Fred Stone Collection
“From Sawdust to Stardust”
by Dorothy Stone Collins
“From Sawdust to Stardust” is the story of Fred Stone (1873-1959), an internationally known entertainer, written by his daughter, Mrs. Dorothy Stone Collins. The machine copy of this manuscript was donated to the Kansas State Historical Society by Charles Collins, Dorothy’s husband, on January 22, 1985. Mrs. Collins concludes her story during the period just following the 50th Anniversary of Fred Stone’s theatrical career which was held in New York, September 12, 1938. He lived to be 85 years old and never forgot, or failed to acknowledge, his proud Kansas roots. Also included in the manuscript are poems by George Ade, copies of newspaper columns by Will Rogers, and a reminiscence by author Rex Beach relating to Stone.
Fred Andrew Stone was born in a sod house on August 29, 1873, in Valmont, Colorado. His parents, Lewis Preston (L. P.) and Clarissa Stone traveled from Iowa across the plains by covered wagon. During the early years of his life, Stone’s family also lived in Longmont, Colo., and several Kansas towns, including Burton, Dodge City, Wellington, Topeka, and Kansas City. In Dodge City he experienced life in the wild west as a boot-black in his father’s barber shop. In 1883 the Stone’s moved to Wellington where Fred saw his first theatrical performer, a tightrope walker. With his younger brother Eddie, he perfected his acrobatic skills, in addition to tightrope walking, and “The Stone Brothers” became a part of the professional circus world in the late 1880s. They toured in circuses and variety shows for several years and later branched out into other entertainment areas by appearing in dramatic productions, dime museums, honky tonks, and vaudeville. Stone’s last circus role as a clown introduced him the world of comedy and his successful union with dancer/comedian Dave Montgomery in 1895. The team of Montgomery and Stone went on to make entertainment history until Montgomery’s death in 1917. Stone’s solo appearances, and later the appearances of The Stone Family, including his wife and daughters, made show business top-billing. Stone married Allene Crater on August 24, 1904. She was a light opera singer before joining the cast of “The Wizard of Oz.” This production made instant stars of Montgomery and Stone and Crater. The Stones had three daughters, Dorothy, Paula and Carol, who followed their parents into the theater. Stone enjoyed participating in various sports and incorporated many aspects of his sporting interests into his roles. When he needed an instructor to help advise him on a boxing dance, he had none other than “Gentleman” Jim Corbett advise him. The relationships Stone had with the many dignitaries and theatrical personalities he knew were warm and usually strong, long lasting friendships. He was a devoted family man and spent an unusual amount of time with his children. He trained them in the theater arts and shared many of his hobbies with his three daughters. Besides boxing, his athletic interests were baseball, shooting, big game hunting, roping, horses, polo, rodeo, ice-skating/dancing, fishing, deep sea fishing, ice hockey, golf, and flying. Next to having his wife and daughters on stage with him, he loved his hobbies.
Stone was active in the politics of the theater. In 1896 he was one of the members of “The White Rats,” a group of actors organized to improve their working conditions and protest against a theater managers group. In 1922, Stone was president of the National Vaudeville Artists, Inc., which sponsored many benefits for the needy. He was also one of the participants in the Actors Equity Association actors strike in May, 1924.
Stone’s greatest friend, after the death of Dave Montgomery, was Will Rogers. The two stars and their families were intimate friends and shared each others lives until the death of Rogers in 1935. It was Rogers who filled in for Stone when a 1928 airplane crash nearly ended Stone’s career and his life. This substitution also opened up a new phase in show business, the ad lib monologue. Rogers was not a script-learner, and his appearance in “Three Cheers” was heralded as a new theater technique.
Stone recovered from his devastating injuries in record time and continued to appear in Broadway musical comedies. He also made films and appeared with his daughter, Carol, in his first serious dramatic role in “The Jayhawker” in 1934.
Stone died in 1959 at age 85, just two years following the death of his wife.
Dorothy Stone Collins, the author of this manuscript, has given a very clear and detailed picture of the life of her father, Fred Andrew Stone, from his early years until 1938 when he celebrated his 50th Anniversary in the theater. It is unfortunate that the last 20 years of his life were not included in the work. However, researchers will find several good references to Stone in the Kansas State Historical Society Library. Mrs. Collins wrote of her father’s childhood in several Kansas towns. Stone performed in circuses, variety shows, vaudeville, musical comedy, films, and dramas. His career is documented in a chronological manner in this work, giving details of the productions with which he was associated. Stone’s relationships with show business personalities, as well as sports figures, politicians, and his family members are noted in detail. For any researcher interested in the world of entertainment, or life at the turn of the century, this manuscript holds a wealth of information.
--Joan R. Renek