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Vaudeville (; ) is a
theatrical Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of performing art that uses live performers, usually actor, actors or actresses, to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place, often a stage. The pe ...

theatrical
genre Genre () is any form or type of communication Communication (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area aro ...

genre
of variety entertainment born in France at the end of the 19th century. A vaudeville was originally a comedy without psychological or moral intentions, based on a comical situation: a dramatic composition or light poetry, mixed with songs or ballets. It became popular in the United States and Canada from the early 1880s until the early 1930s, but the idea of vaudeville's theatre changed radically from its French antecedent. In some ways analogous to
music hall Music hall is a type of British theatrical entertainment that was popular from the early Victorian era, beginning around 1850. It faded away after 1918 as the halls Rebranding, rebranded their entertainment as Variety show, variety. Perceptio ...

music hall
from
Victorian Britain In the history of the United Kingdom, the Victorian era was the period of Queen Victoria Victoria (Alexandrina Victoria; 24 May 1819 – 22 January 1901) was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 18 ...
, a typical North American vaudeville performance was made up of a series of separate, unrelated acts grouped together on a common bill. Types of acts have included popular and classical
musician A musician is a person who composes, conducts, or performs music. According to the United States Employment Service The United States Employment Service (USES) is an agency of the federal government of the United States The federal gov ...

musician
s, singers,
dancer Dance is a performing art The performing arts are arts such as music, dance, and drama which are performed for an audience. It is different from visual arts The visual arts are art forms such as painting Painting is the prac ...

dancer
s,
comedian A comedian or comic is a person who seeks to entertain an audience An audience is a group of people who participate in a show or encounter a work of art A work of art, artwork, art piece, piece of art or art object is an ...

comedian
s, trained animals,
magicians Magician or The Magician may refer to: Performers * A practitioner of Magic (supernatural) * A practitioner of Magic (illusion) * Magician (fantasy), a character in a fictional fantasy context Entertainment Books * ''The Magician'', an 18th-cent ...
, ventriloquists, strongmen, female and male impersonators,
acrobats Acrobatics (from Ancient Greek ἀκροβατέω, ''akrobateo'', "walk on tiptoe, strut") is the performance of human feats of balance (ability), balance, agility, and motor coordination. Acrobatic skills are used in performing arts, sports, s ...

acrobats
,
clown A clown is a person who wears a unique makeup-face and flamboyant costume, performing comedy Comedy (from the el, wikt:κωμῳδία, κωμῳδία, ''kōmōdía'') is a genre of fiction that consists of discourses or works intended t ...

clown
s,
illustrated song 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 (usually both a pianist and a vocalist) and music recordings were both used by different ...
s,
jugglers Juggling is a physical skill, performed by a juggler, involving the manipulation of objects for recreation, entertainment, art or sport. The most recognizable form of juggling is toss juggling. Juggling can be the manipulation of one object or ...
, one-act
plays Play most commonly refers to: * Play (activity), an activity done for enjoyment * Play (theatre), a work of drama Play may refer also to: Computers and technology * Google Play, a digital content service * Play Framework, a Java framework * Play ...
or scenes from plays,
athletes An athlete (also sportsman or sportswoman) is a person who competes in one or more sport Sport pertains to any form of competitive Competition is a rivalry A rivalry is the state of two people or groups engaging in a lasting com ...
, lecturing
celebrities Celebrity is a condition of wikt:fame, fame and broad public recognition of an individual or group, or occasionally a character or animal, as a result of the attention given to them by mass media. A person may attain a celebrity status from hav ...

celebrities
,
minstrels A minstrel was a Middle Ages, medieval European entertainer. Originally describing any type of entertainer such as a musician, juggler, acrobatics, acrobat, singer or jester, fool, the term later, from the sixteenth century, came to mean a spec ...
, and
movies A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a work of used to simulate experiences that communicate ideas, stories, perceptions, feelings, beauty, or atmosphere through the use of moving images. These images are gen ...

