Joe Frisco

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Joe Frisco in the 1910s

Joe Frisco (born Louis Wilson Joseph; November 4, 1889 – February 18, 1958) was an American vaudeville performer who first made his name on stage as a jazz dancer, but later incorporated his stuttering voice to his act and became a popular comedian.

Life and career[edit]

He was born Louis Wilson Joseph in Milan, Illinois on November 4, 1889. In the mid and late 1910s, he performed with some of the first jazz bands in Chicago and New York City, including Tom Brown's Band from Dixieland, the Original Dixieland Jass Band, and the Louisiana Five. He made his Broadway debut in the Ziegfeld Follies in 1918. Frisco was a mainstay on the vaudeville circuit in the 1920s and 1930s. His popular jazz dance act, called by some the "Jewish Charleston", was a choreographed series of shuffles, camel walks and turns. It was usually performed to Darktown Strutters' Ball. It, or at least a minute or so of it, can be seen in the film Atlantic City (1944). He typically wore a derby hat, and had a king-sized cigar in his mouth as he danced. He often performed in front of a backing danceline of beautiful women wearing leotards, short jackets and bowler hats—and "puffing" on big prop cigars.

Frisco, The American Apache[1]

Joe Frisco died of cancer on February 18, 1958, at the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California. [2]


Year Title Role Notes
1930 The Benefit Himself Short
1930 The Song Plugger Himself Short
1930 The Happy Hottentots Joe / Reese Brother Short
1930 The Gorilla Garrity
1930 The Border Patrol Himself Short
1933 Mr. Broadway Himself
1938 Western Jamboree Himself
1940 Ride, Tenderfoot, Ride Haberdasher
1944 Atlantic City Himself
1945 Shady Lady Tramp
1947 That's My Man Willie Wagonstatter
1950 Riding High Himself
1957 Sweet Smell of Success Herbie Temple (final film role)

In popular culture[edit]

  • Frisco was so well known for his jazz dance that writer F. Scott Fitzgerald makes reference to him in his 1925 novel The Great Gatsby when he describes how an actress at one of Gatsby's parties starts the revelry: "Suddenly one of the gypsies, in trembling opal, seizes a cocktail out of the air, dumps it down for courage and, moving her hands like Frisco, dances out alone on the canvas platform." The Great Gatsby, chapter 3.
  • The Marx Brothers referred to Frisco in an early version of their "Theatrical Agency" sketch in On the Balcony. The Frisco reference was replaced by Maurice Chevalier when they filmed the sequence in Monkey Business.[3]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "New York Clipper". Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections. Retrieved 6 July 2015.
  2. ^ "Joe Frisco Dead; Comedian Was 88", The New York Times, February 18, 1958, p. 27 ("HOLLYWOOD, Calif., Feb. 17 (AP), Joe Frisco, comedian, died of cancer last night in the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital. His age was 68.")
  3. ^ Louvish, Simon (2000). Monkey Business. New York, NY: Thomas Dunne Books. p. 152. ISBN 0312252927.

Further reading

  • Lowry, Ed; Foy, Charlie; and Levitt, Paul M. (1999) Joe Frisco: Comic, Jazz Dancer, and Railbird (ISBN 978-0-8093-2241-1)

External links[edit]