The following, transcribed by Amy Feldner Lawlor, was published in the May 20, 1942 issue of the Warwick Valley Dispatch.
Joe Jackson, beloved comedian and distinguished throughout the theatrical realm for his “tramp: bicycle act for more than forty years stood in the wings of the Roxy Theatre at 1:34 p.m. yesterday. An audience of 3,500 youngsters and adults were cheering and applauding and then clutched the sleeve of Legel’s coat. Unaware that something was wrong, Legel jocularly said, “stop your fooling Joe.” The comedian slumped to the floor. A few minutes later an ambulance surgeon pronounced the comedian dead from natural causes. The audience was not informed of his death.
Visibly upset by the death of his friend of more than fifty years Legal said, “Joe had his wish fulfilled; he always wanted to die in harness.”
Mrs. Joe Jackson, Jr., wife of the comedian’s only son took charge of the body. The son has just completed an engagement in Los Angeles. He had been taught the same routine by his father.
It was 1:28 p.m. that the famous comedian, garbed in his tramp’s costume, emerged from behind a prop that served as a lunch wagon and began his act. The audience roared his approval at Jackson’s pantomime and skillful handling of the bicycle. Finishing his act & acknowledging the applause, he disappeared behind the prop lunch wagon while the chorus went through a dance routine.
As the dancers filed off the stage in a single line, Jackson emerged again and was the last to leave the stage, shuffling his feet as the crowd applauded. He had been at the Roxy Theater for the last two weeks and had two more weeks before finishing his engagement. He had intended to return to his home at Greenwood Lake, NY, a friend said.
Jackson, whose real name was Joseph Francis Jiranek, was a headliner for more than fifty years and in all the years that he delighted the audiences the world over he never uttered a word while on the stage. The very appearance of Jackson clad in his tramp’s costume was enough to start the audience laughing. An international favorite, he listed Queen Elizabeth of England as one of his fans.
He came to this country forty years ago creating the act which made him famous.
He married the former Maria Rialto, a stage singer. They were divorced about twenty years ago.
DIED WITH HIS BOOTS ON
By Brooks Atkinson
In a very literal sense Joe Jackson died with his boots on. They were enormous, ramshackle boots that he had picked out of an ash can in New Jersey before the last World War. They humorously concluded a messy and tattered costume that still contained a patch of the original pants from forty years or so ago and the whole bedraggled get-up, crowned with a battered hat, clothed a classic vaudeville turn. For Joe Jackson, the tramp cyclist, was known all over America, Europe, Asia, and the East Indies for his comical pantomime act that hardly changed, never grew stale and, like Charlie Chaplin’s immortal vagrant, delighted old and young everywhere. In the purest sense it was international.
Probably some members of the audience at Roxy’s yesterday afternoon were seeing him for the first time and wondering how anything so simple could be so funny. But millions of people everywhere will be recalling today with affectionate enjoyment Joe’s ragged moonfaced entrance, his bland defiance of a policeman, his frantic struggle with a loose shirt cuff, his happy discovery of a battered bicycle that he proceeded to ride with lyrical rapture until bit by bit it fell apart.
‘Couldn’t Tell a Joke’
Although the act was one of the perfect creations of knockabout fooling, it was no sudden inspiration for a comic genius. Joe was more the honest workman than the light-stepping buffoon. “You don’t have to be a humorist to be a comedian,” he remarked one hot afternoon at the World’s Fair where he was going through his grind in “American Jubilee.” “I couldn’t tell a joke to save my live,” he said. He began years ago in the palmy days of the bicycle as a racer and virtuoso rider. While he was still in his teens he was racing chairman of Austria, where he was born sixty nine years ago and he boasted that he was still world’s champion bicycle polo player and was ready to take on all comers…
Live in Greenwood Lake
Although he was not a professional humorist he had ethics as a comedian. “You have to let the audience be wiser than you are,” he said. “Also, you have to believe what you are doing.” Even after he had made a fortune and bought a place at Greenwood Lake, where he had a large establishment, a machine shop and a jumbo frog farm, the act did not bore him. He tried for perfection every time. He looked anxiously to the pressure in the tires of his two-buck bike, which no stranger seemed to be able to understand. He guarded the integrity of his shapeless, rag-bag costume he made up carefully and tied his signet ring in the strings of his drawers for good luck. After his act he came off the stage tired and breathless as if he had been through an ordeal. An audience always exhilarated him. He was modestly grateful for the applause, which invariably had a tone of personal goodwill in it.
Over the desk where these lines are written hangs a jaunty gouache of happy Joe painted by Angna Enters. “The aristocratic Mr. Joe Jackson,” Miss Enters has scrawled in the margin.