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. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from December 16, 2005
"Stooge" was a theatrical term for "student." Comedian Victor Moore has explained in several articles that it began in 1912 at Hammerstein's Victoria Theatre, the now-demolished structure that stood at the northwest corner of 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue.

The first "stooge" was (according to Moore) Tom Kennedy, who was then a young, studious property boy referred to backstage as "The Student."

(Oxford English Dictionary)
stooge, n.
slang (orig. U.S.).

1. a. A stage hand. b. A stage assistant, esp. one who acts as the butt or foil for a leading character; a feed, straight man. c. The assistant of a conjuror or similar performer. d. transf.

1913 Sat. Even. Post 1 Nov. 64/4 Ben, I want you to plant one of your stooges in that coop with a couple of smoke-pots, so that we'll get the effect of Jack coming through the thickest of it. 1929 Variety 24 July 1/1 Stuges perform on the floor with dead-pan faces and unconscious feet beating out the time-step.

2. A newcomer, a novice (in certain spec. contexts: see quots.).

1930 J. LAIT Big House i. 6 A first-timer [in prison] is a 'stooge'. 1935 J. HARGAN Gloss. Prison Lang. 8 Stooge, first offender.

3. A person whose function is merely to carry out another's directions; an unquestioningly loyal or obsequious subordinate, a lackey; a person used as an instrument by someone behind the scenes, a cat's paw. Also fig.

1937 H. G. WELLS Brynhild vi. 85, I have to..proclaim you. Be your Aaron. Your John the Baptist. Your Stooge!

Hammerstein's Victoria Theatre
(NW Corner of 7th Ave & 42nd St)
Built 1899
Location 7th Ave & 42nd St
Architech(s) J. B. McElfatrick & Co.
Developer/Manager Oscar Hammerstein, 1st
First Production The Reign of Error, March 1, 1899
Major Productions Miss Prinnt with Marie Dressler
Joseph Haworth's Appearances Ressurection - April 1903
Demolished 1935

New York, NY: Hammerstein's Victoria
Country: United States of America
State: New York
City: New York
Location: 1473-1481 Broadway / 201-205 West 42nd Street
Built 1899 by J. B. McElfatrick & Son for Oscar Hammerstein I. Opened 2 Mar 1899. Originally used for drama performances, later used for variety and vaudeville shows. 950 seats. 1913 purchased by E. F. Albee. Closed 1915. Subsequently demolished in favour of the cinema "Rialto".

11 March 1928, New York Times, "Slang of Film Men," pg. 112:
STOODGE -- Studio spy or gum shoe.

16 December 1934, Chicago Daily Tribune, pg. E3:
"A stooge," says Alexander, "was originally a clever college boy, an amateur picked up by the traveling shows to fill in in the little towns as straight man. A student extra. The word student was shortened and corrupted to "stooge" -- and that's the origin of the stage term."

18 March 1937, Los Angeles Times, pg. 14:
New Explanation
for Well-known Word

No doubt this will cause a great deal of argument among comedians, but Victor Moore's shoulders are broad enough to stand up under the strain. Chatting with the comedian yesterday at Paramount, where he is filming "Make Way for Tomorrow," he gave his version of the invention of the word "stooge."

It was back in 1912 at the old Victoria Theater that the word was coined, avers Moore. There was a young prop boy, Tom Kennedy, working with the troupe. He was a studious chap and always had his nose in a book. He soon became known as "The Student." Since he had to fill in small parts whenever necessary, and perform all sorts of odd jobs, this finally was contracted to "stooge."

Then it was always "Let the stooge do it," afterward.

Posted by Barry Popik
Workers/People • (0) Comments • Friday, December 16, 2005 • Permalink