Vaudeville
Overview
Vaudeville was a theatrical
Theatre
Theatre is a collaborative form of fine art that uses live performers to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place. The performers may communicate this experience to the audience through combinations of gesture, speech, song, music or dance...

 genre
Genre
Genre , Greek: genos, γένος) is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, and in general, any type of discourse, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time...

 of variety entertainment
Variety show
A variety show, also known as variety arts or variety entertainment, is an entertainment made up of a variety of acts, especially musical performances and sketch comedy, and normally introduced by a compère or host. Other types of acts include magic, animal and circus acts, acrobatics, juggling...

 in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 from the early 1880s until the early 1930s. Each performance was made up of a series of separate, unrelated acts grouped together on a common bill. Types of acts included popular and classical musician
Musician
A musician is an artist who plays a musical instrument. It may or may not be the person's profession. Musicians can be classified by their roles in performing music and writing music.Also....* A person who makes music a profession....

s, dancers, comedian
Comedian
A comedian or comic is a person who seeks to entertain an audience, primarily by making them laugh. This might be through jokes or amusing situations, or acting a fool, as in slapstick, or employing prop comedy...

s, trained animals
Animal training
Animal training refers to teaching animals specific responses to specific conditions or stimuli. Training may be for the purpose of companionship, detection, protection, entertainment or all of the above....

, magicians, female and male impersonators, acrobats
Acrobatics
Acrobatics is the performance of extraordinary feats of balance, agility and motor coordination. It can be found in many of the performing arts, as well as many sports...

, illustrated songs
Illustrated songs
An illustrated song is a type of performance art and was a popular form of entertainment in the early 20th century in the United States.Live performers and music recordings were both used by different venues to accompany still images projected from glass slides...

, jugglers, one-act plays
Play (theatre)
A play is a form of literature written by a playwright, usually consisting of scripted dialogue between characters, intended for theatrical performance rather than just reading. There are rare dramatists, notably George Bernard Shaw, who have had little preference whether their plays were performed...

 or scenes from plays, athletes, lecturing celebrities, minstrels
Minstrel show
The minstrel show, or minstrelsy, was an American entertainment consisting of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music, performed by white people in blackface or, especially after the Civil War, black people in blackface....

, and movies
Film
A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects...

.
Encyclopedia
Vaudeville was a theatrical
Theatre
Theatre is a collaborative form of fine art that uses live performers to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place. The performers may communicate this experience to the audience through combinations of gesture, speech, song, music or dance...

 genre
Genre
Genre , Greek: genos, γένος) is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, and in general, any type of discourse, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time...

 of variety entertainment
Variety show
A variety show, also known as variety arts or variety entertainment, is an entertainment made up of a variety of acts, especially musical performances and sketch comedy, and normally introduced by a compère or host. Other types of acts include magic, animal and circus acts, acrobatics, juggling...

 in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 from the early 1880s until the early 1930s. Each performance was made up of a series of separate, unrelated acts grouped together on a common bill. Types of acts included popular and classical musician
Musician
A musician is an artist who plays a musical instrument. It may or may not be the person's profession. Musicians can be classified by their roles in performing music and writing music.Also....* A person who makes music a profession....

s, dancers, comedian
Comedian
A comedian or comic is a person who seeks to entertain an audience, primarily by making them laugh. This might be through jokes or amusing situations, or acting a fool, as in slapstick, or employing prop comedy...

s, trained animals
Animal training
Animal training refers to teaching animals specific responses to specific conditions or stimuli. Training may be for the purpose of companionship, detection, protection, entertainment or all of the above....

, magicians, female and male impersonators, acrobats
Acrobatics
Acrobatics is the performance of extraordinary feats of balance, agility and motor coordination. It can be found in many of the performing arts, as well as many sports...

, illustrated songs
Illustrated songs
An illustrated song is a type of performance art and was a popular form of entertainment in the early 20th century in the United States.Live performers and music recordings were both used by different venues to accompany still images projected from glass slides...

, jugglers, one-act plays
Play (theatre)
A play is a form of literature written by a playwright, usually consisting of scripted dialogue between characters, intended for theatrical performance rather than just reading. There are rare dramatists, notably George Bernard Shaw, who have had little preference whether their plays were performed...

 or scenes from plays, athletes, lecturing celebrities, minstrels
Minstrel show
The minstrel show, or minstrelsy, was an American entertainment consisting of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music, performed by white people in blackface or, especially after the Civil War, black people in blackface....

, and movies
Film
A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects...

. Vaudeville developed from many sources, including the concert saloon
Concert saloon
The concert saloon was an American copy of the English music hall, and the forerunner of the variety and vaudeville theater. As in the music hall, alcohol was served. The entertainment at the saloon was to hold the imbiber's attention, so they would imbibe more.- References :Zellers, Parker R....

