A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from December 05, 2004
Get the hook!
"Get the hook!"

This was a cry from the audience to get a bad performer off the stage. Someone in the wings would get a hooked pole and hook the performer away.

"The hook" was reportedly introduced in 1903 at Harry Miner's Bowery Theater in New York City. Miner's was famous for its "amateur nights," where novice performers could take to the stage. I can't confirm that "the hook" began at Miner's in 1903, but here are some citations.


23 December 1905, Boston (MA) Globe, "Small Boys Began to Shout 'Get the Hook,'" pg. 1:
As the convention of the Holy Jumpers grows older, the attendance increases, fully 300 men, women and boys being present at last evenings service. Brother C. L. Harvey preached last night. (...) He had been speaking about ten minutes when some of the small boys began to shout, ‘GET THE HOOK.’ Brother Harvey at this point closed his address.

28 December 1905, New York (NY) Times, pg. 9:
No association game ever played in South Boston equaled in roughness the game between the Maley A. C. and the South Boston high second team. (...) Toward the end of the game the spectators cried ‘GET THE HOOK’ because the match had developed into a rough and tumble specialty.

13 February 1906, Boston (MA) Journal, "'Get the Hook!' Boys Yell at Higginson," pg. 1:
"Get the hook!" yelled half a dozen small boys at the conclusion of the speech of Col. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who addressed the boys of the North bennet Street Indisutrial School last night on the celebration of Lincoln's birthday.

27 September 1906, New York (NY) Times, pg. 2:
"Get the hook," yelled a delegate.

25 January 1907, New York (NY) Times, pg. 3:
Hardly had the curtain gone up on the sketch of the Russell Brothers, who portray comic Irish servant girls, when screams and catcalls arose from the orchestra and galleries. In all parts of the house men arose, shouting, "Take 'em off," "Get the hook," "Away with 'em," "They're rotten."

12 January 1908, Chicago (IL) Daily Tribune, pg. B3:
Has the slang of "get the hook" reached you? It originated with the "amateur nights" in vaudeville, when aspirants are tried and usually found wanting. Sometimes the stage manager reached out with a hooked pole to pull the worst of them in. After the Washington start of "Miss Hook of Holland," one word in the title took on pertinency, for Frohman "got the hook" and jerked the principal two comedians out of it.

24 September 1908, Milford (Iowa) Mail, pg. 3, cols. 2-4:
"GET THE HOOK!" WAS COINED
BY A NEW YORK GALLERY GOD
Booklet Issued to Prove Claim
of Time Miner, of Bowery
Theater, to Instrument
Feared by Amateurs.

(...)
A book entitled "Get the Hook!" has just been issued under the copyright of H. Clay Miner. In this booklet the following story is told of the origin of "Get the Hook!"
(...)
"At miner's vaudeville theaters in New York city originated the practice of having once a week what has since beomce known as 'amateur night.' On Friday nights after the regular performance, ambitious amateurs who had been stung by the 'stage struck' bee were permitted to try out their ability in any line of entertainment before a 'regular audience.' Approval of the audience, induicated by applause or money thrown upon the stage, frequently led to permanent engagements, and disapproval in the form of laughter, cat calls or frank criticisms meant 'Get off the stage,' and effectually squelched any further histrionic ambition. It is but a modern application of the old Roman custom of entertaining the people by allowing certain of them the privilege of deciding the fate of a victim, and surely no defeated champion of the Roman arena ever looked with more fear in his heart for the dreaded 'thumbs down,' which meant death, than does the anxious amateur 2,000 years later listen for the fateful 'Get the hook!'

On Friday night, in October, 1903, at Miner's Bowery theater, a particularly bad amateur was inflicting a patient audience with an impossible 'near tenor' voice. Despite the howls, groans and cat calls, the 'artist' persisted in staying on, when Tom Miner, who was conducting the amateur performance, chanced to see in a corner a large old fashioned crook handled cane which had been used by one of the negro impersonators.

"Quickly picking it up, he called Charles Guthinger, the property man, and had him lash it securely to the wings and without getting in sight of the audience deftly slipped the hook around the neck of the would-be singer and yanked him off the stage before he really knew what had happened.

"The next amateur was to give imitations of noted actors, and after giving the worst imaginable one of Edwin Booth announced his next would be of Richard Mansfield. At this a small boy in the gallery yelled 'Get the hook!' The audience roared in approval and the 'actor' fled in dismay.

"So 'Get the hook!' was given a fixed meaning and the use of the hook was legitimatized in the case of an impossible amateur."

17 February 1929, New York (NY) Times, pg. 138:
AMATEUR NIGHT IS NO MORE;
EVEN ITS NAME IS CHANGED
But Some New Yorkers Can Still Remember
Audiences Shouting for "the Hook"
(...)
It is a question whether the "hook" started at Miner's or White's Atheneum - or somewhere else. The "hook," a long pole topped with a strong wire loop, was kept in a convenient corner off stage and few amateurs escaped its merciless pressure. "Give him the hook!" was a famous expression, shouted vociferously by displeased listeners when thrown vegetables failed to clear the stage. Often the management knew that some of the acts were terrible, and booked them for no other purpose than to bring the "hook" into play and get a laugh from the audience.

4 September 1932, New York (NY) Times, pg. SM8:
"Did they yell 'Get the hook'?" I asked.

"SAY," he answered, "that was long before the expression came into vogue. In those days, if an act did not please the audience and they booed, the scene shifters would close the wings on it. On one wing would be a large N and on the other a large G."

17 October 1937, Washington (DC) Post, pg. T1:
Eddie Cantor Looks Back
On 25 Years in Theater
(...)
I was a kid of 16. Discouraged, broke and hungry, I decided to make the first dollat in many weeks appearing at Miner's Bowery Theater on an amateur program. This really took nerve, because in those days a Bowery audience was more likely to holler, "Give 'im the hook," than to shout, "Bravo."

Silent Era (films)
Amateur Night; or, Get Out the Hook
AKA {Amateur Night; or, Get the Hook}

(1907) American
B&W : 500 feet
Directed by (unknown)
Cast: (unknown)
The Vitagraph Company of America production. / Standard 35mm spherical 1.37:1 format. / The film was first advertised in trades or reviewed in April 1907.
Survival status: (unknown)
Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityNames/Phrases • (0) Comments • Sunday, December 05, 2004 • Permalink