Ray Mayer and Edith Evans were a very busy comedic piano-and-song duo in the 1920s Jazz Age. Enjoyed by young and old audiences alike today, the Mayer & Evans act has made somewhat of a comeback via the presentation of several of their Vitaphone shorts at the UCLA Film Forum Vitaphone revivals. Audiences viewing these shorts today regard them as highly entertaining film curios of the Jazz Age.
Ray Mayer was born Raymond Maher on April 24, 1901 in Lexington, Nebraska. Ray was the son of Thomas F. Maher and Margaret Kearney Maher. He was in vaudeville, in 45 or more Hollywood films, seven Broadway plays, had a radio show, and appeared on TV. As a kid he ran away from home to join the circus. At one point in the 1920’s Ray tried to join the Ben Pollack Orchestra but failed. In 1927 Ray Mayer appears in a Vitaphone sound short A Night At Coffee Dan’s with William Demarest (“Uncle Charley” of My Three Sons fame). His next adventure was the vaudeville team of “Evans and Mayer”.
Friend of the Jazz Age 1920’s and Larry Conley son-in-law Bob Lang writes:
Before he was in Vaudeville, Ray Mayer played in at least two of Larry Conley’s bands. One was in Tulsa, Oklahoma where they played for Ruby Darby’s 1921 show at the Broadway Theater (see above photo). Most of these players went to Mexico with Conley in 1922. Conley had three bands playing there, one in Tampico which included both himself and Ray Mayer. The other two were in Mexico City. The information for the bands in Mexico came from the September 30, 1922 issue of The Billboard.
Another interesting thing is that Ray Mayer later composed a number of songs with Willard Robison, as did Larry Conley. We always wondered how Conley met Robison. We know they knew each other back as far as 1924 and maybe Ray Mayer was the connection. The only thing I’ve found out about Emmett Lynn is that he was a movie actor in the later 1920’s.
In 1933 Ray Mayer married his vaudeville partner Edith Evans. They were active in the show business until Ray’s untimely death at age 47 on November 22, 1948 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Ray died of a heart attack at Covey’s New American Motor Lodge while he and Edith were on their way to a Billings, Montana performance. He was brought back to California and interred in Woodlawn Cemetery, Santa Monica on November 27.
Edith Evans was born June 12, 1898 in Des Moines, Iowa. Edith was the daughter of William Scott Evans and Nellie Overstreet Evans. Edith (sometimes spelled "Edyth") E. Evans’ first marriage in 1920 was to Walter S. Fenner (1882-1947) of Davenport, Iowa who was a show business promoter. This marriage ended in divorce on November 1927 in Los Angeles possibly right before the time Edith teamed up with Ray in 1928. She later married Raymond Maher on September 9, 1933 in Sherman Square Hotel, Broadway at 71st St., Manhattan, New York. At the time of Ray’s death Edith was known as "Edith E. Mayer" although in show business she remained "Edith Evans" and appeared with Ray as Edith Evans on stage and radio, and on her own in live theater. Ray’s obituary says they had a child Jean (Maher) Mayer.
Edith and daughter Jean moved to Las Vegas probably in the 1950’s and has been confirmed to be living in Las Vegas from the 1960’s through the 1980’s. Edith moved into a retirement home in Northwest Las Vegas something in the 1980’s and as one of her close friends remembers: "She was very alive and kicking. She told us she was "playing piano at night in the club next door" which I am sure was an illusion, and she spent most of her days in the ‘smoking room with all the guys’ at the retirement home".
Jean had at least two children alive in 1989, and had lost another child in infancy. Edith Evans Maher died at age 90 on March 5, 1989 in a Las Vegas, Nevada hospital. Daughter Jean had preceded Edith in death since Jean is not listed as a survivor in Edith’s obituary, only "two grandchildren" are listed.
The above scenes are from the Vitaphone short #2339 The Cowboy and The Girl (1928). The short features Ray Mayer demonstrating his typical clowning around and mugging for the camera as Edith Evans sings a couple of tunes. In this case the songs are Mine, All Mine and Sing Me A Baby Song. This short is always a crowd-pleaser and was recently shown at the Vitaphone restoration show held annually at UCLA.
Ray and Edith teamed up in New York City at the height of the Jazz Age in 1928 to form their vaudeville act. This act as pictured above consisted of Ray dressed in cowboy regalia complete with checkered shirt and shag-fur chaps playing and singing popular songs of the day on piano all the while cracking jokes to the audience. After Ray’s piano intro Edith would join him to sing the song Ray was playing. During Edith’s vocals Ray would continue to mug to the audience and smack his chewing gum. One of Ray’s piano-playing jokes was to play in a bouncy style whereby at the end of a long stride he would remove the gum from his mouth and place it at the high end of the piano keyboard. At the appropriate time he would later retrieve the gum back to his mouth. This routine can be seen on the Vitaphone shorts popular today.
In a June 4, 1929 Los Angeles Times review of the Evans and Mayer act the writer comments: "Edith Evans, the Brunswick Record Girl, and Ray Mayer, the comic cowboy, are a strange pair - she the aloofly emotionless concert vocalist, he the shy, grinning, red-shirted man of the plains. Mr. Mayer’s good nature and apt timing of remarks would be enough to carry the act, but Miss Evans has a nice voice, Brunswick or no Brunswick, and uses it well".
