Frank Fay (1891-1961) was the first stand-up comic, who got onstage wearing a suit and talked, as a version of himself, rather than playing a character. His delivery seemed spontaneous, but was in fact carefully planned and written ahead of time, like comedians through today. Jack Benny modeled his own stage persona on Fay.
Here’s Fay in an early talkie, in 1928.
Fay played “Elwood P. Dowd” in the Broadway production of “Harvey,” and was actress’s Barbara Stanwyck’s first husband. Their marriage may have been the model for the 1937 movie “A Star is Born,” where the previously unknown wife becomes a star while the famous husband’s career declines.
He was notorious for bigotry, and alcoholism. Unpleasant even when sober, he was disliked by most of his contemporaries.
Actor Robert Wagner wrote that Fay was “…one of the most dreadful men in the history of show business.
Fay was a drunk, an anti-Semite, and a wife-beater, and Barbara [Stanwyck] had had to endure all of that…. “
Milton Berle, who was Jewish, claimed to have hit Fay in the face with a board after Fay, on seeing Berle watching his act from offstage, called out, “Get that little Jew bastard out of the wings.”