In case you just tuned in, I have spent a long time dissecting the death of comedian Ted Healy, starting with the yarn about him being beaten to death by Wallace Beery, Albert Broccoli and Pat DiCicco in the parking lot of the Trocadero in 1937.
And after tearing apart the myth, the only thing to do was to look into what actually happened.
And no, I didn’t expect this to take so long.
Aug. 12, 1925: Healy has a misadventure with his yacht.
We have been focusing on the life of Betty Braun Healy, Ted Healy’s first wife. She is the only one to protest the official ruling that Healy died of natural causes. She’s the one who says people are being protected, that there is a cover-up, that she is being blacklisted for not keeping quiet, etc., etc. Healy’s sister, Marcia, and widow (also named Betty) call her nothing but a publicity seeker.
It seems that life with Ted Healy could be an adventure, even in the early days of his career. The New York Times reports (behind a paywall) a few months after his Broadway debut in Earl Carroll’s “Vanities” that he and fellow actor David Chasen went out in Healy’s yacht, ran out of gas and finally landed in New Jersey, missing a performance and giving the rest of the cast a good scare.
Betty Braun Healy had performed in the show, but “was hysterical yesterday and under a physician’s care up to the time she heard from her husband,” The Times said.
An Aug. 22, 1926, item in The Times notes that they performed with Craig Campbell, Nervo and Knox and Harriet Hoctor at the Riverside, where Ted Healy was master of ceremonies.
May 4, 1927: Ted and Betty Healy are featured in “A Night in Spain.”
By 1927, Ted and Betty Healy were featured in the two-act revue “A Night in Spain” with a book by Harold Atteridge and songs by Jean Schwartz and Al Bryan that debuted at the 44th Street Theatre. The Times called it an “Almost immoderately entertaining saturnalia of a typical sort.”
There’s no mention of Betty Healy, but Ted is singled out in the review.
Healy, a resourceful fellow with an agile comedy sense and a pleasant personality that insures success for almost all of his efforts, is the funniest he has been since the vaudeville days of four or five years ago — and that is from one who saw him in the “Vanities” too.
[Phil] Baker’s talent for the slightly insane, zany foolery has again the ideal foil in the person of Sid Silvers, whose bland self-assurance, projected from an upper box, gives just the proper fillip to the accordionist’s jests. Their act last night was probably more than 50% new, although patterned along familiar lines, and the audience, devouring it all, kept calling for more. It was a comedians’ evening, and only the team of Brennan and Rogers failed to cash in on the returns. He whom the program described as Shemp Howard made the most of an exceedingly comic face and a diffident manner.”
Ted Healy…. Shemp Howard… this is starting to look familiar.
Later that month, Ted and Betty Healy were profiled in the New York Times (behind a paywall).
The Times underscores the Healys as a pair, saying:
“There are some things which must be considered together — bread and butter, and ham and eggs, for instance. Either without the other fails to accomplish its destiny. In this class seem to be the Healys — Ted and Betty — of “A Night in Spain.”
The Times reports that Betty Healy was already a well-established performer on the Keith circuit as Betty Braun & Co. “in which she did the dancing when Healy was still in the habit of watching the Saturday mail for his weekly check.”
She was born in Connecticut, The Times says, noting that Healy was born in Texas, although he “went to school” in New York.
Of Healy, The Times says “not more than eight years ago, with three others, he set out to charm the patrons of the Midwestern vaudeville circuits. His only excuse for this action was that Charles Foy of the Foy family was his closest friend.”
The act may have been funny, but wasn’t especially successful, even though Healy “tried black-face singing.” “The embryo Al Jolson was lazy and after six months the trouble of blacking up every night wore down his ambition and patience,” The Times says.
Betty Braun and Ted Healy met in Toledo, Ohio, The Times says. “They speedily got acquainted and the following week were married in Indianapolis.”
They combined their act and became a major attraction on the Keith-Albee-Orpheum circuits, The Times says.
On June 13, 1927, a little more than 10 years before his death, The Times reports (behind a paywall) that he is in trouble with the law.
A traffic officer named Reichert stopped Healy after he nearly ran down a man at 7th Avenue and 42nd Street, The Times says. “When Reichert stopped the car, Healy was alleged to have used abusive language. At the hearing, he apologized to the officer, pleaded guilty and told the court he did not remember what had happened.”
A program for “A Night in Venice” in Chicago was listed on EBay at $450.
Two years later, on May 22, 1929, (behind a paywall) we see the future in a production titled “A Night in Venice” and it is a future without Betty Healy. Instead, we have Ted Healy, and way down the cast list are: Shemp Howard, Moe Howard and Larry Fine.
Ted Healy, with Larry Fine, Moe Howard and Shemp Howard in a program for “A Night in Venice” that was listed on EBay.
Early in the second half of “A Night in Venice,” which thumped into view at the Shubert last evening, Ted Healy, his band and his gang again stage that knockabout skit concerning the substitute act from Atlantic City.
Healy, whom you will remember as the comedian with the shiny frontal bald spot, is leading his jazz band while three of the frowziest numskulls ever assembled are trying to put over, with the familiar flourishes of the show business, a ballad about that dress that Nellie wore.
It is, you will remember, innocuous enough until the most vocal and disreputable of the trio insists upon injecting, between bars, two thick-witted claps of the hand and two ‘Hey, heys’ — denoting rising enthusiasm.
Then it is that the scuffle begins, shirt fronts are torn, feet stamped on and the singer is savagely tackled around the neck.
Although Mr. Healy and his numskulls have already exhibited this violent skit in a previous Shubert revue it is still a masterpiece of slapstick comedy and the best number in the new summer carnival.
It has many competitors since “A Night in Venice” spares no energy to entertain the trade.
Among the more noticeable of its physical antics are one kick in the mouth, a smarting succession of slaps on the face, a yank of the nose, a bear-wrestling number, the dropping of one performer smack into the orchestra pit, not to enumerate the endless pushing and shoving involved in Healy’s dominance of the book. In many instances the violence verges so much upon cruelty that it is more astonishing than entertaining and often it is plain stupidity.”
To be continued.