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Joe Devlin (actor)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Joe Devlin
Devlin in Half a Sinner (1940)
Christopher Joseph Devlin

(1894-02-07)February 7, 1894
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
DiedOctober 1, 1973(1973-10-01) (aged 79)
Burbank, California, U.S.
Occupation(s)Vaudevillian, actor
Years active1911–1967
Spouse(s)Anna Helen Woods, 1913 -? Pearl Christina White, m. 1952
ChildrenRita Devlin (1914-1914)

Robert Joseph Mathews (1920-1963)

William John Mathews (1922-2008)

Christopher Joseph Devlin (February 7, 1894 – October 1, 1973), better known as Joe Devlin, was a vaudeville and burlesque performer, and American actor with over 170 film and television credits.

A singer, comedian, and actor, he toured extensively in vaudeville and burlesque between 1911 and 1937. Devlin was a member of the Minsky Winter Garden house company in New York City for a few seasons. He relocated to California in 1937 and worked as a character actor in film and TV until 1967, often playing henchmen, bartenders, and cops. He had a co-starring role in Dick Tracy TV series in the early 1950s.[1]

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Early life

Devlin was born on February 7, 1894, in a tenement on Vandam Street in Manhattan, New York, the son of Anna (Bird) Devlin and John Francis Devlin, a fireman.[2][3] His father was Irish, from County Meath, and his mother was of Irish and English ancestry.[4] Devlin attended NYC Public School #8 and LaSalle Academy.[2]


Early career

Devlin started performing in an after-school quartet called the American Comedy Four which performed on street corners and at neighborhood benefits.[2] Performer George “Honey Boy” Evans hired him to appear in a touring production of the Cohan and Harris musical Minstrels in 1911.[2]

He sometimes worked as a singing waiter in New York City,[2][5] and briefly took a job with the McKinley Music Company in 1918,[6][7] then the world’s largest producer of sheet music.


Devlin entered vaudeville in 1918 and toured for nearly 20 years.

In the fall of 1920 he and his girlfriend, Iva Boudry, toured extensively on the Orpheum Circuit through the Dakotas and Indiana, where Joe performed as a blackface singer,[8] using the "skill" he learned in the Cohan and Harris Minstrels show.

He also performed at summertime attractions including aboard the SS Canadiana in the summer of 1921[9][10] and a Detroit amusement park in the summer of 1922.

His vaudeville partners included yodeler Paul Van Dyke, with whom he performed as Van Dyke & Devlin[2] in several Loew's houses in New York City in 1921; and Fred Pisano as Pisano & Devlin[2] in Boom Boom in the fall of 1928 along the Keith-Albee-Orpheum circuit.

He toured as Joe Devlin & Co., in North Dakota, Montana, and California in 1925, upstate New York in the fall of 1925, and New England in 1927–1928. He also toured with Charles (Red) Marshall in 1931 and Steve Mills along the Fanchon and Marco circuit in 1932.

Devlin was a member of house company at Detroit's National Theater in 1922, and Newark's Strand in 1922–1923 as “character comedian."

His last vaudeville performance was in the Catskills Borscht Belt at the Capitol Hotel at Loch Sheldrake with his girlfriend, Pearl White, and Harry Rose and Helen Black in the summer of 1937, at a time when vaudeville was waning and burlesque jobs were hard to come by due to enforcement of morality laws.


He played the straight comedian in burlesque from 1924 to 1937. He also sang tenor.

His first job in burlesque came in 1924 when he toured the East Coast in a Mutual Burlesque Association (MBA) show, Joy Belles. Other MBA tours included Frank Harcourt's Red Hot, which featured 6 principals and a chorus of 17 girls in 1924 and 1926, and Dizzy Dames in 1934. He later toured along the Independent Burlesque Association (IBA) circuit in a show billed as Oriental Girls and Cupid's Carnival in 1935; and Town Tattles and Babes of Broadway with Billy "Cheese and Crackers" Hagan in 1936.

Joe was a house principal in the Minsky's Winter Garden theater in New York City in the 1926–1927 season. The NYPD raided the venue for violating morality laws on February 25, 1927. Joe and 12 other performers including Chubby Drisdale, Billy Wallace, and Raymond Paine were held under Section 1140 and tried in court. The raid inspired the 1960 novel The Night They Raided Minskys by Rowland Barber, and the 1968 film. The character Duffy is based on Joe Devlin. He was again a Winter Garden house principal in the 1929–1930 and 1931–1932 seasons.

He performed at Baltimore's Palace Theater in 1928 with famed burlesque celebrity Mae Dix, who invented the strip tease; the Irving Place Theater in New York City in 1928, 1933, and 1934; the New Gotham in New York in 1932 and 1934; the Parsons Hartford and Shubert New Haven in 1933; the Lyric in Philadelphia in 1935; the Star in Brooklyn in 1935; the Gayety in Washington, D.C., in 1936 in Melody Maid with Billy "Cheese and Crackers" Hagan; the Palace Theater in Buffalo in the summer of 1936 in a show featuring Ginger Sherry and comedy duo Stinky Fields and Shorty McAllister; and the Juno Casino and the Star in Brooklyn in 1936 and 1937.

His last East Coast burlesque appearance was at the Star in Brooklyn in April 1937 with Stinky Fields and Shorty McAllister, stripper Rose La Rose, and Countess Nadja.