, minstrelsy
Minstrel show
The minstrel show, or minstrelsy, was an American entertainment consisting of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music, performed by white people in blackface or, especially after the Civil War, black people in blackface....

, freak show
Freak show
A freak show is an exhibition of biological rarities, referred to as "freaks of nature". Typical features would be physically unusual humans, such as those uncommonly large or small, those with both male and female secondary sexual characteristics, people with other extraordinary diseases and...

s, dime museum
Dime museum
Dime museums were institutions that were briefly popular at the end of the 19th century in the United States. Designed as centers for entertainment and moral education for the working class , the museums were distinctly different from upper-middle class' cultural events...

s, and literary burlesque
American burlesque
American Burlesque is a genre of variety show. Derived from elements of Victorian burlesque, music hall and minstrel shows, burlesque shows in America became popular in the 1860s and evolved to feature ribald comedy and female striptease...

. Called "the heart of American show business," vaudeville was one of the most popular types of entertainment in North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

 for several decades.

Etymology

The origin of the term
Terminology
Terminology is the study of terms and their use. Terms are words and compound words that in specific contexts are given specific meanings, meanings that may deviate from the meaning the same words have in other contexts and in everyday language. The discipline Terminology studies among other...

 is obscure, but is often explained as being derived from the expression voix de ville, or "voice of the city." Another plausible etymology
Etymology
Etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.For languages with a long written history, etymologists make use of texts in these languages and texts about the languages to gather knowledge about how words were used during...

 finds origins in the French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 Vau de Vire
Vire River
The Vire is a river in Normandy, France whose 128 km course crosses the départements of Calvados and Manche, flowing through the towns of Vire, Saint-Lô and Isigny-sur-Mer, finally flowing out into the English Channel....

, a valley in Normandy
Normandy
Normandy is a geographical region corresponding to the former Duchy of Normandy. It is in France.The continental territory covers 30,627 km² and forms the preponderant part of Normandy and roughly 5% of the territory of France. It is divided for administrative purposes into two régions:...

 noted for its style of satirical songs with topical themes. The term vaudeville, referring specifically to North American variety entertainment, came into common usage after 1871 with the formation of Sargent's Great Vaudeville Company of Louisville, Kentucky. It had little, if anything, to do with the Comédie en vaudeville
Comédie en vaudeville
The Comédie en vaudeville was a theatrical entertainment which began in Paris towards the end of the 17th century, in which comedy was enlivened though lyrics using the melody of popular vaudeville songs.-Evolution:...

 of the French theatre.

Leavitt's and Sargent's shows differed little from the coarser material presented in earlier itinerant entertainments, although their use of the term to provide a veneer of respectability points to an early effort to cater variety amusements to the growing middle class. Though vaudeville had been used in the United States as early as the 1830s, most variety theatres adopted the term in the late 1880s and early 1890s for two reasons. First, seeking middle class patrons, they wished to distance themselves from the earlier rowdy, working-class variety halls. Second, the French or pseudo-French term lent an air of sophistication, and perhaps made the institution seem more consistent with the Progressive Era
Progressive Era
The Progressive Era in the United States was a period of social activism and political reform that flourished from the 1890s to the 1920s. One main goal of the Progressive movement was purification of government, as Progressives tried to eliminate corruption by exposing and undercutting political...

's interests in education and self-betterment. Some, however, preferred the earlier term "variety" to what manager Tony Pastor
Tony Pastor
Tony Pastor was an American impresario, variety performer and theatre owner who became one of the founding forces behind American vaudeville in the mid-to-late nineteenth century...

 called its "sissy and Frenchified" successor. Thus, vaudeville was marketed as "variety" well into the twentieth century.

Beginnings

A descendant of variety, (c. 1860s–1881), vaudeville was distinguished from the earlier form by its mixed-gender audience, usually alcohol-free halls, and often slavish devotion to inculcating favor among members of the middle class. The form gradually evolved from the concert saloon and variety hall into its mature form throughout the 1870s and 1880s. This more genteel form was known as "Polite Vaudeville."

