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Robert Sale-Hill’s poem, The True Origin and History of “The Dude” (The New York World, January 14, 1883) introduced the world to the word Dude, and kicked off a full-on Dude craze. A-Dude-a-Day[i] Blog is dedicated to preserving and sharing pics, pieces and poems from the early days of the Dude-craze of 1883. You can read more about the history and origin of the word Dude on my blogpost, "Dudes, Dodos and Fopdoodles" on my other blog, Early Sports 'n' Pop-Culture History Blog.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The "Skeleton Dude" or "Duke of Tuxedo"

The “Skeleton Dude”

John W. Coffey, the “Skeleton Dude,” began his career as a run-of-the-mill, “thin man” sideshow act under the stage-name, the “Ohio Skeleton,” in about 1885.  He rose to greater fame after affecting the distinctive dress and mannerisms of a typical “Dude,” adopting the title “Duke of Tuxedo,” and taking the stage name, the “Skeleton Dude.” The stereotypical “Dude” of the day was frequently said to have “toothpick legs” and a generally weak physique, so the persona fit perfectly with his physical traits.

The skeleton dude owns large estates in Portugal or somewhere, and his proper title is the Duke of Tuxedo.  At least so his manager says, and of course it must be true.  The “Dook” is a native of Ohio, and his name at home is John Coffey.  He is a skeleton by nature and a dude by profession.  He differs from other dukes in one respect – that is, in the matter of brains, John has some.  Living skeletons were at a discount when John started as a freak.  One day he was reading the Analytical Psychologist, or some comic paper of that kind, and he saw a picture of a dude – a caricature – with pipe-stem legs and attenuated frame, and he slapped his thigh bone and shouted “Eureka.”  Three days later, Mr. Coffey made his debut in a Cincinnati museum as “the Duke of Tuxedo, the Skeleton Dude.”  The bills announced that the Duke had come over to this country to look for a wife, and that any nice girl who would agree to overlook his attenuity of frame might have his hand in marriage and half his estates in Portugal.  The bills didn’t say anything about Mrs. Coffey and the five little Coffey beans in the little Ohio village, where John used to work as a painter and paper hanger before muscular atrophy took the flesh off his bones and made him a freak.

The Chicago Tribune, November 27, 1887, page 25.

He toured Europe with P. T. Barnum in 1889.  An artist for a London newspaper depicted the “Skeleton Dude” sitting between the “fat baby” and the “giant cowboy,” doffing his hat toward the “fair lady who wears ‘the Anaconda necklace.’”  

The Graphic (London), November 30, 1889, page 665.

A British reviewer described his only joke, which played off his image as a flirtatious “Dude” or masher.

“The ‘Skeleton Dude,’ with the bodily weight of a baby and the manners of Sir Charles Grandison, whose single joke is to ask his fair admirers whether they would like to see his sweetheart, and then to show them a looking glass.

The Graphic (London), November 30, 1889, page 666.

Although married,[i] Coffey’s character presented himself as a “masher,” on the prowl for a new sweetheart; even placing personal ads in local newspapers before appearances in the town.

The Pittsburgh Press, February 15, 1888, page 8.

On occasion, he took part in mock-weddings; sometimes with relatively normal women, and sometimes to a fellow sideshow “freak” of dramatically contrasting size.

The Boston Globe, January 27, 1887, page 2.


Coffey and his Fat Bride . . .
The Skeleton Dude . . . He Weighs 56 Pounds (Just After His Dinner.) . . .
Married in New York . . . to the Fair and Robust
Gertie Platt . . .
Gertie Weighs 556 Pounds!

The Boston Globe, March 31, 1895, page 19.

Sometimes a former “bride” (or two or three or four) would make a dramatic return with objections to the new “marriage.”

The Sunday Truth (Buffalo, New York), July 20, 1890, page 8 (small dogs were also frequently associated with stereotypical “Dudes”).

The “Skeleton Dude” with a “skeleton key” hanging from his belt. The Illustrated American, Volume 4, Number 38, November 8, 1890, page 368. 