In the early 1930’s Edith and Ray appeared regularly on national radio broadcasts as well as continuing their vaudeville act. While Ray Mayer was now married to Edith he began his own separate career in 1934 appearing in numerous western movies playing small parts and sometimes in uncredited roles. Oft times he can be seen in these movies playing piano and singing. One newspaper account in 1939 suggested that Ray had played so many gangster and tough characters that when he got off a train in St. Louis he was tailed by the cops. They associated him with crime!
Ray attempted a comeback of sorts on Broadway in late 1939. His Broadway career lasted until 1942 with a very brief 1946 play (Hear That Trumpet, see photo below) that only ran for six days.
Edith Evans Mayer apparently dropped out of day-to-day show business activities around 1933 possibly to take on domestic duties and take care of their child Jean. Edith would appear on tour with Ray at various venues in the mid-1930s and up until Ray’s death in 1948.
We today are very fortunate to have available the preserved film shorts for viewing the Ray Mayer and Edith Evans routines. These go a long way in helping us understand and enjoy the musical comedy of the Jazz Age.
Ray Mayer & Edith Evans Film Shorts
Edith and Ray made two Vitaphone shorts in 1928 and appear together in a 1933 Universal short. Short details are listed here:
When East Meets West, Vitaphone 2236 (1928)
"Henry’s Made a Lady Out of Lizzie" (Ray)
"It All Belongs to Me" (Edith)
"Sleep, Little One, Sleep" (Ray)
"Side by Side" (Edith)
The Cowboy and The Girl, Vitaphone 2339 (1928)
"Mine, All Mine" (Edith)
"There’s a Trick in Pickin’ a Chick-Chick-Chicken Today" (Ray)
"Sing Me a Baby Song" (Edith)
The Big Benefit, Universal (1933)
A fun short featuring some of Universal’s stars of the day in sketches where various child actors pretend to be their grown-up counterpart stars after which the real stars come into the skit and perform their act. The cast includes Rae Samuels, Bill ’Bojangles’ Robinson, Ann Seymour, and others.
Ray Mayer & Edith Evans Songs:
"Start Crooning a Tune"
Ray Mayer & Edith Evans Recordings
Source: Moanin’ Low, Ross Laird, Greenwood Press, 1996.
Edith Evans, comedienne with piano by Ray Mayer. Chicago, May 25, 1928.
C1974-B Too Busy! (Brunswick test)
C1975 Get Out And Get Under The Moon (Brunswick test)
C1978-B Get Out And Get Under The Moon (Brunswick test)
Ray Mayer, piano solo. Chicago, May 25, 1928.
C1979 Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home (Brunswick test)
Edith Evans with piano acc. New York City, July 13, 1928.
E27848- Get Out And Get Under The Moon (Brunswick 3999)
E27849- Oh! You Have No Idea (Brunswick 3999)
RUTH EVANS, comedienne; with piano by Ray Mayer. Chicago, Sep 29, 1928.
C2363-B Ten Little Miles From Town (Brunswick 4089)
C2364-B That’s What Puts The Sweet In Home, Sweet Home (Brunswick 4089)
Edith Evans with piano acc. New York City, March, 1929.
E29458- My Kinda Love (Brunswick 4291)
E29459- Kansas City Kitty (Brunswick 4291)
Edith Evans with Orchestra. New York City, March, 1929.
E29461- Just Am Old Love Affair (Brunswick 4298)
E29462- That’s My Idea of Heaven (Brunswick 4298)
Ray Mayer Compositions
(with Willard Robison)
Guess I’ll Go Back Home Again (This Summer)
Little High Chairman
("Stay Up Stan") The All Night Record Man
Ray Mayer Broadway Plays Tattle Tales [as Officer Take and The Official Mr. "Eh Eh"] June 1-24, 1933 Very Warm for May [as Kenny] November 17, 1939 - January 6, 1940 The Weak Link [as Swede Larsen] March 4-30, 1940 Louisiana Purchase [as Davis D. Davis, Jr.] May 28, 1940 - June 14, 1941 Mr. Big [as Bill] September 30 - October 4, 1941 Banjo Eyes [as Frankie] December 25, 1941 - April 12, 1942 Hear That Trumpet October 7-12, 1946
On this page I wish to pay homage to one of the many 1920’s Jazz Age artists whom I enjoy. Some artists have sketchy, if any, biographical information available. By placing the Ray Mayer & Edith Evans’ entry on this page I hope to gather some more factual data on these unsung artists via a relative and some knowledgeable person who knows of the artists. Fellow Ray Mayer and Edith Evans researcher Ed Broecker is also interested in receiving information as Ed is a cousin of Ray Mayer. Please contact us if you can add more or correct the bio above.
Special thanks to Ray Mayer’s cousin Ed Broecker for his assistance in
making the Ray Mayer and Edith Evans web page possible and for providing important biographical details. Thanks also go to Ron Hutchinson of the Vitaphone Project for filling in some of the blanks and his work in the preservation and presentation of the Ray Mayer and Edith Evans film shorts that keep their memory alive today.