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Tag: vaudeville

More Animal Impersonators From Theater History

by Patch O'Furr

Don’t miss the series of stories about animal impersonators.

George Ali as Nana in Peter Pan (1924)

Yesterday’s article revisited the history of animal impersonation for theater. It’s the study of how animals move and behave, for acting with emotion and character. Beautifully crafted costumes were used on live stages before cinema matured, from artists forgotten by time. It’s deep rooted “Paleofurry” inspiration.

Previous stories here looked at British Panto-animal actors, but overlooked other actors in American Vaudeville (which fed talent to Hollywood). An expert covered some of them to round out this history. (Thanks to Trav S.D. who is linked here; a theater director, producer, and author.)

George Ali: Critter for Hire, and Arthur Lupino

Trav’s short article adds a little about George Ali, who played the dog in the first filmed version of Peter Pan. But in 1904 the role was played by an actor who I haven’t found much about. There’s just a very short blurb from Encyclopedia Brittanica saying Arthur Lupino was an “incomparable animal impersonator” and chosen personally by Peter Pan playwright JM Barrie.

Fred Woodward: What an Animal

Mules and creatures from Oz. It’s another short mention of how “Animal impersonation was a whole sub-specialty in vaudeville… This was an era when fairy tales were frequently presented on stage for audiences of children and their families, so it’s not as odd as it may seem at first blush.”

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Animal Impersonators of Vaudeville and Pantomime: call them Paleofurries.

by Patch O'Furr

Check out this “fursuit” acting from 1924. That’s George Ali as Nana the Dog in the first silent-movie version of Peter Pan. (Here’s a longer clip).

In 1924, there were no archives for movies, so many were destroyed or disappeared when they stopped making money from screening. The first Peter Pan movie was believed lost, but two copies were found including one at Disney Studios (who must have studied the innovative special effects.) A restoration in 1994 was added to the US National Film Registry. It makes a rare recording of this kind of performing.

George Ali was an Animal Impersonator — much more than just a costumer, but a specialist artist. There must be tons of forgotten lore about this. It was featured in my furry history series about Panto-animals (with beautiful photos, but no videos I could find until now!)

What were animal impersonators?

Fred Conquest and Charles Lauri appear in those stories as British Pantomime theater players. Panto had roots as old as Shakespeare — a mash-up of clowning, burlesque, satire, and lower-class popular theater for the masses. It was for live stages, not permanent Youtube-ready media, so the actors may be barely remembered today. They were huge stars in their heyday 100 years ago. Most were known as human characters, but ones like Ali, Conquest, or Lauri won stardom in their own right as animals.

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