[i] “John Coffey – The Living Skeleton Dude,” Candy Guy,,  

Dude #21 - Returning the Dude

Columbia: Here, Britannia, take this thing.  He is a constant Mortification to me, and an object of contempt with his brothers.  As he is ashamed of his native land and prefers you to his own mother, it is a pity you should not have him.

Britannia: No, no, my dear, I will not deprive you of such a citizen - and that thing at best is b ut a cheap imitation of an atrociously bad article.

 Life, Volume 1, page 163.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Single Dude and Double Dude - "We, Us & Co."

“The Single Dude”
“The Double Dude”

These two posters represent the character, Knox Dunlap the “dude,” in W. A. Mestayer’s production, “We Us and Co.,” sometimes referred to as, “We Us and Co., At the Hot Mud Springs” (the small dog and high collar were both fashions closely associated with "Dudes" at the time).

Described as a “whimsical absurdity,”[i] We, Us & Co.” was written in 1884, and performed beginning in September 1884 and running through at least 1885.  It was the “story of a quack doctor at the Mud Springs, his partner, his patients and his servants.”[ii]  Presumably, the “dude” was a patient, a wealthy young snob from the big city, in town to take the cure (or something like that).

It is not clear whether the character of the “dude” or the poster bearing his image were in the earliest versions of the show, but the earliest references to the character appear in April of 1885, at the same time as the earliest references to the poster.   

A critic imagined the writing process that would result in inane entertainment like “We, Us & co.,” and disparaged the look of the actor playing the role.

Eleven million absurdities were thrown into a cask and stirred with a pole.  As the worst came to the top they were skimmed off and mixed.  The resulting compound was evaporated to a yielding consistency and labeled “We, Us & Co.” . . .

Knox Dunlap, the dude, done by Samuel Reed, was nearly, but not quite so handsome as his portraits exhibited in the shop windows.”

The Sunday Truth (Buffalo, New York), March 2, 1885, page 7.

Mr. Mestayer replaced Reed in the role a month later, during a successful engagement in New York City.

[O]n Tuesday he engaged Mr. Augustus Bruno to take the part of the dude, whose portrait is the most widely circulated advertisement in connection with the entire company. . . .  He will be remembered as the comedian who originally played the wild Irish conductor in “The Tourists.”  Mr. Bruno was, as far back as the occasion named, one of the most amusing comedians on the stage.

The New York Times, April 23, 1885, page 2.

Gus Bruno may have been funny, but he was also trouble.  In his previous stint with Mestayer in “The Tourists,” he reportedly got a swell head from success and demanded more and more pay, which landed him out of the company and relegated him back to low-grade “variety” theater.[iii]  And even after signing his contract to play the “dude,” he was reportedly rehearsing a different show for a different company before his first performance in the role, resulting in threats of litigation.[iv] 

It must have all worked out, however, as he joined the show and went on tour with them.  But being on the road brought new troubles.  In Kansas City, he was accused of blackmail.  An account in the press (perhaps written by Mestayer’s press agent) described the charges as “trumped up.”

And then he got in more trouble on an overnight train.

[A] few days ago, while on a train going West with the party, he got into another trouble, which the Omaha Bee tells of as follows: “While in Omaha he got so full of disagreeable bug juice that on the sleeping car his actions were greatly annoying to the other passengers.  Two or three times the colored porter tried to quit him, but without good results.  Finally the porter gave Mr. Bruno a strong thrashing, which had the effect of silencing the boisterous gentleman for several minutes, but the war broke out again.  Bruno watched an opportunity, and when the porter’s back was turned, jumped on him and commenced to chew his neck, ears and cheek.  The porter was so badly chewed up that he had to stop off and return here yesterday for medical treatment.  It is common for actors to be known as scene eaters, but porter chewers are not frequent among them.”

The Butte Miner (Montana), June 27, 1885, page 4.

Bruno’s time on earth nearly expired a few weeks later, when he outran a lynch mob out for blood.  Her father was angry and the girl was just 12 years old.  He beat the rap, but was fined $25 for striking her father with a “light cane.”

The white-faced fugitive was “Gus” Bruno, the comedian, who plays the dude in Mestayer’s “We, Us & Co.” combination.  With flying feet he tried to escape from the infuriated father, who headed the pursuers. . . .

