Katherine Blossom Seeley (Guyer?) Curtin Cahen Marquard Fields
(July 16, 1885 to April 17, 1974)
1911My Sweet Suzanna
I'm Getting Kind of Lonesome for My Old Kentucky Pal 
Sambo Go On and Play Your Banjo 
Throw a Kiss to Me, My Minstrel Man 
1912The Marquard Glide [1,3,4]
1921Somebody Knows and Somebody Cares [5,6]
1. w/Thomas J. Gray
1911He's Coming Back
1922Way Down Yonder in New Orleans
Mississippi Choo Choo
1923Down Among the Sleepy Hills of Tennessee
You Said Something When You Said Dixie
1924Don't Mind the Rain 
Bringin' Home The Bacon 
A New Kind of Man With A New Kind of
Love For Me 
1925Everybody Loves My Baby
Yes Sir, That's My Baby
It's Just That Feeling for Home
I Found a Round-A-Bout Way to Heaven
1947For Me and My Gal 
Way Down Yonder in New Orleans 
By the Light of the Silvery Moon 
Fifth Avenue 
Rose Room 
I'm Nobody's Baby 
1952Toddling to Toledo 
Way Down Yonder in New Orleans 
Rose Room 
Love Him 
I Cried for You 
Dixie Dreams 
Somebody Loves Me 
1957Benny Fields and Blossom Seeley - Two A
Day at the Palace 
1. w/The Georgians & Arthur Schutt
Matrix and Date[Columbia 19379] 05/02/1911
[Columbia 79725] 02/14/1921
[Columbia 80571] 09/29/1922
[Columbia 80572] 09/29/1922
[Columbia 80914] 03/28/1923
[Columbia 80922] 04/04/1923
[Columbia 81652] 03/27/1924
[Columbia 81652] 03/27/1924
[Columbia 81771] 05/10/1924
[Columbia 81772] 05/10/1924
[Columbia 140372] 01/29/1925
[Columbia 140373] 01/29/1925
[Columbia W140608] 05/15/1925
[Columbia W140609] 05/15/1925
[Columbia W141862] 03/25/1926
[Columbia W141863] 03/25/1926
[MGM 50S3137] ??/??/1947
[MGM 50S3138] ??/??/1947
[MGM 50S3141] ??/??/1947
[MGM 50S3142] ??/??/1947
[MGM 50S3143] ??/??/1947
[MGM 50S3144] ??/??/1947
[Decca L6840] 07/1952
[Decca L6841] 07/1952
[Decca L6842] 07/1952
[Decca L6843] 07/1952
[Decca L6844] 07/1952
[Decca L6845] 07/1952
[Decca L6846] 07/1952
[Decca L6847] 07/1952
1928Blossom Seely and Bennie Fields with
The Music Boxes
Broadway Through a Keyhole
Company[Warner Vitaphone #548]
[20th Century Pictures]
[20th Century Pictures]
The story of Blossom Seeley is complex and varied, and some parts of it may never be known. While it was made into a Hollywood biopic in 1952, the actual story of her life was much too racy for that time, and even one of her famous friends who had helped facilitate the production of the film felt the treatment was too mild. What this account is going to attempt to do is shed new light on many facets of Seeley's life. It will also present newly unearthed information that will, in many cases, contradict what has been previously accepted about Seeley, and will hopefully become accepted as a more accurate and logical narrative of her life, starting with her introduction as a young ragtime singer. Each of the widely disseminated myths will be addressed and countered with more accurate or likely information.
Two items long questioned are Ms. Seeley's year of birth and her birth name. The first appearance of the name Blossom Seeley located was in late 1901 in San Francisco. She had been known a bit before then as "Little Blossom." One source gives her birth name as Blossom Katherine Seeley, and Katherine was indeed used on one of her marriage certificates. It also claims her mother's name was Bertha. Blossom also asserted later in life that she was born in San Francisco in 1891, and that is the year shown on her Social Security record. Another name she was known to have used was Minnie Guyer. But there are circumstances and information to contradict all of these, and it does make a difference.
