From the George Mann Archives: W.C. Fields in “The Mormon’s Prayer” (1928)

Today On Bunker Hill is proud to present another little something special from the archives of George Mann, an artifact that predates his astonishing color photographs of Bunker Hill by about thirty years.

Before he came up to the hill to take pictures, George was half of the comedic vaudeville dance team Barto & Mann. In 1928, he filmed his friend W.C. Fields in that comic performer’s headlining role in the Earl Carroll Vanities, at Carroll’s 7th Avenue Manhattan theater. Barto & Mann were also on the bill.

“The Mormon’s Prayer” was an opportunity to highlight the famously stunning Carroll showgirls (choreographed by Busby Berkeley) while giving the urban audience a chance to snicker at the erotic excesses of backwoods believers. We’re truly thrilled to present to you this lost moment of American theater history, as a follow-up to the newly discovered color George Mann footage of the Three Stooges at Atlantic City.

Fields was paid $5200 a week for his several appearances during the show, which culminated in an outrageous routine, “Episode at the Dentist’s” (later expanded and filmed) in which flying teeth and whirring drills terrorized and delighted the packed house. Among Dr. Pain’s (Fields) “victims” was the gorgeous, half-naked and dumb-as-a-post star of the Vanities, Dorothy Knapp (“The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”). We will refrain from any crass remarks about wishing to “drill” her.

Dorothy Knapp, Earl Carroll showgirl