Joe wrote the book for the burlesque show Novelties of 1936 which featured 24 scenes across 2 acts and toured Issy Hirst’s Independent Burlesque Association (IBA) circuit in 1936 with exotic Russian performer Countess Nadja (Nadjezda Grenko) starring. The show received positive reviews from the Washington Post[11] and the Billboard.[12]

His last burlesque appearance was at the Gayety in Minneapolis, MN, on December 8, 1937.


Joe played Vincent Jones as C. Joseph Devlin in Street Scene at the Ambassador Theater from December 1929 to the show's closing in 1930. He reprised the role for the touring production in 1930.[2]


Joe appeared on NBC's coast-to-coast airwaves during a special reading of Street Scene on February 15, 1930.[13] He and Harry Rose tried to launch a radio program in the fall of 1934.[14] He appeared on Joe Penner's The Park Avenue Penners in 1938, broadcast on CBS from Los Angeles.[15]

Film and Television

Devlin started his acting career in 1938, and was under contract to Warner Brothers in the late 1930s. appearing in films such as Held for Ransom, King of the Underworld, Chasing Trouble, Tight Shoes, Murder in the Big House, Sweethearts of the U.S.A. and Shoot to Kill.[16]

He also appeared in TV series like Front Page Detective, My Hero, The Whistler, Damon Runyon Theater and Hey, Jeannie! among others.[17]

Devlin was famous for his resemblance to Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, whom he played in three films during World War II.[16]

During his 30 years in film and television, Joe worked with many stars of the Golden Age including Humphrey Bogart, Marlene Dietrich, Lucille Ball, Bette Davis, James Cagney, Ronald Reagan, Boris Karloff, Mickey Rooney, John Wayne, Edward G. Robinson, Van Johnson, Bob Hope, Lou Costello, Ida Lupino, Eddie Cantor, Ralph Byrd, and so many more.

Personal life

Joe changed the spelling of his name to Christopher JA Devlyn briefly in 1913,[18] and to Christopher Mathews in 1918 when he entered vaudeville.

Devlin married Anna Helen Woods in Manhattan on October 1, 1913 (as Christopher JA Devlyn),[18] with whom he had a daughter, Rita Devlin (1914–1914). Joe was also in a relationship with Iva Mae Boudry from 1918 to 1922, and the couple had two sons, Robert "Bob" Mathews and William "Bill" Mathews. Joe and Iva were vaudeville performers and Iva was a tea leaf reader.[19] His second marriage was to his long-time partner Pearl Christina White in Sherman Oaks, California on December 27, 1952.

Joe built a house at 4248 Vantage Avenue in Studio City in 1940, where he lived until his death. The house was torn down in 2018.

He was friends with Joe Yule, Sr., the father of MGM child actor Mickey Rooney.


Devlin died on October 1, 1973, in Burbank, California, at the age of 79.





  1. ^ Dick Tracy (TV Series 1950–1952) - IMDb, retrieved November 19, 2023
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Daily News (Los Angeles) 31 December 1942 — California Digital Newspaper Collection". Retrieved November 19, 2023.
  3. ^ "Historical Vital Records, The New York City Municipal Archives". New York City Department of Information and Records Services. November 19, 2023.
  4. ^ Wilczek, Gregory P (2023). Call Me Joe: The Life and Adventures of Vaudeville and Burlesque Star Joe Devlin. United States of America: Birchdale Crescent Books. ISBN 979-8451202494.
  5. ^ [<iframe src="" width="560" height="384" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="true" mozallowfullscreen="true" allowfullscreen></iframe> "With the Music Men"]. Variety. January 24, 1919. p. 18. {{cite news}}: Check |url= value (help)
  6. ^ Variety  1918-11-29: Vol 53 Iss 1 With the Music Men. November 29, 1918. p. 18.
  7. ^ [<iframe src="" width="560" height="384" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="true" mozallowfullscreen="true" allowfullscreen></iframe> "With the Music Men"]. Variety. January 17, 1919. p. 26. {{cite news}}: Check |url= value (help)
  8. ^ Humanities, National Endowment for the (October 15, 1920). "Grand Forks herald. [volume] (Grand Forks, N.D.) 1916-1955, October 15, 1920,". p. 4. ISSN 2379-1209. Retrieved November 19, 2023.
  9. ^ "CRYSTAL BEACH Advertisement". Buffalo Evening News. June 11, 1921.
  10. ^ "Vaudeville and Dancing to Entertain Excursionists". Buffalo Courier. June 12, 1921. p. 38.
  11. ^ Whitney, W.A. (February 24, 1936). "Gayety". The Washington Post. p. 9.
  12. ^ Harris, Sidney (March 14, 1936). "BURLESQUE REVIEWS, Empire, Newark, N.J.". The Billboard. pp. 22–23.
  13. ^ Allen, Kelcey (February 14, 1930). "Amusements". Women's Wear Daily. p. 7.
  14. ^ "Burly Briefs". The Billboard. September 15, 1934. p. 23.
  15. ^ "On the Air". The Hollywood Reporter. January 3, 1938. p. 4.
  16. ^ a b "Joe Devlin Overview". Retrieved September 22, 2019.
  17. ^ "Joe Devlin". Archived from the original on October 20, 2015. Retrieved September 22, 2019.
  18. ^ a b "Historical Vital Records, The New York City Municipal Archives". NYC Department of Records and Information Services.
  19. ^ "Joe Devlin". Retrieved September 26, 2019.

External links

This page was last edited on 21 May 2024, at 22:01
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