Seeley could have easily claimed to have been born in San Francisco, California in 1891 since most of the birth and marriage records were destroyed as a result of the April 18, 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire that devastated the city. However, the 1910 census has a listing for Blossom Seeley, theater actress, in Los Angeles, claiming to have been born in Kentucky, as were her parents, and her age to be 25. Reports in the Los Angeles Times and Herald show a vaudeville production that was in town at that time which she was known to have performed in, and Seeley was no stranger to Los Angeles by 1910. Given the postulation that she was born in 1885 or 1886, as a couple of other sources in print suggest, there is one possible match for her in the 1900 census. It was suggested that her father had lost his legs in an accident, but other circumstances are unclear.
But perhaps the most reliable information was found on an aborted 1903 Michigan marriage record, which shows again the consistent 1885 year, but a birthplace of Connecticut. Since that state was also mentioned several times over the years in conjunction with Blossom, it may well be the best fit. It also listed her father's name as Winton Seeley, which is not found in other records.
Using this information, there is a Katherine Gray, daughter of Rose (Gray) Walsh and stepdaughter of John Walsh who was a teamster. Her birth date was cited in the 1900 census as July 1885, consistent with later reports of both her birth month and true age. From Gray to Guyer is not that far, as Soundex searches on the latter will return the former, and it could have even been an error by the enumerator. Even if she were an active performer at age 13/14, that would have been in the evenings and she might still be listed as "at school." As for Connecticut, there was no good fit found.
Given there are no listings for Guyer that match or come close to an 1885-1892 birth date, and none for Seeley as well, and given that "Minnie" was commonly used as a nickname for short girls in place of their given name (a search on this name compared to others will confirm this), but based on the historical reliability of the Michigan marriage records, this essay will go with a last name of Seeley and a birth in Connecticut. This is not a confirmation, but is an educated speculation based on the knowledge base collected on Seeley, and given her first marriage information and a 1903 newspaper article (cited below), a birth year of 1885 or 1886 is considered most correct.
Blossom started performing at a fairly young age, but more likely her professional debut as Little Blossom was at age 13 or 14. (Note that there was a Baby Blossom based on the East Coast who performed from the mid-1890s to early 1900s, but performance date conflicts prove that this was a different performer. Also, her last name was Ferguson, her father was John Ferguson, for which no matches can be found related to Miss Seeley, and her implied birth year was 1887 as per some advertisements.) It was common for smaller talented teens to be dressed down to look younger, which would amplify the novelty of their talents. Either her mother or a manager had her appearing in variety theaters and some of the Barbary Coast vaudeville houses and burlesques. Some had amateur nights, and after her introduction as a young "coon shouter" she was able to get work. This was a style of loud singing in a partially contrived Negro dialect involving songs about comic dilemmas. Already established in this field were Ben Harney and May Irwin who had visited the West Coast in the mid-1890s on tour with vaudeville troupes.
Blossom was able to gain some early notoriety around 1900 as her reputation grew. An early mention of her appears in the November 9, 1901 edition of The Music Trade Review, as follows: "Blossom Seeley, the charming comedienne, makes a big hit this season with 'Maizy, my Dusky Daisy.'" There is no mention of her as "Little Blossom" nor of her age, which if she were actually ten would certainly have been worthy of noting. It was in 1900 or 1901 that she was heard by showman David J. Grauman. Coming from Indianapolis, he had organized a traveling vaudeville and minstrel troupe in the 1880s. Along with his eventually more famous son Sid Grauman, the family had recently participated in the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. D.J. Grauman soon returned to San Francisco to tend to an ill sister. While trying to launch a venture there he reportedly heard Little Blossom in a bar singing That Teasin' Rag, a myth that should be dispelled since it would not be composed for several more years. However, he still did engage Blossom for his new venture, The Unique Theater, opened around 1902. Many famous entertainers and vaudeville acts would pass through the Unique over the next few years, as well as the Grauman's second theater, the Lyceum.