In the years before the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, entertainment existed on a different scale. Certainly, variety theatre existed before 1860 in Europe and elsewhere. In the United States, as early as the first decades of the 19th century, theatregoers could enjoy a performance consisting of Shakespeare plays, acrobatics, singing, dancing, and comedy. As the years progressed, people seeking diversified amusement found an increasing number of ways to be entertained. A handful of circuses regularly toured the country; dime museums appealed to the curious; amusement parks, riverboats, and town halls often featured "cleaner" presentations of variety entertainment; and saloons, music halls and burlesque
American burlesque
American Burlesque is a genre of variety show. Derived from elements of Victorian burlesque, music hall and minstrel shows, burlesque shows in America became popular in the 1860s and evolved to feature ribald comedy and female striptease...

 houses catered to those with a taste for the risqué. In the 1840s, minstrel shows, another type of variety performance, and "the first emanation of a pervasive and purely American mass culture," grew to enormous popularity and formed what Nick Tosches called "the heart of 19th-century show business." Medicine shows traveled the countryside offering programs of comedy, music, jugglers and other novelties along with displays of tonics, salves, and miracle elixirs, while "Wild West" shows provided romantic vistas of the disappearing frontier, complete with trick riding, music and drama. Vaudeville incorporated these various itinerant amusements into a stable, institutionalized form centered in America's growing urban hubs.

In the early 1880s, impresario
Impresario
An impresario is a person who organizes and often finances concerts, plays or operas; analogous to a film producer in filmmaking, television production and an angel investor in business...

 Tony Pastor, a circus ringmaster turned theatre manager, capitalized on middle class
Middle class
The middle class is any class of people in the middle of a societal hierarchy. In Weberian socio-economic terms, the middle class is the broad group of people in contemporary society who fall socio-economically between the working class and upper class....

 sensibilities and spending power when he began to feature "polite" variety programs in several of his New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 theatres. The usual date given for the "birth" of vaudeville is October 24, 1881, when Pastor famously staged the first bill of self-proclaimed "clean" vaudeville in New York City. Hoping to draw a potential audience from female and family-based shopping traffic uptown
Upper Manhattan
Upper Manhattan denotes the more northerly region of the New York City Borough of Manhattan. Its southern boundary may be defined anywhere between 59th Street and 155th Street. Between these two extremes lies the most common definitions of Upper Manhattan as Manhattan above 96th Street...

, Pastor barred the sale of liquor in his theatres, eliminated bawdy material from his shows, and offered gifts of coal and hams to attendees. Pastor's experiment proved successful, and other managers soon followed suit.

Popularity


The manager's comments, sent back to the circuit's central office weekly, follow each act's description. The bill illustrates the typical pattern of opening the show with a "dumb" act to allow patrons to find their seats, placing strong acts in second and penultimate positions, and leaving the weakest act for the end, to clear the house.

As well, note that in this bill, as in many vaudeville shows, acts often associated with "lowbrow" or popular entertainment (acrobats, a trained mule) shared a stage with acts more usually regarded as "highbrow" or classical entertainment (opera vocalists, classical musicians).
  • (1) Burt Jordan and Rosa Crouch. "Sensational, grotesque and 'buck' dancers. A good act..."
  • (2) The White Tscherkess Trio. "A man and two women who do a singing turn of the operatic order. They carry special scenery which is very artistic and their costumes are original and neat. Their voices are good and blend exceedingly well. The act goes big with the audience."
  • (3) Sarah Midgely and Gertie Carlisle. "Presenting the sketch 'After School.' ... they are a 'knockout.'"
  • (4) Theodor F. Smith and Jenny St. George-Fuller. "Refined instrumentalists."
  • (5) Milly Capell. "European equestrienne. This is her second week. On account of the very pretty picture that she makes she goes as strong as she did last week."
  • (6) R. J. Jose. "Tenor singer. The very best of them all."
  • (7) The Nelson Family of Acrobats. "This act is composed of three men, two young women, three boys and two small girls. The greatest acrobatic act extant."
  • (8) James Thornton. "Monologist and vocalist. He goes like a cyclone. It is a case of continuous laughter from his entrance to his exit."
  • (9) Burk and Andrus and Their Trained Mule. "This act, if it can be so classed, was closed after the evening performance."


B. F. Keith
Benjamin Franklin Keith
Benjamin Franklin Keith was an American vaudeville theatre owner, highly influential in the evolution of variety theater into vaudeville.-Early years:...

 took the next step, starting in Boston
Boston
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...

, where he built an empire of theatres
Theater (structure)
A theater or theatre is a structure where theatrical works or plays are performed or other performances such as musical concerts may be produced. While a theater is not required for performance , a theater serves to define the performance and audience spaces...

 and brought vaudeville to the United States and Canada. Later, E. F. Albee
Edward Franklin Albee II
Edward Franklin Albee II was a vaudeville impresario, and the adoptive grandfather of Edward Franklin Albee III, the playwright.-Biography:He was born on October 8, 1857 in Machias, Maine to Nathaniel Smith Albee....

, adoptive grandfather of the Pulitzer Prize
Pulitzer Prize
The Pulitzer Prize is a U.S. award for achievements in newspaper and online journalism, literature and musical composition. It was established by American publisher Joseph Pulitzer and is administered by Columbia University in New York City...

