by hook or by crook

In the early nineteen hundreds, New York’s Miner’s Theatre was a major venue. Sharing the stage were such luminaries as the male impersonators Ella Wesner and Vesta Tilley and jig dancer Pat Rooney. But what made Miner’s unique for a time was Amateur Night held on alternate Fridays.

Ella Wesner

“Backstage the various candidates were nervously awaiting the call. Certainly no prima donna ever experienced keener pangs than those blue lipped, pale faced, stage struck amateurs.

Juggler and imitator, David Swatrz strode forth. He had used black grease paint liberally, his intention being to transform himself into a French Count. But the lad’s head resembled nothing so much as the head of a zebra. He made a cone of paper and tried to balance it on his nose but it fell off sideways. He did manage to balance a broom on his chin though ensuing tricks failed as did his imitation of a madman using make believe paroxysms. “Sure, dat’s no imitation” was the verdict from the gallery.


David was followed by James Macon doing the Hebrew Cake Walk and Miss Lottie Faustine singing and dancing in a pink and silver gown. A woman cornetist who looked old enough to know better was next.

Another account from 1905 lists a juggler, buck-and-wing dancers, a blackface comedian in a red plaid suit, a clay modeller and a quartet of singing newsboys. A “Black Shakespeare” failed to win the crowd but an “Armless Wonder” was showered with coins.


Since the procession of utterly untalented hopefuls could be painful, not to mention boring, an enterprising stage manager came up with a way of policing the length of unsuccessful acts.

On Friday night, in October, 1903, at Miner’s Bowery theater, a particularly bad amateur was inflicting a patient audience with an impossible ‘near tenor’ voice. Despite the howls, groans and cat calls, the ‘artist’ persisted in staying on, when Tom Miner, who was conducting the performance, chanced to see in a corner a large old fashioned crook handled cane which had been used by one of the negro impersonators.


Quickly picking it up, he called Charles Guthinger, the property man, and had him lash it securely to the wings and without getting in sight of the audience deftly slipped the hook around the neck of the would-be singer and yanked him off the stage before he really knew what had happened.

“The next contestant was to give imitations of noted actors, and after giving the worst imaginable one of Edwin Booth announced his next would be of Richard Mansfield. At this a small boy in the gallery yelled ‘Get the hook!’ The audience roared in approval while the ‘actor’ fled in dismay.

Published in: on January 6, 2011 at 8:50 am  Comments (33)  
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33 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “Get the hook” would be an excellent response to some of the dire performances I’ve had to watch. A shame it didn’t become a fashionable response.

    • It was used a lot on a ‘talent’ show here in Oz

  2. Oh my. We have these shows every day here in the USA. 535 of them perform every day at a theater known as the Capital Building. And 400 million Americans howl and groan at their “acts” daily. There ain’t no “hook” but unfortunately lots of “crook”.

    • The epidemic has also reached our shores

  3. I still think a night of bad theater beats the hell out of a night of good TV.

    Do you know the location of the Miner’s Theater? Tried to Google it and came up empty handed. I’m betting it’s on/near the Bowery.

    • It was on Eighth Avenue UB

  4. I know of few politicians who blather on incessantly on the tube who could use a few good yanks of the hook to cure them of their pompousity.

    • You and Carl (above) think alike

  5. He was trying to make himself into a French what!!!!?! ….. oh, Count! …… carry on ……

  6. I wonder if they had multiple hooks!

    One Q, why did David reckon black paint would transform him into a French Count??

    • That Q is totally unanswerable

  7. Luckily for me they have not yet invented a hook for bloggers – – –

    • Luckily for you and daddyp 😉

  8. A night out at The Miner’s Theatre sounds more fun than a night in with Britain’s got talent.
    You do find some wonderful stuff, Miss Nurse!

    • It’s a shame none of them thought to do the banana trick. Though I doubt anyone would be as good at it as you

  9. Ah that’s where the hook comes from. A better way to off crap acts than a gong!

    • Nowadays there would be lawsuits for whiplash 😦

  10. The hook was always more effective than a gong.

    • Except you don’t need to have as much dexterity with the gong.

  11. French counts look like zebras?

    I was obviously born in the wrong country.

  12. I often do the Hebrew Cake Walk: at my folks’ place for dinner on Shabbat, just after main course.

    • Who makes the cake Mitzi – is it you? I’ve tasted your gingerbread and it’s fabbo

  13. So that’s where the expression ‘sling your hook’ comes from – cool!

    • Really? It’s not a phrase I’m familiar with Lulu

  14. I want to tattoo me like the zebra guy, I would be SO AWESOME

    • Sorry Malach, I think it’s gonna take more than a few tattoos to make you SO AWESOME 😉

  15. I had to go Google “cakewalk” and more about the Great Omi. Found great vids of cakewalks. I love when your posts lead me to new knowledge. 🙂

    • Omi was a pretty interesting guy wasn’t he? All those Ripley Odditorium guys were slightly crazy (in a good way)

  16. I’m sure some audience members who have seen me at open mike nights want to yell, “Get the hook!” Once I tried to do a clever routine (at least I thought so) about them screwing up my ancestor’s name at Ellis Island, in a divy little bar in front of jobless potheads. They looked at me like, “Huh?” I was so scared. I rushed through the set, feeling my heart pound in my neck, and cried all the way home in the car.

    • Oh Robin, that makes me want to hug you. I would never have the nerve to attempt standup.

  17. Maybe there should be a hook in the bedroom for substandard lovemaking… that’ll teach ’em to put more effort into it.

  18. When I’d fall asleep as a kid during “Saturday Night Live” and then wake up during “Showtime at the Apollo,” I always felt really bad for the amateurs who were booed off the stage.

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