There is another myth to be dispelled on Seeley which also reinforces the probability of an 1885 or 1886 birth year over that of 1891. Virtually all biographies to date have noted she was married three times. There was another marriage, however, that preceded the other three. As noted, one of the acts she often appeared with was Lester and Curtin. William Lester and Patrick William Curtin were known as acrobatic dancers, perhaps even as tumblers. In the 1900 census Curtin, born in New York around 1874 or 1875, was listed as an actor lodging in Chicago with the rest of his troupe, possibly on their way out west. At some point after a year of working together Curtin became involved with Blossom, and the pair attempted to get married on February 11, 1903 in Detroit, Michigan. She showed her age as 18, which suggests an 1884 birth year, but that may have been a stretch. As noted in the Detroit Free Press of February 12, 1903, this union was not fully sanctioned by their employer during the tour:
BLOSSOM SEELEY CANNOT MARRY
MANAGER IRWIN DAMPENS THE ARDOR OF TWO BURLESQUERS
Woe befell the matrimonial aspirations of Miss Blossom Seeley and William Curtin, members of the current attraction at the Empire Theatre, yesterday, when Manager [Fred] Irwin prevented their marriage on account of the tender age of the actress.
Miss Seeley is a winsome lass of 16 [probably 17], although she was declared to be 18 when they secured the license. When she became a member of the company she was placed under Irwin's guardianship by her [unnamed] mother, who lives in New York. Curtin, aged 22 [also a stretch], who does an acrobatic turn, and Miss Seeley, were known to be very attentive to each other for some time, but no one was aware of their intentions until yesterday. Mr. Irwin threatened Curtin with dismissal if he did not surrender the license. This Curtin refused to do and the manager at once took the young woman under his personal care.
In answer to a telegram to the girl's mother Mr. Irwin, last night, received instructions to positively forbid the marriage.
Another myth perpetuated in the biopic Somebody Loves Me involves the famous aforementioned earthquake. The likelihood that Blossom was on stage performing when the earthquake occurred is likely erroneous since the event started at 5:12 AM, long after most San Francisco audiences and entertainers would have left the stage and the theater. A similar myth is shown in the 1936 film San Francisco. While the night life in some vaudeville houses went well into the morning hours, there was often a lull after 3:00 AM which would pick up again after around 9:00 AM, and performers were not typically on call for 24 hours at a time. We could find no confirmation either way of a 24 hour vaudeville house in San Francisco at that time. She was possibly in town, however, so may have at least experienced the earthquake.
Some stories circulating about Blossom's stage exploits during these years of travel described one particular interesting tidbit. It seems that while singing and strutting she would hold a tiger's head between her thighs, and either she or some of the other performers encouraged men in the audience to toss coins into its open mouth, a great gimmick for increasing revenue. Starting around 1908 there is another name the surfaces often along with Seeley. As noted in the San Francisco Call on August 9, 1908, "Mike Bernard and Blossom Seeley, who recently made a tremendous hit in New York, will present an amusing sketch which enables Bernard to display his extraordinary skill as a ragtime pianist and Miss Seeley to exhibit her excellence as a singing and dancing comedienne."
Another notice in December has Bernard and Seeley on the same bill as George Bloomquest, Franklin Underwood and Frances Slosson playing at the Orpheum. Bernard was perhaps the most famous ragtime pianist in New York at that time, and in spite of quite a bit of Barbary Coast competition was able to manage to gain a good reputation in the West as well. There is a chance that Bernard, who had recently been divorced from his young wife May, became involved with Seeley while on the tour. By late 1908 Blossom had moved to Los Angeles for a while, engaged for a long run at a vaudeville house there.
However, she was back in San Francisco in April of 1909 with Mr. Bernard, and managed to make the news in a dramatic fashion. According to the Oakland Tribune of April 19, 1909, Blossom drank a bottle of Lysol three nights prior in a suicide attempt that followed an argument with the pianist. He drove her to Central Emergency Hospital to have her stomach pumped. She recovered sufficiently and went back on stage at the National Theater in San Francisco. That appears to have been the end of their relationship.
From West to East
By summer things were getting messy for the rising star, who at that time was residing in New Haven, Connecticut, possibly with Cahen. According to an article in the New York Times on June 3, 1911:
Blossom Seeley, an actress, who is known off the stage as Minnie Guyer of this city, today filed suit for divorce against William Patrick Curtin [he often used Patrick William], formerly a New Haven man, but now a resident of Brooklyn. She alleges intemperance and intolerable cruelty. Curtin immediately filed a counter bill against his wife, naming Michael Bernard, a Western man, as co-respondent, and adding desertion to the offense alleged. The couple were married here in 1904, and next year Mrs. Curtin's parents were divorced. Mr. and Mrs. Curtin have a daughter, Marguerite [sic], who is 5 years old. Each of the parents seek the child's custody.