-winning playwright Edward Albee
Edward Albee
Edward Franklin Albee III is an American playwright who is best known for The Zoo Story , The Sandbox , Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? , and a rewrite of the screenplay for the unsuccessful musical version of Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's . His works are considered well-crafted, often...

, managed the chain to its greatest success. Circuits such as those managed by Keith-Albee provided vaudeville's greatest economic innovation and the principal source of its industrial strength. They enabled a chain of allied vaudeville houses that remedied the chaos of the single-theatre booking system by contracting acts for regional and national tours. These could easily be lengthened from a few weeks to two years.

Albee also gave national prominence to vaudeville's trumpeting "polite" entertainment, a commitment to entertainment equally inoffensive to men, women and children. Acts that violated this ethos (e.g., those that used words such as "hell") were admonished and threatened with expulsion from the week's remaining performances or were canceled altogether. In spite of such threats, performers routinely flouted this censorship, often to the delight of the very audience members whose sensibilities were supposedly endangered.

By the late 1890s, vaudeville had large circuits, houses (small and large) in almost every sizable location, standardized booking, broad pools of skilled acts, and a loyal national following. One of the biggest circuits was Martin Beck's Orpheum Circuit
Orpheum Circuit, Inc.
Orpheum Circuit, Inc., was a company started by Martin Beck who owned a series of vaudeville theaters and motion picture theaters.- The company :...

. It incorporated in 1919 and brought together 45 vaudeville theaters in 36 cities throughout the United States and Canada and a large interest in two vaudeville circuits. Another major circuit was that of Alexander Pantages
Alexander Pantages
Alexander Pantages was an American vaudeville and early motion picture producer and impresario who created a large and powerful circuit of theatres across the western United States and Canada.-Early life:...

. At his hey-day Pantages owned more than 30 vaudeville theaters and controlled, through management contracts, perhaps 60 more in both the United States and Canada.

At its height, vaudeville played across multiple strata of economic class and auditorium size. On the vaudeville circuit, it was said that if an act would succeed in Peoria, Illinois
Peoria, Illinois
Peoria is the largest city on the Illinois River and the county seat of Peoria County, Illinois, in the United States. It is named after the Peoria tribe. As of the 2010 census, the city was the seventh-most populated in Illinois, with a population of 115,007, and is the third-most populated...

, it would work anywhere. The question "Will it play in Peoria?" has now become a metaphor for whether something appeals to the American mainstream public. The three most common levels were the “small time” (lower-paying contracts for more frequent performances in rougher, often converted theatres), the “medium time” (moderate wages for two performances each day in purpose-built theatres), and the “big time” (possible remuneration of several thousand dollars per week in large, urban theatres largely patronized by the middle and upper-middle classes). As performers rose in renown and established regional and national followings, they worked their way into the less arduous working conditions and better pay of the big time. The capitol of the big time was New York City's Palace Theatre
Palace Theatre, New York
The Palace Theatre is a Broadway theatre located at 1564 Broadway in midtown-Manhattan.-History:Designed by architects Kirchoff & Rose, the theatre was built by Martin Beck a California vaudeville entrepreneur and Broadway impresario. The project experienced a number of business problems before...

 (or just “The Palace” in the slang of vaudevillians), built by Martin Beck
Martin Beck (vaudeville)
Martin Beck was a vaudeville theatre owner who founded Orpheum Circuit, Inc.-Early Life and Career:Martin Beck was born on 31 July, 1868 at Liptovský Mikuláš, a town in northern Slovakia that at the time of his birth was ruled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire...

 in 1913 and operated by Keith. Featuring a bill stocked with inventive novelty acts, national celebrities, and acknowledged masters of vaudeville performance (such as comedian and trick roper Will Rogers
Will Rogers
William "Will" Penn Adair Rogers was an American cowboy, comedian, humorist, social commentator, vaudeville performer, film actor, and one of the world's best-known celebrities in the 1920s and 1930s....

), the Palace provided what many vaudevillians considered the apotheoses of remarkable careers.

While the neighborhood character of vaudeville attendance had always promoted a tendency to tailor fare to specific audiences, mature vaudeville grew to feature houses and circuits specifically aimed at certain demographic groups. African-American patrons, often segregated into the rear of the second gallery in white-oriented theatres, had their own smaller circuits, as did speakers of Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

 and Yiddish
Yiddish language
Yiddish is a High German language of Ashkenazi Jewish origin, spoken throughout the world. It developed as a fusion of German dialects with Hebrew, Aramaic, Slavic languages and traces of Romance languages...