movies
. A vaudeville performer is often referred to as a "vaudevillian". Vaudeville developed from many sources, also including the
concert saloonThe concert saloon was an American adaptation of the English English usually refers to: * English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, ...
, minstrelsy,
freak show and its popular ongoing freak show in August 2008. A freak show is an exhibition of biological rarities, referred to in popular culture as "freaks of nature". Typical features would be physically unusual Human#Anatomy and physiology, humans, suc ...
s,
dime museum Dime museums were institutions that were popular at the end of the 19th century in the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United States, pr ...
s, and literary
American burlesque American burlesque is a genre of variety show derived from elements of Victorian burlesque, music hall and minstrel shows. Burlesque became popular in America in the late 1860s and slowly evolved to feature ribald comedy and female nudity. By the ...
. Called "the heart of American show business", vaudeville was one of the most popular types of entertainment in
North America North America is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical regions are commonly regarded as continen ...

North America
for several decades.


Etymology

The origin of the
term
term
is obscure but often explained as being derived from the French expression ''voix de ville'' ("voice of the city"). A second speculation is that it comes from the 15th-century songs on satire by poet
Olivier Basselin Olivier Basselin (; ; was a French poet A poet is a person who creates poetry. Poets may describe themselves as such or be described as such by others. A poet may simply be a writer of poetry, or may perform their art to an audience. Image:Ja ...
, "Vau de Vire". In his '' Connections'' television series, science historian
James BurkeJames Burke may refer to: Politics *James F. Burke (1867–1932), United States Representative from Pennsylvania *James Burke (Australian politician) (born 1971), member of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly *James Burke (Cork politician) ...

James Burke
argues that the term is a corruption of the French "Vau de
Vire Vire () is a town and a former commune A commune is an intentional community of people sharing living spaces, interests, values, beliefs, and often property Property (''latin: Res Privata'') in the Abstract and concrete, abstract is wha ...
" ("Vire River Valley", in English), an area known for its bawdy drinking songs and where Basselin lived; Around 1610, Jean le Houx collected these works as ', which is probably the direct origin of the word. Some, however, preferred the earlier term "variety" to what manager
Tony Pastor Antonio Pastor (May 28, 1837 – August 26, 1908) was an American impresario, variety performer and theatre owner who became one of the founding forces behind United States, American vaudeville in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. He was so ...
called its "sissy and Frenchified" successor. Thus, vaudeville marketed itself as "variety" well into the 20th century.


Beginnings

With its first subtle appearances within the early 1860s, vaudeville was not initially a common form of entertainment. The form gradually evolved from the
concert saloonThe concert saloon was an American adaptation of the English English usually refers to: * English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, ...
and variety hall into its mature form throughout the 1870s and 1880s. This more gentle form was known as "Polite Vaudeville". In the years before the
American Civil War The American Civil War (also known by Names of the American Civil War, other names) was a civil war in the United States from 1861 to 1865, fought between northern U.S. state, states loyal to the Union (American Civil War), Union and sout ...
, entertainment existed on a different scale. Certainly, variety theatre existed before 1860 in Europe and elsewhere. In the US, as early as the first decades of the 19th century, theatergoers could enjoy a performance consisting of
Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national po ...

Shakespeare
plays, acrobatics, singing, dancing, and comedy. As the years progressed, people seeking diversified amusement found an increasing number of ways to be entertained. Vaudeville was characterized by traveling companies touring through cities and towns. A handful of
circus A circus is a company of performers who put on diverse entertainment shows that may include s, , trained animals, acts, s, s, , s, , s, , and as well as other and stunt-oriented artists. The term ''circus'' also describes the performance w ...

