Here’s an article by fellow author, Dick Moomey, author of, among other titles, The Reluctant Witness and The Boston Connection. It will warm both your literary and your patriotic hearts (we do have more than one of those, you know.)
A YANKEE DOODLE DANDY
When America was much younger and vaudeville and burlesque were the rage, an entrepreneur by the name of Frederick Freeman Proctor was king of the vaudeville theaters all across the north eastern part of the USA. His theaters were elaborate, ornate and attracted hordes of those who wanted to have a great time.
One of his biggest stars was George M. Cohan, song and dance man at the top of his game. Being born on the fourth of July, Cohan somehow became the Yankee Doodle Dandy, which he sang hundreds of times.
Proctor had a huge estate in the small, sleepy town of Central Valley, located in the southern section of Orange County in New York State, next door to West Point, the military academy. Proctor loved the area, which was beautiful by any measure and encouraged George to build a home there to go to between gigs. George agreed and built a rather modest home which became a bit of a local talking point.
Another huge star in the stable of stars guided by Proctor was Gypsy Rose Lee, the top shelf stripper who never showed much but made the male audience believe she did. Cohan, who often appeared with Gypsy on the same bill, told her about his new home and Proctor added his two cents. Gypsy couldn’t resist the two men who raved about the Valley and decided she would build a home there and true to her nature, she had the builders include a small stage with seats where she could practice her routines to the select few who she invited.
Thus, the greatest vaudeville theater owner and two of his most glowing stars became dignitaries and until the death of vaudeville they remained as residents. The lore of these three huge talents inhabiting homes in Central Valley still emerges when the wine flows and the old timers tell tall tales, which become taller with each passing year.
The Proctor Empire slowly disappeared and only two theaters remain. One, in poor condition, exists in Troy, NY and local citizens hope to renovate it. The other, is the totally remodeled 2600 seat, gorgeous theater in Schenectady, NY. It is the place to go for great musicals, drama and the most amazing movie theater imaginable.
Gypsy’s house still stands and I’m sure the ghosts of strippers have a great time using the stage. Cohan’s home burned down in the early 60″s and the huge estate of Proctor is now a part of West Point, except for the gate house which is occupied by the Historical Society of the no longer sleepy village.
At Proctor’s theater, I’m sure, late at night, after the actors and crew have left and the audiences are back home, one can hear the haunting voice of George M. Cohan singing.
I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, born on the Fourth of July!
Posted by Dick Moomey
author of “The Reluctant Witness”