. (For a brief discussion of Black vaudeville, see Theater Owners Booking Association.) White-oriented regional circuits, such as New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

's "Peanut Circuit", also provided essential training grounds for new artists while allowing established acts to experiment with and polish new material. At its height, vaudeville was rivaled only by churches and public schools among the nation's premiere public gathering places.

Decline

The shift of New York City's Palace Theatre, vaudeville's epicenter, to an exclusively cinema presentation on 16 November 1932 is often considered to have been the death knell of vaudeville. No single event is more reflective of its gradual withering. The line is blurred, however, by the number of vaudeville entrepreneurs who made more or less successful forays into the movie business. For example, Alexander Pantages
Alexander Pantages
Alexander Pantages was an American vaudeville and early motion picture producer and impresario who created a large and powerful circuit of theatres across the western United States and Canada.-Early life:...

 quickly realized the importance of motion pictures as a form of entertainment. He incorporated them in his shows as early as 1902. Later, he entered into partnership with the motion picture distributor Famous Players, a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures Corporation is an American film production and distribution company, located at 5555 Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. Founded in 1912 and currently owned by media conglomerate Viacom, it is America's oldest existing film studio; it is also the last major film studio still...

. There was no abrupt end to vaudeville, though the form was clearly sagging by the late 1920s.

The continued growth of the lower-priced cinema in the early 1910s dealt the heaviest blow to vaudeville. This was similar to the advent of free broadcast television
Television
Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...

's diminishing the cultural and economic strength of the cinema. Cinema was first regularly commercially presented in the United States in vaudeville halls. The first public showing of movies projected on a screen took place at Koster and Bial's Music Hall
Koster and Bial's Music Hall
Koster and Bial's Music Hall was an important vaudeville theatre in New York, famous in cinema history as the site of the first public exhibition of the Vitascope on April 23, 1896...

 in 1896. Lured by greater salaries and less arduous working conditions, many early film
Film
A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects...

 and old-time radio
Old-time radio
Old-Time Radio and the Golden Age of Radio refer to a period of radio programming in the United States lasting from the proliferation of radio broadcasting in the early 1920s until television's replacement of radio as the primary home entertainment medium in the 1950s...

 performers, such as Al Jolson
Al Jolson
Al Jolson was an American singer, comedian and actor. In his heyday, he was dubbed "The World's Greatest Entertainer"....

, W. C. Fields
W. C. Fields
William Claude Dukenfield , better known as W. C. Fields, was an American comedian, actor, juggler and writer...

, Buster Keaton
Buster Keaton
Joseph Frank "Buster" Keaton was an American comic actor, filmmaker, producer and writer. He was best known for his silent films, in which his trademark was physical comedy with a consistently stoic, deadpan expression, earning him the nickname "The Great Stone Face".Keaton was recognized as the...

, the Marx Brothers
Marx Brothers
The Marx Brothers were an American family comedy act, originally from New York City, that enjoyed success in Vaudeville, Broadway, and motion pictures from the early 1900s to around 1950...

, Jimmy Durante
Jimmy Durante
James Francis "Jimmy" Durante was an American singer, pianist, comedian and actor. His distinctive clipped gravelly speech, comic language butchery, jazz-influenced songs, and large nose helped make him one of America's most familiar and popular personalities of the 1920s through the 1970s...

, Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson
Bill Robinson
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was an American tap dancer and actor of stage and film. Audiences enjoyed his understated style, which eschewed the frenetic manner of the jitterbug in favor of cool and reserve; rarely did he use his upper body, relying instead on busy, inventive feet, and an expressive...

, Edgar Bergen
Edgar Bergen
Edgar John Bergen was an American actor and radio performer, best known as a ventriloquist.-Early life:...

, Fanny Brice
Fanny Brice
Fanny Brice was a popular and influential American illustrated song "model," comedienne, singer, theatre and film actress, who made many stage, radio and film appearances and is known as the creator and star of the top-rated radio comedy series, The Baby Snooks Show...

, and Eddie Cantor
Eddie Cantor
Eddie Cantor was an American "illustrated song" performer, comedian, dancer, singer, actor and songwriter...

, used the prominence gained in live variety performance to vault into the new medium of cinema. (In so doing, such performers often exhausted in a few moments of screen time the novelty of an act that might have kept them on tour for several years.) Other performers who entered in vaudeville's later years, including Jack Benny
Jack Benny
Jack Benny was an American comedian, vaudevillian, and actor for radio, television, and film...

, Kate Smith
Kate Smith
Kathryn Elizabeth "Kate" Smith was an American Popular singer, best known for her rendition of Irving Berlin's "God Bless America". Smith had a radio, television, and recording career spanning five decades, which reached its pinnacle in the 1940s.Smith was born in Greenville, Virginia...

