Two Wheels of Hard-Living Fun for Charlie Ahearn

Charles Ahearn in the N.V.A. Burial Grounds.

Charles Ahearn in the N.V.A. Burial Grounds.

Kensico Vaudeville Project #2
Name: Charles Ahearn
Act: Cyclist
Born: 5 April 1886
Died: 26 April 1940

Charles Ahearn was “The Racing Man” – a comedian on a bike. His fame took him to play London’s Hippodrome in 1909, where “the smartest and most amusing wheel acts America has ever sent us.” He returned to New York and took out a full-page ad in Variety to hail his triumph. Ahearn appeared with Anna Held at The Casino and toured the country from coast to coast as an actor and comedian. He placed a half-page ad in Variety in 1913 that read:

“Happy Hearn’s Wheelmen, The Funniest Act On Wheels Ever Produced, Under The Direction Of Charles Ahearn now playing for Marcus Loew. The Charles Ahearn Troupe of Cycle Comedians in “The Speed King” with Miss Gertrude Hoffman in “From Broadway to Paris” at American Music Hall, Chicago, Indefinitely.”

1909 Variety Ad

1909 Variety Ad

Charles Eugene Ahearn was born 5 April 1886, in Wallingford, Connecticut, the son of an Irish brass molder. He dropped out of school in the eighth grade and entered show business soon after.

In 1915 he made headlines when he voluntarily cancelled 40 weeks of bookings on the U.B.O. Circuit and went to the Ludlow Street Jail (“the alimony club”) to serve six months. He refused to pay his ex-wife, Vesta P. Ahearn, $655 in alimony because he said she left him for Sime Silverman, founder and publisher of Variety.

When he registered for the World War I draft, he was living at the Princeton Hotel, which used to be at 116 W. 45th Street. He was tall with a medium build and blue eyes. He didn’t go into the army.

In 1918 Variety reviewed Charles Ahearn’s Cabaret, appearing at the Fifth Avenue Theatre.

The familiar comedy bicycle act of Charles Ahearn, with its many freak wheels, “race” accessories, mostly props, has been materially altered in the latest edition, at the Fifth Avenue the first half of this week, where it indicated some lack of work, preparation and thought… The freak wheels, at one time Ahearn’s mainstay and often the subject of dispute as to original stage ownership, have almost entirely disappeared, leaving the opening section a matter of comedy riding by Ahearn on an ordinary safety bicycle…

Ahearn Ad

Ad from N.V.A. souvenir book. Courtesy of American Vaudeville Museum.

By 1924 he was off the two wheels and producing traveling shows; the Millionaire Jazz Band “with a cast of ten people” was at the Proctor’s vaudeville house in Mount Vernon, NY, in November that year. In 1931 he was remarried, to Marie, a woman 24 years his junior from Louisville. Eight years later, single, he was living with his elderly parents in Connecticut and found work in Danbury as a truck driver.

When he died on 26 April 1940 in Bellevue, he earned a nine-line obituary in the Times, calling him “an old-time burlesque actor and a vaudeville artist.” He was 54. His remains were interred in the National Vaudeville Association burial grounds a few days later.

Kensico Vaudeville Project
Project Updates and Roster of Names

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  • United States. Census Bureau. Washington: GPO. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 1854 rolls. Census Place: Wallingford, New Haven, Connecticut; Roll: 147; Page: 19B; Enumeration District:0416; FHL microfilm: 1240147. Web. 12 March 2015.
  • Billboard, 9 Oct 1915, p. 6
  • U.S. Selective Service System. World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Washington, D.C. Registration State: New York; Registration County: New York; Roll: 1786819; Draft Board: 158
  • Variety, 6 Aug. 1918, p. 14
  • Yonkers Daily Argus, 14 Nov 1924, p. 21
  • New York Times, 28 Sept. 1915, p. 4
  • New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. Year: 1931; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 4924; Line: 1; Page Number: 137
  • United States. Census Bureau. Washington: GPO. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1940. Census Place: Danbury, Fairfield, Connecticut; Roll: T627_494; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 1-18. Web. 12 March 2015.
  • New York Times, 27 April 1940, p. 21
  • Old Fulton New York Post Cards
  • Trav S.D. No Applause—Just Throw Money, The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous (Faber and Faber, 2005).
  • American Vaudeville Museum