John Dooley was a comedic acrobat who starred on the B.F. Keith vaudeville circuit in the 1900’s and 1910s. Amongst other performances, he was part of Tydeman & Dooley.
Journalist Dan McConnell, who had grown up in the same neighborhood and had worked as a publicist for the Keith circuit in the 1910s wrote about the Dooleys in the late 1930s, as did Gordon Mackay, while working for the Courier. North Camden barber Pat Iarossi, who had a shop for many years at North Third Street told the following to Mackay in early 1938:
I used to cut Ann Pennington‘s hair when she was a child,” Pat recalled. “And the Dooleys always made my shop their headquarters. Billy Dooley worked for me. The kids, six (five. –Ed.) of them, trained in a patch we called the ‘cow lot’. Rae and Mae were the two girls, while Johnny was the big shot of the boys.
They used to turn cartwheels right out in the lot there and come into my shop to do a little vocal rehearsing. Ann Pennington was always dancing, you couldn’t keep her feet still. I remember one day Ann, Johnny Dooley and a girl named Moore went over to Lubin’s in Philadelphia, trying to break into the movies.
Lubin wouldn’t handle them and they all came crying into my shop.Dan McConnell, 1938
In March of 2007 an e-mail came to this website from John Vaughan, grandson of Mae Dooley and great-nephew of the Ray Dooley and the Dooley brothers. John wrote at length about the his family’s show-business legacy.
The Dooley’s came to America in the late 1800’s from Glasgow, Scotland and settled in Philly. The boys were named Johnny, Billy, and Gordon. The girls were named Ray and Mae. Their father, (my great grandfather) was named Robert Rogers Dooley, he was a famous Irish circus clown, and he married Mary Dool, from Glasgow, who was nicked named Mumsie.
The five kids all had an act, all did comedy, and the girl Mae, also sang. The went out on the road and toured a lot. Once, when they were all older, they played in Portsmouth, Virginia. Mae fell in love with a man she met there. They decided to get married, Mae dropped out of show business, the two of them moved back to Philly, and they had a baby boy in May of 1917. They named the child William Jonathan Dooley Vaughan. That child would grow up and become my father. That is my connection to the Dooley family.
The boys continued as a group and were headliners in their day doing, mainly, slap stick comedy. They stared in many comedy plays plus The Ziegfield Follies, George White Scandals and The Earl Carroll Vanities. We are talking early 1900’s till after WWI into the early 1920’s.
The girl, Ray (also spelled Rae sometimes), split off on her own and became a very big star, also on Broadway as an actress and a comedienne. She performed in many musicals and also in the Follies and Vaudeville.
Her greatest fame came when she did a “kid act” together with W.C. Fields in The Ziegfield Follies in 1920 & 1921. It was based on this act that W.C. Fields got his reputation as a “kid hater.” The actress, Fanny Brice, who also worked with Ray and W.C., later stole the act for herself and called it Baby Snooks. Among other stars of the day, Ray Dooley later went on and performed together with Bob Hope (then called by his real name, Lester Hope) in the smash hit Broadway musical “The Sidewalks Of New York” in 1928.
Ray married a man named Eddie Dowling in 1931 (I think that was the year). He was famous in the business…a song and dance man, actor. director, producer, song writer (among other hits, he wrote “On The Side Walks Of New York”), and Pulitzer Prize Winner. He also introduced Tennessee Williams to Broadway in The Glass Menagerie.
My father’s mother, Mae Dooley Vaughan died in 1947 in Philly. My father, who died in 1993, never knew how old his parents were for some strange reason! Ray died in 1984 in East Hampton, New York, she was 88 [Newspapers say 93. –ed.]. The three boys all married show girls and all died young. Johnny died in 1928, he was 41, Billy (William) died in 1921, he was 39, and Gordon died in 1930, he was 31. Gordon Dooley was the only one of the five kids who was born in America, in the year 1899. The others were all born in Glasgow.John Vaughan, March 2007
Their father, Robert Rogers Dooley, also died young, of apoplexy just after son Gordon Dooley’s marriage in 1922. That same year, Johnny Dooley was featured in the movie When Knighthood Was in Flower. Starring Marion Davies, it was the leading movie at the box-office of the 1922-1923 movie season. At at the time it was produced it was the most expensive movie ever made with cost an estimated at $1.8 million. The film was the pet project of the famous media magnate William Randolph Hearst.
Interestingly enough, the Dooley family is still involved in show business. John Vaughan, who has been living in Berlin, Germany for many years, is a singer, songwriter, and composer.