, Bob Hope
Bob Hope
Bob Hope, KBE, KCSG, KSS was a British-born American comedian and actor who appeared in vaudeville, on Broadway, and in radio, television and movies. He was also noted for his work with the US Armed Forces and his numerous USO shows entertaining American military personnel...

, Milton Berle
Milton Berle
Milton Berlinger , better known as Milton Berle, was an American comedian and actor. As the manic host of NBC's Texaco Star Theater , in 1948 he was the first major star of U.S. television and as such became known as Uncle Miltie and Mr...

, Judy Garland
Judy Garland
Judy Garland was an American actress and singer. Through a career that spanned 45 of her 47 years and for her renowned contralto voice, she attained international stardom as an actress in musical and dramatic roles, as a recording artist and on the concert stage...

, Rose Marie
Rose Marie
Rose Marie is an American actress. As a child performer she had a successful singing career as Baby Rose Marie....

, Sammy Davis, Jr.
Sammy Davis, Jr.
Samuel George "Sammy" Davis Jr. was an American entertainer and was also known for his impersonations of actors and other celebrities....

, Red Skelton
Red Skelton
Richard Bernard "Red" Skelton was an American comedian who is best known as a top radio and television star from 1937 to 1971. Skelton's show business career began in his teens as a circus clown and went on to vaudeville, Broadway, films, radio, TV, night clubs and casinos, all while pursuing...

, Burns and Allen
Burns and Allen
Burns and Allen, an American comedy duo consisting of George Burns and his wife, Gracie Allen, worked together as a comedy team in vaudeville, films, radio and television and achieved great success over four decades.-Vaudeville:...

, and The Three Stooges, used vaudeville only as a launching pad for later careers. They left live performance before achieving the national celebrity of earlier vaudeville stars, and found fame in new venues.

By the late 1920s, almost no vaudeville bill failed to include a healthy selection of cinema. Earlier in the century, many vaudevillians, cognizant of the threat represented by cinema, held out hope that the silent nature of the "flickering shadow sweethearts" would preclude their usurpation of the paramount place in the public's affection. With the introduction of talking pictures in 1926, however, the burgeoning film studios removed what had remained, for many, the chief point in favor of live theatrical performance: spoken dialogue. Historian John Kenrick
John Kenrick
John Kenrick was an English classical historian.-Life:He was born on 4 February 1788 at Exeter, the eldest son of Timothy Kenrick, Unitarian minister, and his first wife, Mary, daughter of John Waymouth of Exeter. He was educated at the local grammar school run by the Rev. Charles Lloyd and later...

 wrote: "Top vaudeville stars filmed their acts for one-time pay-offs, inadvertently helping to speed the death of vaudeville. After all, when "small time" theatres could offer "big time" performers on screen at a nickel a seat, who could ask audiences to pay higher amounts for less impressive live talent? The newly-formed RKO studios
RKO Pictures
RKO Pictures is an American film production and distribution company. As RKO Radio Pictures Inc., it was one of the Big Five studios of Hollywood's Golden Age. The business was formed after the Keith-Albee-Orpheum theater chains and Joseph P...

 took over the famed Orpheum vaudeville circuit and swiftly turned it into a chain of fulltime movie theaters. The half-century tradition of vaudeville was effectively wiped out within less than four years."

Inevitably, managers further trimmed costs by eliminating the last of the live performances. Vaudeville also suffered due to the rise of broadcast radio following the greater availability of inexpensive receiver sets later in the decade. Even the hardiest within the vaudeville industry realized the form was in decline; the perceptive understood the condition to be terminal. The standardized film distribution and talking pictures of the 1930s confirmed the end of vaudeville. By 1930, the vast majority of formerly live theatres had been wired for sound, and none of the major studios were producing silent pictures. For a time, the most luxurious theatres continued to offer live entertainment, but the majority of theatres were forced by the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

 to economize.

Some in the industry blamed cinema's drain of talent from the vaudeville circuits for the medium's demise. Others argued that vaudeville had allowed its performances to become too familiar to its famously loyal, now seemingly fickle audiences.

Though talk of its resurrection was heard throughout the 1930s and after, the demise of the supporting apparatus of the circuits and the inescapably higher cost of live performance made any large-scale renewal of vaudeville unrealistic.

Architecture

The most striking examples of Gilded Age
Gilded Age
In United States history, the Gilded Age refers to the era of rapid economic and population growth in the United States during the post–Civil War and post-Reconstruction eras of the late 19th century. The term "Gilded Age" was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their book The Gilded...

 theater architecture were commissioned by the big time vaudeville magnates and stood as monuments of their wealth and ambition. Examples of such architecture are the theaters built by impressario Alexander Pantages
Alexander Pantages
Alexander Pantages was an American vaudeville and early motion picture producer and impresario who created a large and powerful circuit of theatres across the western United States and Canada.-Early life:...

