From Plate Juggler to Star
Louis Douglas was born on May 14th, 1889 in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, USA). Although his mother pushed him towards an in her eyes more respectable career, a young Douglas followed in the footsteps of his entertainer father, juggling plates in local theaters. As a fourteen-year-old he was hired to join a group of African American singers for a European tour. He stayed in Europe after the group broke up, touring as a singer, dancer, and comedian, until the First World War began and he moved to London.
The Berlin Years
The revue was a runaway success, and Douglas and Cook, who was in the ensemble, accompanied it on tour. After shows in Berlin in 1926, they settled in the city, where Douglas quickly made the rounds of the theater scene. By the end of the year he had choreographed for the respected director Erik Charell, reported for culture magazines, given interviews, and staged his own revue in the Metropol Theater.
Douglas modeled this revue, which he titled “Black People”, on the show with Baker. Its cast was a who’s who of the most renowned Black actors and musicians in Europe at the time, including Sidney Bechet, Arabella Fields, and Louis Brody. The revue borrowed liberally from racist and exotifying theatrical tropes, presumably both as parody and in the interests of commercial success.
In the face of the National Socialists’ growing power and increasing racist agitation, Douglas and Cook left Berlin in 1932 and settled in Paris. Though Douglas continued to work on revues, he never again attained the success of his Berlin years. Ever more Black performers were fleeing the continent, shattering his network of local collaborators. A 1937 Italian tour ended in disaster after Cook fell ill and couldn’t perform. Unable to pay the production costs of the cancelled shows, the family left Europe impoverished. Douglas would live in New York for just two years before passing away on May 19th, 1939, five days after his fiftieth birthday.