Too Many Ukes

Evening News (Sydney, 10 March 1930) reports as follows:

“Like the man who disliked Scotland because there were too many Scotsmen, Cliff Edwards (“Ukulele Ike”) doesn’t like Honolulu, home of the uke. He went there recently and came back disgusted. “Everyone’s stealing my stuff now”, he wailed. “Even Honolulu is swarming with people playing ukulele and singing. Rank plagiarism I call it.”

Below is a photograph of more people plagiarizing Mr. Edwards at the beach near Newcastle, NSW, Australia 26 October, 1931.

Newcastle ukulele beach 1931

Published in: on April 19, 2015 at 4:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ukulele Ike in Australia, 1952

The Australian Women’s Weekly’s interview with Cliff Edwards was published on the 16th of January 1952. Mr Edwards confessed that his first uke was a mandolin stripped of four strings. He also let slip that he found performing hard on the nerves, but thought them necessary for show business success. And he has performed for important people in his day. Winston Churchill’s favourite tune by Cliff was “Singing in the Rain”, and ol’ FDR liked “Home on the Range”.

Ukulele Ike with his favourite hat (and uke)

Apparently, Ukulele Ike started his working life as a painter in a ship-yard, which he left for the more difficult work of vaudeville.

As for hobbies (why do they always ask?), the ukulele hotshot said he likes eating, sleeping, and reading Plato, Socrates and Pericles, and biographies — was he pulling her leg, or writing a song? But we’re told he spoke seriously. He’d lost interest in “murder and sex” novels and liked something solid instead.

He reckoned the old songs of the 20s and 30s were superior to the modern tunes, because the old ones had melody and they have legs — citing a few hit songs in 1952 that were written in 1917.

In 1952, Cliff was unmarried and “very, very, very happy”. He hoped to be in show business for many years yet.

For his Sydney trip, he performed at the Celebrity Club.

Published in: on November 26, 2010 at 5:49 pm  Comments (13)  
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Further News of Ukulele Ike

Every now and then, Cliff Edwards (a.k.a. Ukulele Ike) found himself noticed in the news. Sometimes happily, other times less so. A few examples follow:

Ukulele Ike was in “Gone with the Wind” contrary to earlier reports in the Milwaukee Sentinel (April 3 1940), the famed ukulele player did appear in the classic film — he played the wounded soldier in the Atlanta hospital, talking to Melanie about his life before the war.

Ike does Disneyland — the St Petersburg Times told readers on 11 July 1946 about Cliff Edwards’ 5 year contract with the film company, and on September 1956 it reminded people that, thirty years ago, Cliff  had been as big as Elvis (Presley). In 1956 he was on the comeback trial with the release by Disney of an LP of Ukulele Ike standards.  Cliff had dealings with Disney in the past, when he took the roles of ‘conscience’ as Jimmy Cricket and chief Crow in Dumbo.

A bit too much like Dumbo in the Champagne scene, Cliff was caught under the influence in Burbank, Feb 12 1957, as the Miami News reports. Police found him in charge of a motor vehicle ‘dodging imaginary objects’. He was released on $250 bail.

Published in: on November 20, 2010 at 10:51 am  Leave a Comment  
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Whom to believe? A ukulele controversy?

The Pittsburgh Press in 1927 happily published contradictory views on the ukulele.

1 May — Ukulele Ike (jazzy uke player) said…

“It is a purely modern instrument that appeals to the person who enjoys music, and desires to play some instrument, but who does not care to spend many hours in study.”

5 June — Nawahi (the champion uke player of the world) said (and I paraphrase) …

The ukulele is really a Hawaiian instrument that was never meant for the jazz tunes that you hear played on it in this country.

Nawahi played classical tunes and previously had won a Chicago Championship.

It seems there was a little ukulele tribalism going on (and the uke can suit any tribe).

Published in: on April 9, 2010 at 7:58 pm  Comments (8)  
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Ukulele Ike helps save Buster Keaton from bust up

The Pittsburgh Press of 5 Feb 1931 recounts a sad tale of Ms Kathleen Keys and Buster Keaton.