By this time Bernard was likely not a factor for the alienation of affection (a veiled term for adultery often used in the papers), but he was a name that Curtin knew. In the end, Curtin gained custody of Margaret, the only known daughter of Blossom Seeley. Curtin appears again in the 1920 census living with his father and Margaret, but now in the lumber business and no longer an actor. There was one later ignominious mention of him in the New York Times on June 2, 1922 involving his arrest for public intoxication (during prohibition, no less) for which he was sent to prison for three days. It further notes that Curtin was wounded several times in the war, and that he was the first husband of actress Blossom Seeley.
As it turns out, the man in the wings was Joe Cahen who had helped guide her success. They married on October 1, 1911, in Jersey City, New Jersey, but she kept her stage name in public, known as Mrs. Kane only by their closest friends. However, there was discomfort from the start of this union, and it was not destined to last for long. In March of 1912, Blossom was elevated to star status nearly matching that of three other ladies of the New York stage, Nora Bayes, Sophie Tucker and Fannie Brice, that latter with whom she became a close friend. She appeared on stage in the mixed show A Night with the Pierrots and The Whirl of Society playing at the Schubert Brother's Winter Garden Theater. Another cast member was also on his way to fame, although not yet a star, a young Al Jolson, who brought notice with his rendition of My Sumurun Girl performed with Stella Mayhew. Other songs introduced in this show included Row, Row, Row and Waiting for the Robert E. Lee, both of which have enjoyed a century of popularity since their debut.
Success, Controversy and the Rube
The situation escalated in early November when Rube and Blossom escaped to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Cahen found out where they had gone and pursued them. The story of what happened appeared in the New York Times of November 9:
Atlantic City, NJ Nov. 8 - Accompanied by two New York detectives, Joseph Kane bounced into the Hotel Dunlop here early this morning and began to make things unpleasant in the very same way which his wife, Blossom Seeley, had found so objectionable when she was playing at Hammerstein's in New York. On that occasion she appealed to Magistrate O'Connor to have Kane put under bonds to keep the peace because, she said, he was insanely and preposterously jealous of Mr. Marquard - Rube Marquard, the southpaw pitcher of the Giants - whom she finally decided to have as her manager instead of Mr. Kane.
It was 2 o'clock this morning when Kane finally pounded on one of the doors in the hotel and broke his way in, but by that time the two occupants had gone out walking. They left at a brisk athletic pace by way of the fire escape, and now Kane is looking for the wonderful Rube with a warrant charging him, for one thing, with having alienated his Blossom's affections.
In December, as things started to cool down with Cahen, and according to the New York Times of December 10, 1912, Rube even got the confidence to ask his team manager, John McGraw, for a significant salary boost to an unheard of $10,000. McGraw demurred, asking what Rube had done to deserve such a raise, to which Rube pulled out two good points. He had helped the Giants to the pennant in 1912 with his pitching prowess, even winning two of the World Series games, and that he would be just fine quitting the team since he and Blossom were booked for 22 weeks through at least June 1st. That drama continued through the off season, but Rube did report for Spring Training in spite of his continued threats. In the meantime, Cahen successfully filed for and received a divorce from Blossom, finalized on January 15, 1913, and signed by "Supreme Court Justice Hendrick" according to the Times, also noting that it was part of a record session for husbands who had filed for divorces. Yet that story was not quite over yet.