. Pantages often used architect B. Marcus Priteca
B. Marcus Priteca
Benjamin Marcus Priteca was born in Glasgow, Scotland. A theater architect, he is best-known for his work for Alexander Pantages. He graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1907 and later attended the Royal College of Art...

 (1881–1971), who in turn regularly worked with muralist Anthony Heinsbergen
Anthony Heinsbergen
Anthony Heinsbergen was an American muralist considered the foremost designer of North American movie theatre interiors....

. Priteca devised an exotic, neo-classical style that his employer called "Pantages Greek".

Though classic vaudeville reached a zenith of capitalization and sophistication in urban areas dominated by national chains and commodious theatres, small-time vaudeville included countless more intimate and locally controlled houses. Small-time houses were often converted saloons, rough-hewn theatres or multi-purpose halls, together catering to a wide range of clientele. Many small towns had purpose-built theatres.

Post-vaudeville

Some of the most prominent vaudevillians continued the migration to cinema, though others found that the gifts that had so delighted live audiences did not translate well into different media. Some performers such as Bert Lahr
Bert Lahr
Bert Lahr was an American actor and comedian. Lahr is remembered today for his roles as the Cowardly Lion and Kansas farmworker Zeke in The Wizard of Oz, but was also well-known for work in burlesque, vaudeville, and on Broadway.-Early life:Lahr was born in New York City, of German-Jewish heritage...

 fashioned careers out of combining live performance, radio and film roles. Many others later appeared in the Catskill
Catskill Mountains
The Catskill Mountains, an area in New York State northwest of New York City and southwest of Albany, are a mature dissected plateau, an uplifted region that was subsequently eroded into sharp relief. They are an eastward continuation, and the highest representation, of the Allegheny Plateau...

 resorts that constituted the "Borscht Belt
Borscht Belt
Borscht Belt, or Jewish Alps, is a colloquial term for the mostly defunct summer resorts of the Catskill Mountains in parts of Sullivan, Orange and Ulster counties in upstate New York that were a popular vacation spot for New York City Jews from the 1920s through the 1960s.-Name:The name comes from...

". Many simply retired from performance and entered the workaday world of the middle class, the group that vaudeville, more than anything else, had helped to articulate and entertain.

Yet vaudeville, both in its methods and ruling aesthetic, influenced the succeeding media of film, radio and television. The screwball comedies
Screwball comedy film
The screwball comedy is a principally American genre of comedy film that became popular during the Great Depression, originating in the early 1930s and thriving until the early 1940s. It is characterized by fast-paced repartee, farcical situations, escapist themes, and plot lines involving...

 of the 1930s, those reflections of the brief moment of cinematic equipoise between dialogue and physicality, reflect the more madcap comedic elements of some vaudeville acts (e.g., The Three Keatons). In form, the television variety show
Variety show
A variety show, also known as variety arts or variety entertainment, is an entertainment made up of a variety of acts, especially musical performances and sketch comedy, and normally introduced by a compère or host. Other types of acts include magic, animal and circus acts, acrobatics, juggling...

 owed much to vaudeville. The multi-act format had renewed success in shows such as Your Show of Shows
Your Show of Shows
Your Show of Shows is a live 90-minute variety show that appeared weekly in the United States on NBC , from February 25, 1950, until June 5, 1954, featuring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca....

with Sid Caesar
Sid Caesar
Isaac Sidney "Sid" Caesar is an Emmy award winning American comic actor and writer known as the leading man on the 1950s television series Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour, and to younger generations as Coach Calhoun in Grease and Grease 2.- Early life :Caesar was born in Yonkers, New York,...

 and, The Ed Sullivan Show
The Ed Sullivan Show
The Ed Sullivan Show is an American TV variety show that originally ran on CBS from Sunday June 20, 1948 to Sunday June 6, 1971, and was hosted by New York entertainment columnist Ed Sullivan....

. Today, performers such as Bill Irwin
Bill Irwin
William Mills "Bill" Irwin is an American actor and clown noted for his contribution to the renaissance of American circus during the 1970s. He is known for his vaudeville-style stage acts, but has made a number of appearances on film and television and won a Tony Award for a dramatic role on...

, a MacArthur Fellow and Tony Award
Tony Award
The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre, more commonly known as a Tony Award, recognizes achievement in live Broadway theatre. The awards are presented by the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League at an annual ceremony in New York City. The awards are given for Broadway...

-winning actor, are frequently lauded as being "New Vaudevillians."

