Willis West

Information taken from the Nov. 28, 1910 Arizona Republic.

(No photos of Mr. West were found in the archive.)

“In all my Phoenix stage experience, I have never faced a larger audience than these true friends who have gathered here tonight to bid me goodbye.”

These words were spoken by comedian Willis B. West as he made a farewell entrance onto the Elks Theatre (Dorris Theatre) stage and threw his arms around singer Anna Baumann, whose career he had sponsored.

The theater’s lower level was filled and nearly all the balcony seats taken for the most successful benefit in the city’s history.

Everyone knew West, whose “clean comedy” had endeared himself to the hearts of Phoenix citizens as no other comic of the time had done.  His characters, with names like Spitzelspeffer, were mostly Germans who spoke with a Teutonic accent.

West, who had become ill earlier in the day, insisted on attending the benefit in spite of what the Republic called “a raging fever.” He wore a “ridiculous bellhop’s uniform” and wowed the crowd with his trademark humor, much of it involving Miss Baumann, who wore a clinging black gown that showed her to great advantage.

In between jokes, she sang his favorite song, “Davey Dear,” and received a standing ovation – as did West. If West was Phoenix’s most popular comic, Baumann was its favorite songbird.

Among those participating in the benefit was Al Morton, one of the era’s best known actors, who served as emcee. Also on the bill were Arthur Harris from the Majestic Theater company, Ethel Hall from the Wigwam Theatre, Mr and Mrs Charles T. Byrne, the Empire Trio, Louis Wederman (known as the Arizona Warbler), the Taylor Sisters (dancers), Harry James (impersonations), Jack Donahue, Tommy LeBoitheau (a comedy duo), Jean Hathaway, Billie Friedlander and Nan Halperin of the Grand Theatre (singers and dancers) and Kelly & Rowe, a musical comedy act that was packing them in at the city’s Coliseum Theatre.

Household names at the time but long forgotten.