J. K. Emmet, Vaudevillian actor

Son of a famous yodeler

Looking through my photos for a theater themed photograph, I came across this one, a mystery cabinet card labeled J. K. Emmet. The slightest amount of research identified J. K. Emmet as a popular vaudevillian actor from the 1890s through the 1910s, with a more famous father Fritz and a less famous son J. K. Jr. How could I pass this up? Fritz Emmet was a famous yodeler, cited in numerous magazine articles for his songs and acting in the 1890s. J. K. was also well known, but apparently not quite as well as Fritz, as he was noted in 1912 to have sung some of his father’s yodeling songs during a one-act show entitled A South Dakota Divorce. The few references to J. K. Jr really only are that his father was more famous than he.

The photograph itself is quite interesting, to say the least. J. K. Emmet appears to be wearing wooden shoes and leather (?) gaiters of some type, a puffed sleeve blouse and possibly even bib overalls, all while strumming the guitar and looking fondly upon the young child in the center of the photo. Yes, I did compare the profile of the man to two known photos of J. K. Emmet and by the nose, it’s him. The set they are on is quite cluttered and messy, with a picnic basket, hanging coats in the background and some sort of odd mess to the left. Could this be depicting the stage of their show, whatever it may have been? Surely it was Dutch themed, which would explain the shoes, but beyond that, I have no clue what is going on there. However, it was popular at the time to stage a vignette from a current musical show and sell the photographs, much like modern trading cards. This particular card is fairly rough, and at some point had been glued into something, maybe a photo album or frame, as there is a large splotch on the back. No photographer was named. The photo is on loan from my friend Pauline and it was found among numerous other unidentified family photographs from the 19th century. Someone in her family history liked vaudeville actor J. K. Emmet, apparently.

UPDATE: Be sure to visit the comments where a site reader has posted a youtube recording of Emmet’s Cuckoo song from A South Dakota Divorce. Fabulous!!

How I would love to attend a musicale that featured yodeling! For more theater themed photos and probably some interesting stories, click the link below to Sepia Saturday!

For the love of the theater, click it!

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18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Wendy
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 03:41:42

    Poor J.K., it must’ve been hard following in the footsteps of a yodeling father.

    Reply

  2. postcardy
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 05:20:11

    I did some searching and found Emmet’s Cuckoo Song (the song in South Dakota Divorce) on YouTube. I couldn’t make out the words–the yodeling is at the end of the song.

    Reply

  3. Far Side of Fifty
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 08:28:13

    The leather gators might actually be leather spats..worn in tall grass to prevent snake bites..yeeww
    http://www.invertedeye.com/item_279/Leather-Snake-Guard-Leg-Protectors.htm

    Reply

  4. Little Nell
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 08:51:58

    The card depicts an interesting scene. The child looks as though she’s trying to concentrate very hard!

    Reply

  5. Joy
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 10:54:33

    Has he told her to look angelic? Not much yodelling in the charts nowadays:-)

    Reply

  6. Bob Scotney
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 11:07:23

    The last yodeller I remember in the UK charts was Frank Ifield in the 1960s.
    Interesting card, clogs and all. Better yodelling than clog dancing I think.

    Reply

  7. Kristin Williams
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 13:46:02

    Well, that was some yodeling. Most of the yodeling I’ve heard was in country music songs. I’m sure I never heard one woven into a play.

    Reply

  8. Linda
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 15:00:07

    I am very fond of vaudeville history, a great find, and thanks for that snippet of J.K. Emmet doing his thing, postcardy.

    Reply

  9. Mrs Marvel
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 20:33:25

    Postcardy that is fabulous! Makes me wonder if it was recorded on a cylinder or a disc record.

    Reply

  10. Karen S.
    Jan 29, 2012 @ 06:49:10

    What a lovely photo, and wonderful you got to borrow it! Yodeling would be really cool, and one that might even be better heard in an outdoor open air-theatre! Great post!

    Reply

  11. tyrogers6200
    Jan 29, 2012 @ 09:14:15

    What a wonderful photograph! How could you ever live up to a famous yodeler! I did not know it was common then to sell photos from the shows like trading cards, what an interesting fact. I always learn such interesting facts from this exercise. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

  12. Christine H.
    Jan 29, 2012 @ 15:14:06

    I’m also interested in vaudeville in general. I would have liked to experience that era of entertainment. It’s a great photo. On a side note, I got a joke gift for Christmas. It’s a little box with a red button in the middle and it says “Press in case of emergency”. When you press the button, it plays yodeling music. Pretty funny. Much better than the joke GPS I got last year that berates the hapless traveler.

    Reply

  13. Carol
    Jan 31, 2012 @ 09:10:00

    A fantastic photo, with a great story and a Youtube video to boot! Love it!

    Reply

  14. Mike Brubaker
    Jan 31, 2012 @ 20:34:59

    A wonderful photo, full of the melodrama that was popular in that era. I think it is a scene from something like the story of Heidi, Girl of the Alps as yodeling is a very Bavarian/Swiss tradition that was part of many performers repertoire. The costume is more rustic than Dutch I think. A quick search of JK Emmet brought up a Aug.16, 1896 NYTimes story of a dispute with his estranged wife over custody of two dogs and a parrot that beats anything on reality TV today.

    Reply

  15. oregongiftsofcomfortandjoy
    Feb 03, 2012 @ 09:27:41

    Love the photo and the stories on this one! Thanks for sharing them with us.

    Happy Sepia Saturday,

    Kathy M.

    Reply

  16. William
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 10:46:20

    Well it’s over two years later when I came across your post. Even at that I will put in something I found while reading an article in an old Montana Magazine. The story was about Mark Twain in Montana. The author was Dale G. Harvey. When Twain was in Helena the paper there made mention that on the Monday after Twain’s performance, “the Ming Opera House presented Fritz in a Madhouse, with J. K. Emmett, “a popular comedian and endeared to men, women, and children the world over”.”
    This makes it sound as if Fritz was still alive at the time and J.K. was travelling with him. Or ir could mean that J.K. was now doing Fritz’s show. It has me stumped. Fritz in a Madhouse preceded Twain in Anaconda.

    Reply

  17. William
    Aug 10, 2014 @ 10:59:03

    Well, it looks like further research is always a good idea. J.K. Emmet died before the Fritz in the Madhouse show came to Montana. J.K. Emmet Jr. took over his father’s commitments and continued the show. J.K. died in July of 1891 in Cornwall.

    Reply

    • Mrs Marvel
      Aug 11, 2014 @ 14:43:48

      That’s the beauty of the internet, tho. The info is there for those who look. Thanks for your input on this photo!

      Reply

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