Life's a Stage
The disparity in height between Barto (4'11" or 150cm) and Mann (6'6" or 198cm), along with their outrageous costumes made them a hilarious duo and an instant success in the vaudeville circuit. As part of their act, Mann would even dress as a baby complete with bonnet and pinafore, making the audiences roar with laughter.
During its celebration of vaudeville’s 100th birthday in 1927, Barto and Mann made their Broadway debut at the Palace Theatre, the epicentre of vaudeville. It was a long shot for Barto and Mann, but their act received raving reviews from audiences and critics alike. By 1930, Barto and Mann had become the highest salaried dancing team in show business and were even making headlines abroad. After their performance at the Scala Theatre in Berlin, August 1931, the act was praised on the cover of a German magazine as one of the very best comedy teams in existence.
Following the Great Depression, a shift came over the world of entertainment. Film and radio slowly began to steal the show from vaudeville, marking the end of its heyday. Speculators stopped peddling tickets from “the beach” outside of the Palace Theatre and vaudeville news was gradually relegated from the front pages of newspapers and magazines to the back pages. As vaudeville wound down in the 1930s, Barto and Mann joined Olsen and Johnson’s hit Broadway show “Hellzapoppin”, in which they performed until 1942.
“Hellzapoppin” was a huge success with audiences in New York and the cabaret-style show saw the comeback of vaudeville as a popular source of entertainment, this time as a welcome distraction from the hardships and horrors of World War II.
Throughout his many years in show business, George Mann was never without camera. His extraordinarily intimate and perceptive backstage shots bring to life a long-gone era of variety shows and no-nonsense entertainment. His portraits of people and places are spontaneous, yet stunning in their use of light.