Ms Keys, a silent movie actor on hard times now the talkies had arrived, told Mr Keaton that she was short on cash. Buster said that, if she lost some weight, she’d do well in the movies again.  She bet Buster $500 that she could take off 20 pounds (that’s about 9 kilograms) in 10 days — [don’t try this at home].

Well, Ms Keys came back in 10 days 6 pounds (2.7 kg) lighter, and Buster says he gave her the money anyway. Ms Keys made a photostat copy of the cheque, it seems, to blackmail Mr Keaton for more money — $4000 more — as it probably would not look good if it were known that the married Keaton was giving money to a woman not his wife (according to Wikipedia, Ms Keys and Mr Keaton had been friendlier than they ought to have been, anyway). Buster said that he’d give her $5000 if she’d just go away (“to China or some place”). When she arrived for the money, instead of $5000, she wanted $20000 — boats to China must have been expensive. Mr Keaton there upon ripped up the $5000 cheque, and Ms Keys ripped up Buster and his MGM dressing room.

Cliff Edwards, friend to Buster Keaton and fellow ukulele player, was the one who called the studio police, and Buster was saved from a worse bust-up. We only have the story from the scratched and bruised Mr Keaton, as Ms Keys laughed the story off, and Mr Keaton refused to press charges.

Published in: on April 5, 2010 at 6:35 am  Leave a Comment  
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Ukuleles in the headlines… and mostly in court

Looking for old ukulele stuff can lead to interesting discoveries. A few examples follow:

UKULELE PLAYER GETS SUSPENDED SENTENCE; Neighbor Tells Court She Called Police at 2 A.M., but the Noise Increase When They Came. The New York Times, 25 October 1927. (Was he hanged?)

Jazz Tunes on Ukulele Lure Canadian Deer to Parked Car. The New York Times, 25 June 1928 (Then what?)

PRACTICE UKULELE IN JAIL, SAYS JUDGE. Hartford Courant, 9 October 1925 (Oh dear, was it that bad?)

Suspect Held to Answer in Ukulele Death. Los Angeles Times, 12 June 1926 (not of the ukulele — case of murder)

JAIL UKULELE THIEF? COURT PREFERS NOT. Los Angeles Times. 13 May 1923 (It’s ok to steal ukuleles!)

WRATH SHOWN BY UKULELE IKE. Los Angeles Times. 2 May 1931 (Divorce court)

MAN BEATEN UP WITH UKULELE. Los Angeles Times, 29 April 1930
Someone was beaten into unconsciousness with a ukulele following an argument with three strangers in a Los Angeles. (Now, that’s some ukulele — made in USSR?)

Ukulele Ike Is Bankrupt. New York Times, 18 March 1933 (Remember that divorce?)

May Breen Sues to Make Union Recognize Uke. Chicago Tribune. 8 November 1931 (Serves them right)

So be careful you ukers, or we’ll see you in court.

Uke Books for Ukeland (1925)

[From Presto, 4 July 1925, page 22 — reproduced courtesy of The International Arcade Museum and the Musical Box Society International]

New York Publishers Send Quantities of Ukulele Folios to Home of “Jumping Flea.”

You’ve heard of the American who tried to sell linen to Madeira, and his pal, a salesman for a Milwaukee brewery, who used to take in Pilsen and Munich, in Germany, on his selling trips. All related to the lad who carried coals to Newcastle.

Well, none of the aforementioned gentry has a thing on Robbins-Engel, Inc., New York, publishers of ukulele books. For, in the year that that firm has been developing and exploiting its famous ukulele catalog, it has sold  more than 50, 000 “uke” folios to no less a place than Hawaii — home and natal place of the ukulele, or “jumping flea,” as they call it on the much publicized beach of Waikiki.

An order for five thousand books, received last week from the Hawaii Sales Co., Ltd., 1009 Nunanu Street, Honolulu, included “Ukulele Ike’s Comic Songs for the Ukulele,” Nos. 1 and 2, “W. C. Handy’s Famous Comic Blues,” and the following famous books by Hank Linet, — “Hank’s One Hour Course in Ukulele Playing,” “Hank’s College Ditties,” “Hank’s Songs of the Sunny South” and “Hank’s Comic Camp Ditties,” all of Robbins-Engels publications.

Hank who … ?

Published in: on January 22, 2010 at 5:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
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