The man who led the chase was A. Kronberg, a highly respectable, well-to-do man who has a beautiful little girl named Etta, whose form is riper than the twelve years that have passed over her curly head would warrant.  Kronberg saw Bruno loafing around his house yesterday.  He has been already suspicious of Bruno’s intentions toward his daughter and a pretty little playmate of her age, and when he saw Bruno to-day, he charged him with trying to wreck his innocent child’s life. . . .

In the police court Kronberg swore that Bruno had thrice tried to inveigle Etta and her playmate into his rooms.  The prosecution could prove no criminal intent.  Bruno was fined $25 for striking Kronberg with his cane.  He paid it and hurried out of town, protesting that his only purpose in coaxing the little girls to him was to give them tickets to the theater.

There is no doubt that Bruno would have been lynched if the police had not protected him.  The excitement in town is frightful and every father seems to think that Bruno would have met his deserts had he been swung to a lamp post.

The Butte Weekly Miner, July 22, 1885, page 2.

Years later, after Gus Bruno had become a “high priced comedian on the Manhattan stage,” he was remembered as the last surviving member of one of the best teams of Johnson & Bruno, one the best teams of song and dance men from the 1870s. [v]  Success brought other changes as well.  He may have been "white faced" running from the mob in San Francisco, but he was frequently black-faced back in his variety theater days.

The “We, Us & Co.” posters also have a passing resemblance to a later famous poster (1894), with a younger face, fewer teeth, longer hair and a different collar; a poster that may be the original inspiration for the image that would later be named Alfred E. Neuman, the face of Mad Magazine.

[i] Detroit Free Press, September 19, 1884, page 13.
[ii] Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 4, 1884, page 8.
[iii] The New York Times, April 23, 1885, page 2 (“As soon, however, as ‘The Tourists’ made a great success Mr. Bruno became convinced that he was the sole attraction, and he proceeded to make demands upon the management which they could not have complied with and preserve any chance of making money or retaining their control of the entertainment.  He was accordingly dropped, and instead of ruling the country he receded into the variety realm from which he had sprung.”).
[iv] The Butte Weekly Miner, May 13, 1885, page 1.
[v] Times Union (Brooklyn, New York), November 29, 1902, page 2.

Monday, May 18, 2020

"A Swell Clerk" - a Vinegar Valentine

"The Swell Clerk" (a Vinegar Valentine's Day Card)

The Swell Clerk.

Go away you homely little dude, or I’ll hit you with a feather.
I really think t’would make you wilt, though I’d prefer it leather.
As for your natty suit of clothes, that you love to sport about,
You’ll stick it in a pawn-shop before the month is out.
The girls think you are silly, or what is even worse,
A dude who has an empty head, and owns an empty purse.

“The Swell Clerk” (a Vinegar Valentine), from the Norcross Greeting Card Collection of the Smithsonian Institution, NMAH.AC.0058, AC0058-0000045.tif (AC Scan No.).

The ABCs of Dude

ABCs of the "Dude"

The Dude.

A is the actress This dude so besets.
B is his bilards, bill, bouquets And bets.
C is his Cheek, cigarette, cane and Collar.
D is his drinks on another man’s dollar.

E is his eye glass and English airs.
F is the Free lunch that he Never spares.
G is the girl he en-Deavors to mash.
H is the hat just as flat as his cash. 

I is his Igno- rance, always dis- played.
J. is the jewelry on him arrayed.
K is his knowledge of folly And sin.
L is his legs that are crooked and thin.

M is his moustache, nine hairs to a side.
N is his neck- tie, a soil-ed shirt to hide.
O’s his old man, whom he will not indorse.
P is his pocket-book, empty, of Course.

Q is his quarrel When he gets a kick.
R is the racket that makes Him so sick.
S is his shoes Very sharp At the toe.
T Is his tailor Who fills Him with Woe.

U is His uncle, Who pays Ante’s bill.
V is his Vice that Makes him Look so ill.
W’s his wash-Woman scold-Ing the beat.
X is Xer-tion to keep On his feet.

Y is his yawns, for he’s Tired out quite.
Z is the Zigzag he walks When tight.

The Norristown Herald.

The Times (Philadelphia), August 26, 1883, page 3.