Shaking the Family Tree

W-4hen you shake my family tree, a few nuts fall out. Case in point: My great uncle Arza. He worked in a traveling vaudeville-style show in the early 20th century. Here he is, far left, dressed as a clown, complete with doggy. I bet the dog did tricks.

Arza_Circus

I don’t know much about the photo or the troupe, but this picture must be over 100 years old. Arza died in March, 1977, at the age of 91.

That photo sits on our fireplace mantel, along with this one of him posing with his partner Schlosser (the other guy in clown costume above) with guitar and mandolin. His last name was Killey, but apparently he went by “Kelly” in show business:

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“Schlosser & Kelly, Musical Team” My great uncle Arza Killey, right. 

(I don’t know about you, but I think the stringed instruments in the two photos are the same ones.)

I wish I could tell you more about Arza’s colorful life, but when I knew him he was quite elderly and being cared for by my much younger grandmother. He never married. He and my Uncle Glen, who also traveled with the show, were members of the Elks, a fraternal organization founded by theatrical types. One time, Glen and Arza “fixed” a dent in their car by welding a piece of sheet metal over it. They were always doing crazy things like that, but that’s about all I know. Every time Arza tried to tell us a story about his life, his sister, my grandmother, would interrupt him with “oh, these kids don’t want to hear your old stories.” But we did. We did.

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That Green Dress

About that green wraparound dress Cece wears in Radio Girl, is wearing green really thought to be bad luck in show business?

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Dress patterns, June, 1938

It certainly is for some stage actors. The origins of this superstition are murky at best, with some saying it has to do with the death of actor/playwright Moliere; others, that it comes from outdoor stage productions where the backdrop of greenery would make an actor in a green costume blend in; and still others believe it’s because of the greenish “limelights” once used at the edge of the stage, which would wash out any actor’s green ensemble.

More theatrical superstitions.

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Photo of CarolCarol Brendler is the author of the young adult novel RADIO GIRL (Holiday House) September 5, 2013.
Coming 2014: A picture book, NOT VERY SCARY, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli, from FSG.
Also by Carol Brendler: WINNIE FINN, WORM FARMER (FSG, 2009) a picture book illustrated by Ard Hoyt.