Doranto, The Greatest Chinese Impersonator and Human Xylophone

Doranto, The Greatest Chinese Impersonator and Human Xylophone

Very good. Original photograph, 4x5.5 inches, mounted on 6x8 inch board with decorative border and printed captions. Credited on the mount to Dexter, McKeesport, PA. Ca. 1900. Doranto was one of several actors in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries regularly performed Chinese impersonations in traveling variety shows. Claiming to have studied Chinese language and culture from a young age, he performed across the United States and in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, dressing in Chinese costume, playing “discordant melodies from strange-looking musical instruments” (according to comedian Fred Allen, who encountered him on a ship), and billing himself as “the human xylophone.” He played the Chinese fiddle, the Chinese banjo and Chinese guitar, instruments that one Australian reviewer called “bizarre," remarking that one of them resembled a flower pot with a saucepan handle. This is probably a reference to an erhu, which is shown in this photograph. Doranto’s audiences—most of whom had likely never encountered an actual Chinese person—may have thought the apparently dreadful sounds he made were authentic Chinese. An Australian reviewer commented that “to enjoy Doranto’s music to the utmost you should have almond-shaped eyes and a pigtail at least 3 ft 6 inches long. It is the real stuff, as the saying is, and probably just as acceptable to the wooable Chinese maid as the guitar is to the amorous Spanish beauty.” According to Fred Allen, the “human xylophone” aspect of his act was saved for the finale, when he “caus[ed] alleged melodies to emerge from his mouth as the result of spanking his false teeth with two short sticks while manipulating his orifice.” Our searches of OCLC and other sources have turned up no other examples of this photograph, or any other of Doranto (whose real name, alas, we do not know).

Item #20785

Price: $250.00