and acrobats, who had adopted the stage name Leno, after the city in Italy, where they had had some success. At the age of nine, Leno had developed a clog-dancing act, which was interspersed with songs and comic routines. As the fickle public grew tired of clog-dancing, Leno developed a gallery of characters, based on detailed observation, suitable for entertaining the clientele, which could be changed once the novelty diminished. He had a comic policeman, a dame, a bandit and many others, which he would create spontaneously. The characters conducted a monologue and established a rapport with the audience. In 1888, he used his dame character in a Christmas Pantomime in the Drury Lane Theatre, and was hired again in the same part every year until his death. His popularity was so colossal that every time he toured Britain, he performing to sell-out crowds at every performance. In 1901, Leno appeared before Edward VII at a Royal Command Performance, the first music hall artist to receive such an honour, and earned himself the title the ‘King’s Jester’.

Leno became the inspiration for comedy characters. Chaplin, Keaton, Roby and Laurel and Hardy, all of whom developed their careers from Leno’s original ideas. Leno performed every day for thirty-six years, after which he suffered a mental breakdown. He died in 1904 and was given the biggest funeral for an actor since David Garrick. He is buried in Lambeth, London. [Lambeth Cemetery, Blackshaw Road, London SW17 0BY]

Recommended reading. 

Brandreth, Gyles. Funniest Man on Earth.

Buy it here at Amazon

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