Everett Manley Norris, Vaudeville Performer

Everett Manley Norris, known as Manley Norris, was my father’s 3rd cousin 2x removed. They are both descended from Adam Kinder (1765-1835) through two of Adam’s daughters, Margaret and Sarah.

Manley was born on August 19, 1878 in Wisconsin to Benjamin Franklin Norris and Eliza Brown. Benjamin’s mother was Margaret Potts, the daughter of Margaret Kinder Potts (1794-1869), who was the sister of my 4x great-grandmother Sarah Kinder Bost (c1809-c1845). On June 11, 1880, Benjamin, Eliza, and Manley were enumerated in the U.S. Federal Census in Webster, Vernon County, Wisconsin, where Benjamin was a farmer.

I love local newspapers! I discovered that Manley won a .50 prize at the 1895 Vernon County Fair for a “case of pug puppies.” His mother Eliza won .50 for hair flowers, 2nd place (and another .50) for her Early Rose Potatoes, and 2nd place for her tomatoes (.25). She won 1st place (and .50) for her tomato catsup! (Postcard for 1907 Fair)
Manley Norris’ business ventures, 1897-1898. He was 19.

We first see a glimpse of Manley’s future career in the newspaper the Vernon County Censor on September 13, 1899. In it, the paper reported that he was travelling with the National Theatre Company. In the June 1900 census, Manley was living with his family in Viroqua, Vernon, Wisconsin. His mother was a milliner. Manley was 21 years old and a musician. In fact, the 10/30/1901 edition of the Censor reported that, “Manley Norris arrived home Monday. For some time he has been receiving treatment at a Rochester hospital for an injury received while handling a piano.” Did he hurt himself moving a piano for the theatre company? On July 23, 1902, it was reported that Manley was “spending his summer vacation at home. He will renew his engagement with a leading theatre company in the course of a month.”

Manley was a member of “Imson & Edgar’s Ideals” theatre company which performed “Hopper the Agent” Dec. 22-26, 1903 at the Fargo (ND) Opera House.
New York Clipper, October 3, 1903

In January 1904, the company performed “Hopper the Agent” at the Victoria Opera House in Morden, Manitoba, Canada. According to the Morden Empire newspaper, it was one of the best productions seen in Morden, while “the wooden shoe dance by E. Manley Norris was the best ever seen in this city.” That would have been interesting to see!

On September 25, 1904, Manley and his fiancee Lulu visited Manley’s parents. The Censor reported that he was “traveling with a ‘Little Filipino’ side show at the county fairs.” I can’t find any information about this side show, but it may have something to do with the Phillipine exhibit at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. On November 7, 1904, Manley married Lulu M. Lynn in Athens County, Ohio at the home of her parents. She was 21 and her occupation was listed as actress. Manley was 26 and a “music dealer.” They worked together with traveling theatre companies. By 1908, they called themselves the “Big Norris Band” and played 10 instruments at the same time. In 1910, they were called the “12×2 band” because the two of them played 12 instruments at the same time. A 2/10/1910 Lewiston (ME) Sun Journal article detailed how Manley rescued a cat stuck in the highest area of the local Music Hall’s stage loft. He slipped and had to be rescued himself!

“Mounting the ladder leading to the loft, he soon crawled across a narrow rafter and reached the frightened animal… In retracing his steps, one of Manley’s long legs caught in the intricate net-work of ropes and he came near to falling to the stage 50 feet below. He swung free from the overhead loft, hanging by one of his long ljmbs, with the cat held fondly to his bosom. Who knows what passed thru the gallant musician’s mind. But he never thought of dropping the cat… Thinkgs were beginning to take a serious aspect when Charles Voyer, the head flyman, entered the theatre. Mr. Norris heard the footsteps and began calling lustily for help, which with the help of the cat made no mean duet. This sudden burst of music caused Mr. Voyer to look up, and taking in the situation, he went immediately to the rescue of the rescuer and the cat. He pulled in the rope, extricated Mr. Norris and the three descended to safety.”

In September 1911, Manley and Lulu visited Manley’s parents in Wisconsin again and this time the Censor said this about their success: “Manley has gained not a little fame as a star of the stage since his last visit home. They spent past summer vacation at their new bungalow at Buckeye Lake, Ohio, enjoying boating and fishing. In the winter Mr. and Mrs. Norris will play vaudeville dates with their musical act, “The 12×2 Band.” They open the season at the Majestic Theatre in LaCrosse next Sunday.” In Fall 1912, Norris and his wife introduced “The Bell Hop,”

Advertisement for The Bell Hop, Nov. 15, 1912, Tupelo, MS
A not-so-flattering review in the Arkansas Democrat, 11/29/1912, page 16. Lulu was quite good on the xylophone though!
Lulu Norris in “The Bell Hop”

In September 1918, the couple was living in Buckeye Lake, Ohio, which was just east of Columbus. On his WWI draft registration, Manley listed his occupation as traveling actor. In January 1922, he performed in a musical comedy called “Kathleen” in Lancaster, Ohio. In 1923, the Norrises settled in Columbus. In 1923-24, Manley was a salesman for the Lindenberg Piano Company. In 1925-27, he was a piano tuner, and in 1928 he was listed as a piano and pipe organ rebuilder. Around January 1928, Manley (aged 50) impregnated 17-year-old Mary E. Wiles, who gave birth to a son on October 25, 1928. A daughter was born March 30, 1930. I’m not sure if Manley and Lulu ever divorced or if he and Mary ever married. In 1930, the four of them were living as a family in Akron, Ohio with Manley being listed as 38 (he was really 52) and Mary listed as 28 (really 20). In 1934, they were living in Columbus again where Manley was a piano repairman.

E. Manley Norris died January 15, 1935 after an operation for stomach ulcers. In the 1940 census (taken April 29th), his two children were living at St. Vincent’s Orphanage in Columbus. They were in 3rd and 4th grade. In 1935, they lived at the same place. I’m not sure if Mary lost custody of them after Manley’s death or what. Mary remarried in 1951 and died in 2010.

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