Blossom and Rube continued their successful tour into the spring. Once it was legal to do so, they applied for a marriage license in San Francisco. According to a report from San Francisco on March 11, "Rube Marquard, the New York pitcher, and Miss Blossom Seeley, who have been playing an engagement in vaudeville at a local theater, today took out a marriage license. It is rumoured that this will be Marquard's final week in vaudeville, and that he will leave in a few days for Marlin to join the other New York players. They will be married here tomorrow." Concerning his other pending situation, it continued, "Marquard has refused to make any definite assertion about his intention of joining the Giants, although he was quoted during the Winter months as making many pointed remarks about Manager McGraw and threats to retire from the game. During the last few days he has repudiated most of these interviews, but he is evidently waiting to learn what sort of a welcome is in store for him at Marlin before he decides to report. Reports from the New York training camp are the Rube will start for there early next week." This, of course, would mean that Blossom would have to find a new act to continue her career. In a report on the March 11 nuptials in San Francisco, it was said that:
The marriage ceremony was performed at 4 o'clock in the afternoon in the parsonage of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church, with only theatrical friends in attendance, but with a host of newspaper men and photographers waiting outside. In the marriage license as the big southpaw gave his name as Richard De Marquis [sic], twenty three years of age [a bit off], and his bride as [Blossom] Katherine Kane, twenty two [quite a bit off]. 'Rube' was very nervous. 'He was so anxious to get her,' said the Rev. H.S. Felix, who performed the ceremony, 'that he answered all my questions before I finished them.'
"Rube" Marquard, pitcher of the Giants, was all smiles yesterday afternoon when he faced the Boston "Braves" in the afternoon game at the Polo Grounds. The reason therefor [sic] was disclosed in the third inning when Marquard went to bat for the first time.
As "Rube" advanced to the plate the Seventh Regiment band struck up "Here Comes My Daddy New," and the big pitcher blushed and grinned. At their home on Riverside drive "Rube" and Mrs. Marquard, who was Blossom Seeley, welcomed a youngster weighing eight pounds and whose repertoire consists of a series of shrill "bawls."
Blossom would retake the stage not long after that, as Rube's married sister Hattie Kruse appears to have taken over much of the parenting of the boy in Cleveland, Ohio, while his parents each pursued their own careers. She did manage to get some stage work during the 1913 to 1914 season, rejoining her husband with a revision their previous year's presentation for another tour. Their final encounter with Cahen happened during that tour when they again stopped at the Dunlop in Atlantic City, as was reported by the New York Times on January 15, 1914.
Former Husband of Blossom Seeley Has Old Warrant Served
Atlantic City, NJ, Jan 14: "Rube" Marquard, Pitcher for the New York Giants, and his wife, formerly Blossom Seeley were arrested here last night on a warrant obtained about a year ago by the former husband of Mrs. Marquard. At the time, Marquard was playing with Miss Seeley in a baseball sketch, and both were stopping at the Hotel Dunlop. The former husband, Joseph Cahen, alleged that he had found Marquard in Mrs. Cahen's room late at night. An attempt was made to serve a warrant upon them immediately afterward, but they made their escape through a window and went to New York.
The warrant has been lying here ever since, and Cahen, who knew that his former wife and her husband were playing at the Savoy Theater this week, wired Magistrate Jagmetty, who had issued the warrant a year ago, to have it served.
Mr. and Mrs. Marquard were held under $500 bail for their appearance at the next term of court, which will be held this month. As Miss Seeley was divorced by Cahen and has since been legally married to Marquard, the action of Cahen in causing the old warrant to be served caused a good deal of surprise.
The end result of this action was that Marquard agreed to a $4,000 payment to Cahen to make the situation go away, which it finally did once they settled. Their next argument was with their booking agent, Louis Wesley, who may have been over his head while representing the couple. According a Times article of February 7, 1914, the couple "brought suit in the City Court yesterday against Louis Wesley, a theatrical manager, to recover $400, the amount of a check given to them by Wesley for salary and which was returned from the bank marked 'N.G.'" Wesley defended his position by referring back to the January arrest, stating that the sum "had been retained by him to secure himself against the forfeiture of a bail bond he had signed which, he said, had not yet been canceled." The disposition and outcome of the case was unclear.
During 1914, Blossom was sometimes on the stage and sometimes touring with Marquard and the Giants as the played. Both of them returned to San Francisco briefly when Blossom's mother died of "heart disease" on the 14th of September. It was the end of a lean year for Marquard as well, as the Giants had not done particularly well, and some of the sport newspapers of that time were giving him, and peripherally his vaudeville career, some of the blame. Still, they went back on the road for the winter of 1914 to 1915, even though Rube was much less of a draw at that time.
