The story takes Pastor from an eight-year-old New York Lower West-Side street comedy singer to one of the most respected impresarios Broadway has ever seen.

Nobody knows where Tony Pastor was born… unless the word of his parents is to be trusted. On May 28, 1837, according to them, he apparently came into the world on Greenwich Street in lower Manhattan. However, others have said that he was born on various dates. Perhaps the real truth is written on his tombstone in the Evergreen Cemetery in New York which states “Antonio Pastor, Died August 26,1908. Age 76 years.”

New York City and Tony Pastor

From the age of eight, Pastor was performing for the delight of his Lower West-Side neighbors, who would occasionally throw a few pennies his way. In 1843, he made his official public debut for the Hand in Hand Society, a temperance association with which he would be associated for several years. In the fall of 1846 he became affiliated with P.T.Barnum’s Museum at Anne and Broadway Streets, where he was acclaimed as a ‘child prodigy.’

Blackface and Tony Pastor

As the burnt cork -smeared face was coming into vogue, Pastor immediately became a part of that aspect of show business, which served him well for many years. For some years he continued working in various ‘menageries’ and circuses until he made his variety debut in Philadelphia at Frank Rivers’ Melodeon in the autumn of 1860. Following that Pastor played at the “444” (The American Concert Hall), so called because of its address on Broadway. It is thought that this was the first time “The Star-Spangled Banner had been sung on the variety stage… by Tony Pastor, of course.

Civil War Songs and Tony Pastor

Tony Pastor was indefatigable in his steady performances of Civil War songs, including “March for the Union,” “We are Marching to the War,” “Ye Sons of Columbia” and his own compositions celebrating the various victories of the Northern troops. Some of these songs were “The Monitor and the Merrimac,” “The Peaceful Battle of Manassas,'” “Sumter, the Shrine of the Nation,” and “The Irish Volunteers.” He was now really making a name for himself on the musical stages of America.

The Musical ManagerTony Pastor

“Tony Pastor’s New Fourteenth Street Theatre” was situated on the north side of East 14th Street between Irving Place and Third Avenue. Here Pastor would present such musical stars as Lillian Russell, May Irvin, Florence Merton, Kitty O’Neil, Niles and Evans, Sheehan and Jones and others, many of whom were Pastor discoveries. A woman called Sophie Taylor appeared at Pastor’s in 1907 and was quickly renamed Sophie Tucker, a name known to vaudeville fans even today. Many stars of the variety theatre and vaudeville got their big chance through Pastor’s eye for talent.

Tony Pastor’s Theater

Pastor’s theatre began its decline in the early years of the 20th century, due, in no small way, to the proliferation of cheap nickel shows that seemed to sprout up overnight. Tony was getting older and unable to keep up the pace of performing that he had set for himself, and the palsy that had just been an irritation was now taking hold of him more acutely.

In July of 1908 he made what would be his final public appearance at a New York Giants baseball game at the Polo Grounds. He was frail, and while walking out to the field he tripped and fell over. The end was not far for the grand old man of vaudeville; it came at 10 p.m. on August 26. After the funeral service at Bartholomew’s Roman Catholic Church in Elmhurst, Long Island, his body was taken to the Brooklyn Lodge of Elks for another service, where it was reported that thousands of people filled the streets

Vaudevillian Joe Laurie, Jr., summed up his life in 1953 in the following words: “Tony Pastor made it possible for everyone to cash in on his idea of clean vaudeville…He left more than money; he left a good feeling in the hearts of all the people who knew him. There never lived, then or now, in or out of vaude, any better liked theatrical manager then Antonio (Tony) Pastor.” (Tony Pastor: Dean of the Vaudeville Stage by Parker Zellers, Eastern Michigan University Press, 1971)


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