A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeye's fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from September 29, 2019
Deadpan (Dead-pan)

"Dead pan” (also spelled “dead-pan” or “deadpan") is an emotionless (or “dead") face (or “pan"). The expression appears to have become popular in 1923, in entertainments such as boxing and movies.

“The serious, thin-lipped Firpo (a boxer—ed.) has an iron face, a “dead pan” was written by Damon Runyon and printed in the Dayton (OH) Evening Herald on March 23, 1923.

“Miss Gear is a comedienne who has the art of playing with a ‘dead pan’ down to perfection” was printed in The Billboard (Cincinnati, OH) on April 14, 1923. Silent film actor Buster Keaton (1895-1966) was famous in the 1920s for his “dead pan” expression.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) wrote the poem “The Dead Pan” about the Greek god Pan, but it’s not known if this had any influence on the “dead pan” expression—where “pan” is not capitalized.


Wikipedia: Deadpan
Deadpan, dry humor or dry wit is the deliberate display of a lack of or no emotion, commonly as a form of comedic delivery to contrast with the ridiculousness of the subject matter. The delivery is meant to be blunt, ironic, laconic, or apparently unintentional.

Etymology
The term deadpan first emerged as an adjective or adverb in the 1920s, as a compound word combining “dead” and “pan” (a slang term for the face). The oldest usage recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary comes from The New York Times (1928), which defines the term as “playing a role with expressionless face”. An example of this usage is in a scene from the 1934 film The Gay Bride in which a gangster tells a man on the other end of a phone conversation to “give it a dead pan” (with the emphasis on “pan"), so that the man does not inadvertently alert anyone else in the room as to the importance of what the gangster is about to say. The usage of deadpan as a verb ("to speak, act, or utter in a deadpan manner; to maintain a dead pan") is recorded at least as far back as 1942.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
dead-pan, adj., n., adv., and v.
originally U.S.
A. adj.
Of a face, look, etc.: expressionless, impassive. Of a person: having such a face. Also transferred, applied to speech, behaviour, etc.: detached, impersonal.
1928 N.Y. Times 11 Mar. viii. 6/1 Dead pan, playing a rĂ´le with expressionless face.
1929 Variety 17 Apr. 51/3 They clicked better at the Palace where the intimacy heightened the dead-pan comic’s expression.

Newspapers.com
23 March 1923, Dayton (OH) Evening Herald, “Says Damon Runyon,” pg. 24, col. 6:
(Speaking about boxers.—ed.)
Willard, the heavy-jowled, sulky-looking, has dark eyes, dark hair. So has Firpo, the serious, thin-lipped Firpo has an iron face, a “dead pan,” smileless, grim.

14 April 1923, The Billboard (Cincinnati, OH), “Elsie” review, pg. 37, col. 2:
Miss Gear is a comedienne who has the art of playing with a “dead pan” down to perfection.

14 July 1923, Charlotte (NC) Observer, “Telegraph Operator Tells Of The Willard-Firpo Scrap In Wire-Letter To Man Here,” pg. 10, col. 8:
He’s (boxer Jess Willard—ed.) the wildest guy you ever saw and all the things the papers said about his “dead pan” and never changing expression are about correct; he’s the wildest looking guy I ever saw.

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
11 December 1923, The Morning Telegraph, “He’s a Wealthy Hoofer,” pg. 5, col. 3:
He (Frank Farnum—ed.) has worn a path to the bank with his earnings and turns a “dead pan” to all sports, gamblers and roisterers who want him to make Broadway’s lights glow more brightly.

28 May 1924, Variety (New York, NY), “Sherlock Jr.,” pg. 27, col. 3:
This Buster Keaton feature length comedy is about as unfunny as a hospital operating room. It is far and away about the most laughter packing picture that “Dead Pan” Buster has turned out in a long, long while.

9 July 1924, Variety (New York, NY), “Between Worlds” review, pg. 25, col. 1:
The leading roles are played by Lil Dagover and Walter Janssen, while The Stranger is played by Bernard Goetzke who goes right out after the record as the champion “dead pan” actor of the screen.

22 October 1924, Variety (New York, NY), “Keaton’s ‘Navigator’ $60,700 Net, Just $100 Under Capitol’s Record,” pg. 21, col. 1:
Had it not been for a falling off at the Saturday matinee, due to pleasant weather, it certainly would have been a record achievement for the dead pan comic.

22 March 1925, The Sun (Baltimore, MD), “Keaton in ‘Seven Chances’ Is an Entertaining Film,” pt. 2, sec. 3, pg. 3, col. 2:
Buster (Keaton—ed.), the kid with the “dead pan,” is left with $7,000,000 on the condition he marries by 7 o’clock.

4 December 1925, Every Evening (Wilmington, DE), pg. 29, col. 4 photo caption:
Buster Keaton’s funny “dead pan” was never funnier than in this, the newest of his comedies.

8 March 1926, Indiana (PA) Evening Gazette, “Heydler Laughs as ‘Resin Ball’ Furore Grows” by Davis J. Walsh (INS Sports Editor), pg. 5, col. 3:
Unfortunately, this made John one down to Buster Keaton for the dead-pan championship of the world but the slip of the face was unavoidable.

9 December 1928, St. Joseph (MO) Gazette, “Movie Land Has Slang All Its Own,” pg. 8A, col. 1:
When a player acts without expression, he is berated as a “dead pan.”

6 October 1929, Knoxville (TN) News-Sentinel, “Gloria Swanson’s First Talkie To Be At Tennessee This Week” by Charles H. Small, pg. C-8, col. 6:
Buster Keaton is to do a musical comedy. No title has been selected as yet but the dead-pan comic will sing and dance.

12 October 1930, Los Angeles (CA) Sunday Times, “Prison Comedy Fantastic” by Edwin Schallert, The Preview sec., pg. 3, col. 3:
The picture relies on the dumb deadpan comedy of Hymer, who is undoubtedly its funniest actor.

14 March 1931, The Evening Citizen (Ottawa, ON), “Movies,” pg. 26, col. 4:
Warren Hymer, whose “dead pan” comedy had won him high regard among film fans, again scores as a “dumb” sailor.

26 September 1931, Boston (MA) Globe, “Sidewalks of New York,” pg. 2, col. 6:
Buster Keaton, of frozen-face fame, continues along his path of “dead-pan” comedy in “Sidewalks of New York,” his first picture since “Parlor, Room and Bath.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityMusic/Dance/Theatre/Film/Circus • Sunday, September 29, 2019 • Permalink