From there she went immediately to a Charles Dillingham production, Stop! Look! Listen!, which between Christmas Day and late March ran for 105 performances. By the middle of 1916 Blossom was back in vaudeville, but largely on her own for now. Reports vary on just when, but as early as the summer of 1916 Blossom and Rube separated, connecting on only occasion over the next couple of years, until their relationship more or less evaporated in 1918. In the summer of 1916 she introduced the first of what would become a string of hits from composers Richard Whiting and Raymond Egan, Mammy's Little Coal Black Rose. The pair would go on to write many popular songs, including some for Al Jolson.
Blossom slowly grew her reputation as a saucy vaudeville singer in her own production who sizzled on the stage. Among those she traveled with was cornetist Ray Lopez. According to the New York Clipper of August 22, 1917, her troupe was "a distinct combination comprising class, originality and the highest extreme in musical and vocal ability. Not a jazz band, but a Group of Talented Artists. Every one a Star." By 1918 or 1919 Seeley was able to command around $1,500 a week for herself, similar to the amount that Nora Bayes and Fannie Brice were getting. In July of 1919 she was again a featured star, this time in the Greenwich Village Follies, a small but significant intimate off-Broadway affair that was produced by John Murray Anderson. For the next year she circulated largely through New York and Chicago, with notices of her appearances frequently found in the newspapers for both cities.
By 1920 Blossom may have tired of the drag on her reputation being married to Marquard, who had evidently not been in the picture for a while and whose career was going the opposite direction of Blossom's. According to the New York Times of April 20 in a story filed from Chicago, Illinois, "Mrs. Blossom C. Marquard, known in vaudeville as Blossom Seeley, today filed suit for divorce from Richard (Rube) Marquard, pitcher for the Brooklyn Baseball Club. She charged desertion since 1918." The news from Chicago later that year on August 16 read: "Alleging her husband, Richard ('Rube') Marquard, Brooklyn baseball pitcher, deserted her in 1918, Blossom Seeley, vaudeville headliner, today asked a divorce. The presiding Judge indicated he would sign the decree within a few days." Blossom was given custody of Richard, Jr., but ultimately he continued to live in Ohio with Rube's sister Hattie. While they did divorce, the pair did start corresponding again, and letters spanning a period of fifty years were later discovered, shedding light on a long post-divorce friendship that lasted until her death.
The Right Man and True Stardom
BLOSSOM SEELEY WEDS BENNY FIELDS
St. Paul., Minn., March 9, - Blossom Seeley, vaudeville actress, today announced her marriage to Benjamin E. Geisenfeld of Milwaukee, her dancing partner, known on the stage as Benny Fields. A civil ceremony was performed in Chicago three weeks ago and the religious ceremony was held here today. Miss Seeley formerly was the wife of Rube Marquard, major league pitcher.
Benjamin Geisenfeld, born in 1894 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was around nine years younger than Blossom. Originally a cornetists, then singer, by the mid-1910s he had adopted the stage name of Bennie Fields (later as Benny) and with his unique talent was getting some traction working in Chicago dives. One of these was entrepreneur Al Tierney's Café on 22nd street, and perhaps Tierney's Grand Auto Inn at 338 East 35th Street. Both were located in predominantly black neighborhoods, but catered to a mixed clientele. Graduating from there, Fields managed to get on the Orpheum circuit by 1917. According to his draft card that same year, Benny had bad eyes, making him ineligible for service, and he too was already married, as was Blossom at that time. His style was, simply put, crooning. In fact, in later years, Bing Crosby paid tribute to Benny Fields as the original crooner who actually influenced the style of those who followed, including himself and Frank Sinatra. His stage presence, however, was more easygoing than it was commanding, which could be viewed as a glass ceiling in vaudeville.
