Date: Sun, 28 Jun 1998 03:07:21 EDT
From: "Barry A. Popik"
Subject: Billy B. Van, "skiddoo" and "patsy"

Billy B. Van is a wonderful find!
A very fragile, voluminous clipping file in the Lincoln Center Performing
Arts Library (closing for renovations July 18) was available and contained the
following items.
The origin of Van's stage name is in the GREEN BOOK, August 1909, "Good
Cheer as a Remedy" by Billy B. Van, pp. 443-448 (pg. 448):

That reminds me of the quick manner in which I lost my name, years ago,
in Philadelphia.
It was in 1879. J. C. Stewart--"Fatty" Stewart--was putting on a
performance of "Pinafore," and wanted some boys. I responded. I was a little
kiddie then, and when Stewart asked me my name, after engaging me, I answered
"William Webster Vandegrift."
"Not on the program," he replied with a smile. "You'll be Willie Van in
this show."
So I made my first appearance as Willie Van, and was paid the princely
salary of five dollars every Saturday night.
A little later the "Willie" became changed into "Billy," and a few years
later, because my mail became mixed with the mail of the other Billy Van (a
minstrel--ed.), I inserted "B." in my name. I have remained Billy B. Van ever
since, and I sometimes forget that it is not my real name.

A useful article about Van's humor in the "Pittsburg Leader, Dec. 29,
1911" (the clipping file doesn't always provide the source or date or page
number or column) is this:

So Declares Billy B. Van, the Popular Comedian
(...) "The actor never calls jokes by their proper names, referring to
them as 'gags' or 'wheezes.' A joke intended for a particularly bright and
intelligent audience is styled a 'flip gag.' The actor is quick to form an
estimate of a crowd, and if he is an intelligent chap he knows to a nicety the
kind of jokes he can 'put across,' to use the idiom of the footlights. Negro
humor, and this includes most of the patter heard in minstrelsy, is known to
the profession as 'gumbo.' Broad jokes are referred to under the general term
'bosky.' I don't know who originated these terms, but they were in use when I
first entered the business many years ago."

A nicely preserved theatrical advertisement was this:

Season 1904-1905
Sullivan, Harris & Woods offer Billy B. Van in a new novel musical comedy
entitled "Patsy Bolivar."
(Below Van's photo--ed.) "The Original Patsy."

I don't know if the play was titled PATSY BOLIVAR--that's the character's
name in several plays. THE ERRAND BOY by George Totten Smith contained
possibly both a "Patsy" character and the word "skiddoo." Van's "Patsy"
character was also in PATSY IN POLITICS and BOLIVAR'S BUSY DAY.
The Indiana Morning Star, 31 March 1906:

_The Man Who Invented a Word_
_Which Is Known From Coast to Coast_
It is not every man who gets to invent a word which is adopted by the
people generally just as the right word for the right place. This honor,
however, if it be an honor to be a dealer in slang, has been won by Billy B.
Van, a comedian who will return to the Park next week in "The Errand Boy,"
when he will have a brand new song written from him by Indianapolis writers,
ased on the words "skiddoo." The word went the ropund of the stage first
after Billy Van launched it....
(Ran out of time to finish copying, to be continued--ed.)

Van had a large estate in George's Mills, New Hampshire, where he
operated a farm, a resort, a casino, and a movie studio. The town's famous
little red schoolhouse was the scene of the real Mary of "Mary had a little
lamb" fame. Part of the town voted in 1912 to rename itself as "Van Harbor."
It was said that Van never stopped moving on the stage. His face and
body made rubbery contortions. If the career of this comic who popularized
"skiddoo" and "patsy" is ever to be condensed into a Broadway play, there is
one person who is EXACTLY like him.
Jim Carrey!