The bellhop or bellboy character is a timeless comedic classic. Could this cap wearing uniformed hotel porter's position have been created first for comic purposes and secondarily for the transportation of baggage? So many of the great American comics have taken a turn with the role both as bellhops and interacting with bellhops, I seriously wonder. Some particularly hilarious bellhop performances were given in 3 silent short films;The Bell Boy with Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton , Laurel and Hardy in Hop to it Bellhop and Bughouse Bellhops with Harold Lloyd. The first 2 Marx Brothers features The Cocoanuts(1929) and Animal Crackers(1930) included quality bellhop scenes. Even Donald Duck tried his hand at bellhopping in his 1942 short Bellboy Donald. Jerry Lewis reset the bar in 1960 with his feature film The Bellboy. Search your favorite comic actor and bellhop and see what you find. One of my favorite contemporary Bellhop scenes occured in the finale of the 4th season of Curb Your Enthusiasm entitled "Opening Night" where the bellhop is taking the notoriously paranoid and thrifty Larry David up to his room and trying to coax a tip out of him by explaining how to use the various amenities the high end hotel has to offer including how to use the room key, how to turn on the television and how to use the shower.
Here is my Grandfather doing a bellhop routine at a Vaudeville show in Detroit Michigan circa 1915.
The Vaudeville Era was a quirky period of America's history. For many it was their big chance to break into the new and rapidly emerging entertainment industry. Several of the great performers from Hollywood's Golden Age cut their teeth on the Vaudeville stage. Shortly before the turn of the century, Vaudeville Theaters started popping up all over the United States. Circuits or chains of inter-state Theaters owned by an individual or group were formed to insure both the maximum exposure of the entertainers and that they played only the venues that were owned by the individual/group they were under contract with. The performers traveled the Circuits by train, sometimes playing a venue for only a single day then moving on to the next Theater in the chain. The managers of these Theaters were a shifty but resourceful bunch. They answered directly to the owners and were under constant pressure to keep revenues increasing. Sometimes to realize these financial expectations they were forced to develop new marketing schemes designed to increase profitability. Out of this came ideas like starting the shows in the morning and running them consecutively deep into the night, a practice that became known as "Continuous Vaudeville." The managers designed the shows to bring an audience in, keep them entertained for a couple of hours and then move them out of there. What emerged from this plan looked somewhat like a baseball lineup. Each act was given a position on the bill with a particular purpose to it. The first acts got the audience warmed up while the crowd came in and found their seats. Then came the headlining acts, which were the heart of the lineup. These were followed by the finishing acts which were arranged to help facilitate the crowd's exit from the Theater. These last acts were often so distasteful or just plain bad they would efferctively clear the hall enabling the managers to refill the vacated seats with a whole new crop of paying customers for the next show.
My Grandfather Harry and Great Aunt Juliet were both headliners and "top billers" on the Orpheum Circuit. They spent part of the year performing from Theater to Theater in the Midwestern United States eventually winding up at the end of the circuit in California.