James Barton (actor)

James Edward Barton (November 1, 1890 – February 19, 1962) was an American vaudevillian, stage performer, and a character actor in films and on television.[1]

James Barton
James Barton 1962
Barton in one of his last roles on CBS's Frontier Circus (1962).
James Edward Barton

(1890-11-01)November 1, 1890
DiedFebruary 19, 1962(1962-02-19) (aged 71)
Mineola, New York, United States
OccupationVaudevillian and character actor
Years active1898–1962


He was born into a theatrical family on November 1, 1890 in Gloucester City, New Jersey. Barton began performing in minstrel shows and burlesque houses throughout the country in 1898.[2] His years of experience working with African American performers led to his becoming one of the first jazz dancers in America.[3]

After working with repertory companies in the South and Midwest, he made his Broadway debut in the musical revue The Passing Show of 1919 in a role originally intended for Ed Wynn.[2][3] He frequently was the highlight in otherwise-mediocre productions, and a critic for the Daily News noted, "Whenever the book failed him, he shuffled into one or more of his eccentric dances." [3] He commonly worked in blackface at the time.[4] Barton's other theatre credits include Sweet and Low in 1930, Tobacco Road in 1933, Bright Lights of 1944 (which ran for only four performances), The Iceman Cometh in 1946, and Paint Your Wagon in 1951.

While appearing on Broadway, Barton also achieved the highest pinnacle of status in vaudeville, headlining at the Palace Theater on Broadway not once but eight times, from March 1928 through April 1932.[5]

Barton's film career was also concurrent to his stage performances. It began in the silent era, in 1923, and he appeared in a number of Paramount Pictures short subjects in 1929.

On television he appeared in The Ford Television Theatre, Lux Video Theatre, Studio One, The Kaiser Aluminum Hour, Playhouse 90, Kraft Television Theatre, The Rifleman, The Americans, Adventures in Paradise, Naked City, and Frontier Circus.

Bing Crosby considered James Barton to be one of his ten favorite performers of all time, alongside names such as Al Jolson, Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland, and Nat King Cole.[6] Sammy Cahn has stated he considered Barton to be the greatest entertainer ("If there was a decathlon for performing ... James Barton would win, going away."[7]), and cherished the St. Genesius medal he was given by Barton's widow above his Academy Awards.[7]

Barton died of a heart attack at Nassau Hospital in Mineola, New York on February 19, 1962.[1]


Year Title Role Notes
1923 Why Women Remarry Don Compton
1935 Helldorado Motorcycle Cop Uncredited
1935 Captain Hurricane Capt. Zenas Henry Brewster
1935 His Family Tree Patrick 'Bosun' Murphy
1936 Back to Nature Motorcycle Officer Uncredited
1936 Hideaway Girl Motorcycle cop
1941 The Shepherd of the Hills Old Matt Matthews
1948 The Time of Your Life Kit Carson
1951 Yellow Sky Grandpa
1950 The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady Dennis O'Grady
1950 Wabash Avenue Harrigan
1951 The Scarf Ezra Thompson
1951 Here Comes the Groom William 'Pa' Jones
1951 Golden Girl John Crabtree
1956 The Naked Hills Jimmo McCann
1957 Quantez Minstrel
1961 The Misfits Fletcher's Grandfather


  1. ^ a b "James Barton, 71, Stage Actor, Dies. Veteran Player in 'Tobacco Road'. In Films and TV Famed for Drunken Routine Scored With Dancing". New York Times. February 20, 1962. Retrieved 2014-12-05. James Edward Barton, actor best known for his earthy role as Jeeter Lester in the longrunning play, "Tobacco Road," died this morning in Nassau Hospital here after a heart attack. His age was 71.
  2. ^ a b James Barton at StreetSwing.com
  3. ^ a b c James Barton at DanceUniverse.com Archived 2008-12-31 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ ""James Barton—the famous 'Blackface' comedian has become an exclusive Okeh Artist." Talking Machine World, 15 August 1924, 59 (advertisement).
  5. ^ Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, Anthony Slide, page 26
  6. ^ David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallace, Amy Wallace, The Book of Lists, 1977, p. 118
  7. ^ a b https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeZ_EYQPzRg&feature=em-subs_digest Interview with Brian Linehan, 1975

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