Starting in 1921 Blossom recorded more sides for Columbia records - just one the first year, but a total of 14 by 1926. Her accompanist at that time was usually the popular song writer Harry Stover. She was one of the first female vocalists to record the jazz standard Way Down Yonder in New Orleans in 1922, the year it was first featured in the show Spice of 1922. The cover featured one of Seeley's sexiest poses to date, holding up a large feather fan behind her head. Another number she performed to great satisfaction at that time, albeit not on record, was Chicago (That Toddlin' Town), which also featured her on a cover shot. While Seeley and Fields, and more often they were becoming billed as Fields and Seeley, continued to grow in popularity, it was Blossom who was still doing the records. In 1924 she recorded four sides with The Georgians, considered to be one of the first true jazz orchestras. Their trumpeter, Frank Guarente, was considered the star attraction, but their pianist, novelty composer Arthur Schutt, also deserves special mention for his challenging arrangements, some of the best in early jazz recordings. Seeley demonstrated some of her smoothest blues and jazz work on these four sides.
Vaudeville lived to a ripe old age, being a continuous form of entertainment for around a century. The year 1927 was regarded as the 100th anniversary of American vaudeville. It was only fitting that the top stars of vaudeville celebrate the event at what was considered the top vaudeville theater at that time, The Palace at 1564 Broadway. According to the New York Times of March 15, 1927, Blossom Seeley and Benny Fields (in that order) were the headliners for the celebration. Playing the Palace was considered to be the pinnacle of success for most performers (Al Jolson never did officially play the Palace), but headlining such a show was perhaps the only way to top that experience. Yet at that very moment there were plans being made in California that would both preserve many vaudeville acts for posterity, yet at the same time ensure its demise.
Blossom and Benny made one of these Vitaphones of part of their act in May 1927 on a simple stage with two concert grand pianos played by "The Music Boxes," pianists Charles Bourne and Phil Ellis. Benny does his best to keep up on the jazzy opening, Hello Bluebird, on which Blossom demonstrates her strutting and finger snapping along with some fine jazz licks. They aptly demonstrate their subtle call and response duets on The Call of the South, which clearly shows Benny's smooth backing vocals. He pulls out the guitar for their finale, In a Little Spanish Town, which is considerably altered from a waltz into a jazzy dance tune. Then they bow and exit. Vitaphone #548, Blossom Seeley and Bennie Fields with The Music Boxes was eventually released in 1928 [available from Warner Home Video on a Vitaphone bonus disc with The Jazz Singer DVD] and was the only known performance they did for that studio.
Blossom had a starring role again on Broadway in the Greenwich Village Follies of 1928, which ran from April through July for a respectable 128 performances. For the remainder of the year, she and Benny continued on the circuit. However, bookings were starting to diminish as more theaters throughout the country converted to sound, over 1800 of them by the end of 1928. Vaudeville in general saw smaller audiences in 1929, and when the Great Depression started to take hold in 1930, even the Palace Theater was offering more shows for less money in order to attract any kind of audience. Most of the vaudeville acts, such as Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and even Eddie Cantor, were moving towards film and away from the stage. Florenz Ziegfeld lost much of his considerable fortune in the 1929 crash on Wall Street, and his celebrated Follies was also in steep decline.
By 1933, Seeley and Fields decided to pursue disparate careers while remaining married. Benny's crooning style was well suited for radio, and he soon appeared several times on The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air and other New York based radio shows. That same year Blossom made three films that were well suited to her dynamic style, at least two of them specifically about Broadway and vaudeville. She and Benny appeared as themselves in a film hosted by Ed Sullivan titled Mr. Broadway. Following these films she faded into the background and supported Benny's continuing success.
In 1941 Benny was hired to record four Soundies, short films which were essentially the parents of today's music videos installed in Soundie jukeboxes around the country. Two of them were songs from The Big Broadcast of 1937. After that, little was heard from Fields and Seeley for the next several years. Then in 1944, Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC), a small production company, crafted the film Minstrel Man around Benny's singular talent. While his acting did not receive many kudos, his singing performances did in the surprise hit. At least one critic described Benny as "a talent, voice, and personality the screen's been too long without." Benny's career was revived for a time on radio, and PRC planned a follow up that would be the biographical story of Blossom and Benny, a project that eventually was shelved. The couple did push their own revival a bit, landing an album with MGM records in 1947. It featured songs dating back to the ragtime era, including a lovely duet of For Me and My Gal and By the Light of the Silvery Moon. But the clear highlight was Benny's solo rendition of The Lullaby of Broadway. For the most part, post-war entertainment in the late 1940s was struggling to find a center, and no particular genre stood out. The 1947 recordings were just a bit premature for the nostalgic revival that would start in 1950 on records, and was already underway in films.
