Al Reeves

This one caught my eye because of the copper banjo and tambourine on top. And even though it’s not all that exciting of a monument, Al Reeves was a pretty interesting character.

Al Reeves’ (1864-1940) largely self-appointed title was “The King of the Burlesque.” He also referred to himself as “The World’s Pal” and “The World’s Greatest Banjoist and Comedian,” so maybe take that whole “King of Burlesque” title with a grain of salt.

I couldn’t find out too much about Reeves’ upbringing or family. One of the things he is best known for is encouraging Al Jolsen to pursue a career in vaudeville. At the turn of the century, he was quite well known for having a huge burlesque company–his “Big Beauty Show” was tremendously popular and toured to sold-out houses for over 20 years. So maybe he was “The King of the Burlesque,” what the hell do I know?

Here are a couple of clippings from that time–including one with a rare photo of Al:

For a famous entertainer who didn’t die until 1940, it’s odd how few photos I could find of him online. I did, however, find an ancient cylinder recording of him playing his banjo, which is pretty cool. You can hear his signature catch-phrase at the end of the performance: “Give me credit, boys!”

It sounds like Al was a real character. From Second Nights: People and Ideas of the Theatre To-day, by Arthur Brown Ruhl:

“One catches a glimpses of him, now and then, bowling down Broadway in his pale-green limousine, his name on a brass plate on each door…and in the back seat Mr. Reeves, himself a ruddy orchid, smoking a fat cigar.”

Onstage, his gimmick was to abuse the members of his company, often threatening to throw them out or not pay them. To quote Second Nights again:

“I have seen Mr. Reeves grab one of his singers by the throat and give a lifelike imitation of choking her until she gurgled, ‘Hey, let up! I’ve got a sore throat.'”

On a side note, there are two symbols, one on either side of his mausoleum: The first is for the Shriners, and the second is marked “B.P.O.E. No. 22” with an Elks head. Obviously, that is the Elks Club symbol (“Benevolent Protective Order of Elks”)–but I had to look up the No. 22. Turns out that was Lodge #22, which was located at 144 South Oxford St. here in Brooklyn–near to what is now Atlantic Center. Looks like it’s home to a nursing home now–but it is listed as a notable historic building in the AIA’s guide to New York. Here’s a picture from Google Maps:
144-south-oxford

3 thoughts on “Al Reeves”

  1. My great aunt was Al’s wife, I have cuff links that belonged to him, some other misc jewelry, a few letters, some chinese vases and a great picture.

    Alas no Banjo

    I’ll post the picture if somebody has an idea how to get it on here

  2. Really great info posted here! I have discovered that Al was either remarried or had kept my great great aunt as a mistress, and have recently discovered her naturalization papers as Helen Reeves,. We know that she was living with him before he passed away and that she stayed in one of his many properties in NY, we also have letters from Al and some of his custom made furniture with his initials are at my uncles house to this day, but no banjo either 🙁

    Would love to know more as my Great great aunt Helen passed away when I was very young!

    Thanks for posting

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