"carusoing": what the hell is it?

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Thu Feb 12 20:49:02 UTC 2004

[This is from a story about a bunch of churchwomen who went out to investigate the cabarets of Chicago.  Naturally, when a posse of middle-aged biddies in stupid hats showed up at a low dive at 11:30 pm, the manager of the place didn't suspect a thing, though the manager of one joint let it be known that "the identity of [the party's] members in some mysterious way had become known".  In any event, the women were allowed to see some actual "Carusoing" perpetrated.]

        The next stop was at Charlie West's, across the street.  There the principal feature of note was the gay antics of the entertainers.  These were a man and a woman, and they supplemented their vocal "stunt" with that latest cabaret innovation, "Carusoing," a name sufficiently expressive to describe the "stunt."  It amused the patrons, but disgusted the party.
        "However," commented one of the visitors, "they are not catering to us."
Chicago Herald, May 1, 1916, p. 1, col. 1 & p. 4, col. 3

When I read this story, I thought that the reporter who went along on this foray was taking the mickey of the women, and, indeed, I still think so, because it is a pretty funny story.  If he was, though, his editor didn't notice, and no doubt just as well for the reporter; there was an editorial a couple of days later praising the ladies' good work.

The only biography of Caruso at hand that's not written by a family member is strangely more interested in his singing career than his personal habits.  He had been arrrested in 1906 in the monkey house of the Central Park Zoo, evidently for patting a woman's bottom.  The biography claims that this was a set-up, and if the facts offered are correct -- the cop and the woman were old friends and had been through the routine before with other men -- it probably was.  Still, people in 1916 were as ready to believe the worst about a celebrity as they are today, so perhaps a dance that involved some level of groping of the partner would be referred to as "carusoing".

I suppose that it's also possible that the women were aesthetically shocked and disgusted, not morally.  Perhaps "carusoing" involved off-key yowling?

Any of you rounders ever done any "carusoing" when young?


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998.

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