George L. Fox

The funniest man in America appeared in Richmond before a packed opera house of children and adults, little realizing he was wearing death on his face.

George L. Fox was the most distinguished comic presence of the 19th Century American stage. He introduced a style of energetic slapstick and topical satire and transformed it into a distinctly American style of humor. In 1867 he created his signature character, Humpty Dumpty, and gave over 1,000 performances on Broadway, and traveled around the country performing it.

He appeared as Humpty Dumpty at Richmond’s Phillips Opera House on Sept. 18, 1874 and got raccous applause and laughter from children as well as adults.

Fox was the funniest man of his time and his white-face character was an important part of American popular culture. The image was used in advertisements for children’s books, and his antics later influenced film comedians Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers.

Sadly Fox was ultimately removed from the stage a few weeks after his Richmond visit, in the middle of what became his last performance. Humpty Dumpty literally “cracked up” and was taken to an insane asylum, where he ultimately died of poisoning from his lead based white make-up.

The funniest man of the 19th century was also one of the most tragic, but while he was in Richmond for a “one night only” performance, he delighted children and adults, little knowing his stage make-up, the staple of his performance, was killing him.

 

 

 


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June 19, 2012