Oscar Hammerstein’s Olympic Theatre was on the verge of bankruptcy until he had the inspired idea of staging the worst act in vaudeville – The Cherry Sisters.***
The sisters were so awful that patrons conveyed their critical consensus by flinging cabbages and overripe tomatoes. At one performance, theater-goers threw eggs and chased the girls offstage. To protect her siblings, Addie at least once brandished a shotgun at an overly rambunctious crowd.
image of Charlene Holt found here
The sisters mistook the raucousness for approval, and considered themselves a huge success so were horrified by a nasty review in the Cedar Rapids Gazette and sued the city editor for slander. A theatrical trial was held the following day with the Cherrys mounting the stage for the benefit of the magistrate, offering their performance as testimony. The jury, confronted with the evidence of the plaintiffs’ far graver crime, nevertheless found the editor guilty and sentenced him to marry one of the sisters. (All parties declined to enforce the ruling.)
From Davenport to Vinton, month after month, the onslaught of rotten eggs and pension-aged fruit continued. At one show, patrons of the arts pitched slabs of fresh liver at the hapless troupe; in Dubuque, they were greeted by “a volley of turnips.” Everywhere they went, it rained cabbages, potatoes, rutabagas; one spectator heaved an old tin wash boiler onstage.
image of Cherry Darling (NOT one of the Cherry Sisters) found here
Then, things got ugly and the reviews got worse.
“Effie is spavined, Addie is knock-kneed and string-halt, and Jessie, the only one who showed her stockings, has legs without calves, as classic in their outlines as the curves of a broom handle.”
Learn how to graft a cherry tree here
In “The Gipsy’s Warning,” Jessie portrayed a barefoot flower maiden falling prey to a swashbuckling Lothario, played by Addie. Later in the evening, a “living sculpture” tableau entitled “Clinging to the Cross” featured Jessie suspended from a giant crucifix.
Hammerstein assured his headliners that the barrage was orchestrated by jealous rival stars. “Your talent is so great,” he explained, “that you can expect fruit and vegetables to be thrown at every performance.” The Cherrys played to packed houses for two months, earning upwards of a grand per week.
They amassed a fortune estimated around $200,000. The American Weekly noted that over seven years of touring, “They began as the four worst professional actresses in the world and ended without improving one iota.”
None ever married, in fact they boasted of never having been kissed. (“We are too devoted to each other to consider matrimony and we could never stand the shock of being dictated to by a man.”)
***You can read the article I have quoted in its entirety here
image of Don Cherry found here