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Rusty Williams Papers, circa 1910-1950

MS 547

Collection Summary

Creator: Williams, Rusty
Collection Name: Rusty Williams Papers,
Inclusive Dates: circa 1910-1950
Physical Description:1 linear foot
Abstract:Photographs and printed material, 1920s-1950s (bulk 1920’s)The bulk of the material is comprised of two types of materials: photographs of Rusty Williams and the people he worked with in Vaudeville, and handstitched scripts that are either typewritten or handwritten. The collection also contains a small number of newspaper clippings, handbills and theater programs.
Collection Number:MS 547
Language: Materials are in English.
Repository: University of Arizona Libraries, Special Collections
University of Arizona
PO Box 210055
Tucson, AZ 85721-0055
Phone: 520-621-6423
Fax: 520-621-9733

Biographical Note

Rusty Williams was a comedian who worked in the vaudeville circuit for 38 years, from the 1910’s to 1950. In that time, he worked in tent shows, traveling shows and on some of the major vaudeville stages of his day, doing comedy routines, singing and performing both in whiteface and blackface and as a clown.

He was born on February 1, 1897 in Durham N.C. His father was a shipping clerk and then a farmer. As a child, Rusty developed a local reputation for being a rather good singer. One day when Rusty was in his teens, a musical quartet from Texas called The Great Western Quartet came through town. They happened to be looking for a new tenor to join their act, and Rusty was recruited and joined the troupe. The quartet played every major US city, Canada, Cuba and Mexico. Rusty enjoyed it and stuck with it for over two years.

Once his stint with the Great Western Quartet ended, Williams went on do comedy in a variety show directed by a man named Joe Cunard. Other companies he worked with include: Coburn’s Minstrel show, Jethro Almond’s tent show, Walt Kellums’ Change of Pace Revue, and William Todd’s tent show, whose slogan was "better than a circus" He stayed with Todd for a total of 16 summer seasons, splitting his time between working for Todd and managing his own travelling show in which Williams and a fellow named George A. Hunter formed a double blackface act, with Hunter as the straight man. This was a successful time for Williams, and he played a number of major US theaters, including those in New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Chicago.

Williams’ first self produced show, in the latter 1910’s was "Rusty’s Merry Go Round Revue," featuring him as the star attraction. Included in the show were a cadre of chorus girls and vaudeville acts, nearly twenty people altogether. His booking agent was a man named Joe Speigelberg, who operated a performance circuit up and down the Eastern seaboard.

Williams married Dorothy Hurrey in Miami, and had two daughters with her. Their names were Wilma and Billie. They were good tap dancers and they could sing. For many years, they held the world record for number of schools attended, a total of 267 altogether. While one may wonder how they were able to learn anything at all, they were both avid readers, and usually were ahead of their classmates when it came to their studies. An article in the Rusty Williams papers details their experiences hopping from school to school.

In the thirties, after Todd had died, Williams struck out on his own full time. He formed his own tent show, working winter and summer. He hauled his tents from place to place, performing for the farmers in lots of small towns. His wife and family helped him out.

Towards the end of his career in vaudeville, when his two daughters were older, Mrs. Williams would play the piano, and it would become a family affair with Rusty clowning on stage in blackface, his girls tap dancing between reels of old movies, and Mrs. Williams playing piano for them all. He held on until 1950 when he became a deputy sheriff. Movie houses, drive in movie theaters, and tv all contributed to the decline of vaudeville. By the 50s, it was all over.

Scope and Content Note

Photographs and printed material, 1920s-1950s (bulk 1920’s)The bulk of the material is comprised of two types of materials: photographs of Rusty Williams and the people he worked with in Vaudeville, and handstitched scripts that are either typewritten or handwritten. The collection also contains a small number of newspaper clippings, handbills and theater programs.


This collection is organized into three series
Series I:Scripts
Series II:Photographs
Series III:Printed Materials





It is the responsibility of the user to obtain permission to publish from the owner of the copyright (the institution, the creator of the record, the author or his/her transferees, heirs, legates, or literary executors). The user agrees to indemnify and hold harmless the Arizona Board of Regents for the University of Arizona, its officers, employees, and agents from and against all claims made by any person asserting that he or she is an owner of copyright.

Access Terms

Personal Name(s)
Williams, Rusty.

Blackface entertainers.
Comedy sketches-United States.
Entertainers-United States.

Administrative Information

Credit Line

Rusty Williams Papers (MS 547). Special Collections, University of Arizona Libraries.

Container List

This series is organized alphabetically by title of script. It contains typewritten hand sewn scripts owned and in many cases, created by Rusty Williams.
11 “Bits”, also “A Night in Honolulu
12 Are You an Elk?
13 Balloon Girl: Tabloid Comedy Drama in Two Acts
14 "Cannibal Isle"
15 Farmer Hopkins
16 Hal O' The Hills
17 The Haunted Castle
18 Hotel All Inn
19 Jake...Long Ways from GA
110 Jane's Lovers (Black face act)
111 Jessa James
112 Jesse James: A Comedy Drama in Three Acts
113 The Man from Montana
114 My Wife's Husband
115 The New Burglar Alarm
116 Nugget Nell (Western play)
117 Outside
118 Polly
119 Recruiting Day in Dixie
120 Rosabelle
121 Summer Boarders
122 Thompson's Dead
123 The Tourists
124 Whitewash
125 Whitewashed Snowflakes
126 Fragments of jokes and scripts
This series is organized by types of performers. Many of these photos were signed by the performer and addressed either to Rusty Williams or to his wife.
21 Williams, Rusty: six photos, two of which are with his wife, Dot Hurrey Williams, four photos of Rusty Williams in blackface.
22 Male Performers: 23 photos, including those of Joell Cunard, George Manning (The Carolina Rolling Stone), Harry Clexx (3 photos, one in blackface) , Walt Kellam (in blackface) “Doc” L..C. Holland, Al Sint, George A. Hunter, Red Corley (the red-headed music maker), “Dr. Nick Nack” (2), Rambling Tommy Scott and Luke McLuke, William B. Hanlen, Art Mix (Tom Mix’s brother), Melvin Thompson, Johnnie “Smokey” Bishop (in blackface), Art Smith (2).
23 Female Performers : Marie Ward, Florence Bryant, Jeanne Vaughn, 9 unknown.
24 Performing Groups: Merry Go Round Revue Chorus, Art and Ferne Smith, Harry Clexx and Fritzie White, “Seabee” Hayworth and Marion Andrews. Johnny West, Billy Adams, Rusty Williams, and Ray Forth quartet, Royce and Company, Bernard and Ward.
25 Musical groups: Smokey Graves and His Blue Star Boys, Barry Shannon's Jr. Orchestra, Harry Corley with "Sax-O-Land Five", Old Pickle Island Jazzers of 1922, Danny Bailey and the Happy Valley Boys, King's Melody Kings, "Seabee Hayworth and Marion Andrews
Printed material
26 Newsclippings (this includes two very informative articles about Rusty Williams and his family)
27 Commercially produced songbooks and script books.