References to vaudeville and the use of its distinctive argot continue throughout Western popular culture. Terms such as "a flop" (an act that does badly), for example, have entered the American idiom. Many of the most common performance techniques and "gags" of vaudeville entertainers are still seen on television
Television
Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...

 and on film. Vaudeville, like its dime museum and variety theatre forebears, also continued and solidified a strong American absorption with foreign entertainers.

Archives

The American Vaudeville Museum, the world’s largest collection of vaudeville memorabilia, is located at the University of Arizona.

The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres
Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres
The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres are a pair of stacked theatres in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Winter Garden theatre is seven stories above the Elgin Theatre....

 in Toronto
Toronto
Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the largest city in Canada. It is located in Southern Ontario on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A relatively modern city, Toronto's history dates back to the late-18th century, when its land was first purchased by the British monarchy from...

 houses the world's largest collection of vaudeville props and scenery.

See also

  • American burlesque
    American burlesque
    American Burlesque is a genre of variety show. Derived from elements of Victorian burlesque, music hall and minstrel shows, burlesque shows in America became popular in the 1860s and evolved to feature ribald comedy and female striptease...

  • Blackface
    Blackface
    Blackface is a form of theatrical makeup used in minstrel shows, and later vaudeville, in which performers create a stereotyped caricature of a black person. The practice gained popularity during the 19th century and contributed to the proliferation of stereotypes such as the "happy-go-lucky darky...

  • Borscht Belt
    Borscht Belt
    Borscht Belt, or Jewish Alps, is a colloquial term for the mostly defunct summer resorts of the Catskill Mountains in parts of Sullivan, Orange and Ulster counties in upstate New York that were a popular vacation spot for New York City Jews from the 1920s through the 1960s.-Name:The name comes from...

  • Cabaret
    Cabaret
    Cabaret is a form, or place, of entertainment featuring comedy, song, dance, and theatre, distinguished mainly by the performance venue: a restaurant or nightclub with a stage for performances and the audience sitting at tables watching the performance, as introduced by a master of ceremonies or...

  • Chautauqua
    Chautauqua
    Chautauqua was an adult education movement in the United States, highly popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Chautauqua assemblies expanded and spread throughout rural America until the mid-1920s. The Chautauqua brought entertainment and culture for the whole community, with...

  • Concert Party (entertainment)
    Concert Party (entertainment)
    A concert party, also called a Pierrot troupe, is the collective name for a group of entertainers, or Pierrots, popular in Britain during the first half of the 20th century. The variety show given by a Pierrot troupe was called a Pierrot show...

  • Concert saloon
    Concert saloon
    The concert saloon was an American copy of the English music hall, and the forerunner of the variety and vaudeville theater. As in the music hall, alcohol was served. The entertainment at the saloon was to hold the imbiber's attention, so they would imbibe more.- References :Zellers, Parker R....

  • For Me and My Gal (film)
    For Me and My Gal (film)
    For Me and My Gal is a 1942 American musical film directed by Busby Berkeley and starring Judy Garland, Gene Kelly – in his screen debut – and George Murphy, and featuring Martha Eggerth and Ben Blue. The film was written by Richard Sherman, Fred F...

  • Music hall
    Music hall
    Music Hall is a type of British theatrical entertainment which was popular between 1850 and 1960. The term can refer to:# A particular form of variety entertainment involving a mixture of popular song, comedy and speciality acts...


  • Vaudeville Bellydance
  • Medicine show
    Medicine show
    Medicine shows were traveling horse and wagon teams which peddled "miracle cure" medications and other products between various entertainment acts. Their precise origins unknown, medicine shows were common in the 19th century United States...

  • Minstrel show
    Minstrel show
    The minstrel show, or minstrelsy, was an American entertainment consisting of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music, performed by white people in blackface or, especially after the Civil War, black people in blackface....

  • Nightclub
    Nightclub
    A nightclub is an entertainment venue which usually operates late into the night...

  • Revue
    Revue
    A revue is a type of multi-act popular theatrical entertainment that combines music, dance and sketches. The revue has its roots in 19th century American popular entertainment and melodrama but grew into a substantial cultural presence of its own during its golden years from 1916 to 1932...

  • Tab show
    Tab show
    A tab show was a short or 'tabloid' version of various popular musical comedies performed in the United States in the early 20th century.-History:...

  • Tom Shows
    Tom Shows
    Tom Shows were stage plays and musicals based on the 1852 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The novel depicts the harsh reality of slavery...

  • Variety show
    Variety show
    A variety show, also known as variety arts or variety entertainment, is an entertainment made up of a variety of acts, especially musical performances and sketch comedy, and normally introduced by a compère or host. Other types of acts include magic, animal and circus acts, acrobatics, juggling...



External links

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