Egbert "Bert" Williams is generally considered to be the greatest vaudeville comedian in American history. That he is mostly forgotten today, except by historians, is a pity. He died in 1922 after having made a very few films and so there is not a lot of photographic record of his genius.
Eric Ledell Smith's book on Williams covers as much as is possible about someone who was rather private and whose biography was largely invented by the fan magazines. The biography covers Williams' legendary collaboration with George Walker to create the winning team of Williams & Walker, and his venture into solo work after Walker's death. He became one of the greatest stars of the legendary Ziegfeld Follies, alongside such luminaries as Fanny Brice and Eddie Cantor. He introduced his signature song "Nobody," which can still be heard if you know where to look for it, and is still just as moving as it was in its heyday.
The book also delves into the difficulties he encountered as a pioneer on the vaudeville stage, and the business difficulties he faced in trying to make sure that all members of society, no matter what their color, would be able to enjoy his performances. W.C. Field said of Williams - "He was the funniest man I ever saw, and the saddest man I ever knew." This book helps you to understand why this was true.
This report prepared by Graceann Maciolek