Mert Plunkett has been called a show-business genius for his role as founder of the highly successful vaudeville troupe of Canadian soldiers, The Dumbells. Born in Orillia, Ontario, Plunkett studied music, played piano and trombone, and briefly ran a grocery business. When the First World War broke out, he became the YMCA's troop entertainment director and was attached to the 35th Infantry Battalion with the rank of honorary captain. In this capacity, "Cap Mert" played piano in and directed amateur shows at camps in England and France, and coordinated various concert parties.
The Dumbells concert party was his brainchild; he proposed its formation and chose its members. He engineered the Dumbells' successes in London, England, at the Coliseum Theatre, and on Broadway in 1921, and was decorated by King Albert of Belgium.
Plunkett set up and managed the civilian Dumbells touring show in North America from 1919 to 1932, and conducted the Dumbells Orchestra. He also composed popular songs including "Come Back, Old Pal", which was first performed in the Dumbells revue Carry On in September 1922, and was released in sheet music by Leo Feist Limited, and on record by His Master's Voice and Apex. Another Plunkett hit composition was "Winter Will Come", which his Overseas Orchestra recorded on HMV in 1923.
After the Dumbells folded in 1932, Plunkett tried the insurance business, but in 1939, he became the overseas entertainment supervisor for the Canadian Legion's Auxiliary Services. His composition "We're On Our Way", was sung by soldiers en route to Europe and became popular in England. After the Second World War, Plunkett managed an entertainment club and retired to Collingwood, Ontario, with his wife, Lila Taylor. The impresario passed away at age 78, on December 20, 1966.
Selected recordings available
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- "The Dumbells". Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Edited by Helmut Kallmann et al. 2nd ed. Toronto : University of Toronto Press, c1992. xxxii, 1524 p. AMICUS 12048560
- Plunkett, Albert William ; Earle, Patrise. Al Plunkett : the famous Dumbell. By Patrise Earle, as told by Al Plunkett. New York : Pageant Press, . 107 p. AMICUS 13090515