So it was that by 1951 Blossom and Benny were struggling to survive in retirement. George and Gracie visited them in New York and found their current situation to be deplorable. He was already a major radio and film star who had made the transition to television with Gracie, and had some pull. So at the insistence of Burns, and with his support, he sold Paramount Pictures on the idea of a Seeley and Fields biopic. Since the two Al Jolson biopics had done well, and MGM was cleaning up with nostalgic pictures by this time, it was not a hard sell. But as with many such films, Somebody Loves Me was a fictionalized version of their history. In most cases, such as with the Jerome Kern biopic Till the Clouds Roll By, many characters were melded into one and non-existent dilemmas were created to generate more of a dramatic story line. However, in the case of Somebody Loves Me, the real story was, for the most part, a little too saucy for audiences of that time. The end result was a picture starring Betty Hutton as Seeley and Ralph Meeker as Fields that had little resemblance to their actual life stories. In fact, Seeley was depicted as comparatively angelic and virginal, so much that Burns actually protested the treatment put on screen. Seeley, however, did not seem to mind. She responded to George's protests by noting that there was nothing she could do in advance about the future, but through such a portrayal she could at least fix her past. Blossom and Benny were also engaged by Decca Records to record eight tracks used in the film with their own voices, as Hutton's was of a somewhat different flavor.
It was enough to get them booked on the iconic Ed Sullivan Show, which had one of the largest audiences in the country. They also started making live and recorded radio appearances again. Sullivan asked them back on three more occasions in 1957 and 1958. Benny recorded one more album recalling the days of vaudeville and minstrelsy. Benny Fields and His Minstrel Men was an all-star affair with Burns and Jack Benny, and younger stars Phil Silvers and Milton Berle. His crooning was clearly a highlight of this record, the first released on the short lived Colpix label, a subsidiary of Columbia Pictures.
In his obituary there were quotes from Fields concerning his long life with Blossom. Describing the success of their marriage, Benny put it this way: "If two married people start getting jealous of each other's career, they don't have a marriage. They've just got a financial arrangement." Offering a rule for married people, Benny said, "One thing we always avoid is the word 'always,' - you know, 'you're always late,' or 'you're always griping' or 'you're always at the ball game.'" Fields added, "That's about the only rule for successful marriage I can think of offhand, except to pick a girl like Blossom."
Blossom was initially devastated at having lost the true love of her life after 38 years, but was able to recover sufficiently so that by November she made a solo appearance on Sullivan in honor of her late husband. She proved to be popular enough with her revival of days gone by, and her voice and performances still captivated audiences. More appearances on Sullivan and other variety shows continued into the mid-1960s, but her audiences were diminishing in light of the social and musical changes of that era, and her star finally faded for good.
Little is known of her last few years except for her correspondence with Marquard, which revealed a touching and lasting friendship. Blossom Seeley took her final bow in April 1974 at age 88, then, as they say in vaudeville at the end of a run, she got her pictures back, making room for the next act. America lost a true treasure, but she did leave a very real legacy behind of a life in ragtime and beyond, proving the durability of the genre and its stars.
Katharine Q. Seelye has covered national news and politics for The New York Times since 1994. She has served since 2012 as the paper’s New England bureau chief, based in Boston.
While she grew up outside of Philadelphia, she loves living in New England — her mother’s family is from Belfast, Me. She has covered some of the region’s defining events, including the opioid epidemic, the Whitey Bulger trial, the Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath and, of course, the record snowfall in the winter of 2015, when she managed to quote James Joyce. She hopes that on her watch, the mystery of the 1990 heist of valuable art works from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum — the world’s biggest art theft — will be solved.
Before moving to Boston, Ms. Seelye worked in the Washington bureau for 12 years and covered multiple beats, from Congress to the White House, and she slogged along “on the bus” on six presidential campaigns. She pioneered The Times’s online coverage of politics, and in 2007 became the paper’s first online political writer.
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