circus
es regularly toured the country; dime museums appealed to the curious; amusement parks, riverboats, and town halls often featured "cleaner" presentations of variety entertainment; compared to saloons, music halls, and
burlesque A burlesque is a literary, dramatic or musical work intended to cause laughter by caricaturing the manner or spirit of serious works, or by ludicrous treatment of their subjects. William Shakespeare, Shakespeare's Pyramus and Thisbe scene in ''Mi ...
houses, which catered to those with a taste for the ''risqué''. In the 1840s, the
minstrel show The minstrel show, also called minstrelsy, was an American form of racist Racism is the belief that groups of humans possess different behavioral traits corresponding to physical appearance and can be divided based on the Supremacism, supe ...
, 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 Nicholas P. Tosches (; October 23, 1949 – October 20, 2019) was an American journalist A journalist is an individual trained to collect/gather information in form of text, audio or pictures, processes them to a news-worth form and dissemina ...
called "the heart of 19th-century show business". A significant influence also came from "Dutch" (i.e., German or faux-German) minstrels and comedians.
Medicine show 250px, A reenactment of a medicine show in Ringwood, Illinois Medicine shows were touring acts (traveling by truck, horse, or wagon teams) that peddled "miracle cure" patent medicines and other products between various entertainments. They devel ...
s traveled the countryside offering programs of comedy, music,
jugglers Juggling is a physical skill, performed by a juggler, involving the manipulation of objects for recreation, entertainment, art or sport. The most recognizable form of juggling is toss juggling. Juggling can be the manipulation of one object or ...
, and other novelties along with displays of tonics, salves, and miracle elixirs, while "
Wild West The American frontier, also known as the Old West or the Wild West, includes the geography, history, folklore, and culture in the forward wave of American expansion that began with European colonial settlements in the early 17th century and e ...

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. From the mid-1860s,
impresario An impresario (from the Italian ''impresa'', "an enterprise or undertaking") is a person who organizes and often finances concerts, plays, or opera Opera is a form of theatre in which music is a fundamental component and dramatic roles ar ...
Tony Pastor Antonio Pastor (May 28, 1837 – August 26, 1908) was an American impresario, variety performer and theatre owner who became one of the founding forces behind United States, American vaudeville in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. He was so ...
, a former singing circus clown who had become a prominent variety theater performer and manager, capitalized on
middle class The middle class is a class Class or The Class may refer to: Common uses not otherwise categorized * Class (biology), a taxonomic rank * Class (knowledge representation), a collection of individuals or objects * Class (philosophy), an an ...
sensibilities and spending power when he began to feature "polite" variety programs in his
New York City New York, often called New York City to distinguish it from New York State New York is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of ...

New York City
theatres. Pastor opened his first "Opera House" on the
Bowery The Bowery () is a street and neighborhood A neighbourhood (British English, Hiberno-English, Hibernian English, Australian English and Canadian English) or neighborhood (American English; American and British English spelling differenc ...

Bowery
in 1865, later moving his variety theater operation to
Broadway Broadway may refer to: Theatre * Broadway Theatre (disambiguation) * Broadway theatre, theatrical productions in professional theatres near Broadway, Manhattan, New York City, U.S. ** Broadway (Manhattan), the street **Broadway Theatre (53rd Str ...
and, finally, to Fourteenth Street near
Union Square Union commonly refers to: * Trade union, an organization of workers * Union (set theory), in mathematics, a fundamental operation on sets Union may also refer to: Arts and entertainment Music * Union (band), an American rock group ** Union ...
. He only began to use the term "vaudeville" in place of "variety" in early 1876. Hoping to draw a potential audience from female and family-based shopping traffic
uptown Uptown may refer to: Neighborhoods or regions in several cities United States * Uptown, entertainment district east of Downtown and Midtown Albuquerque, New Mexico * Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina * Uptown, area surrounding the University of Cin ...
, 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

B. F. Keith took the next step, starting in
Boston Boston (, ), officially the City of Boston, is the capital city, capital and List of municipalities in Massachusetts, most populous city of the Commonwealth (U.S. state), Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the United States and 21st List of Unit ...

Boston
, where he built an empire of
theatres Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of performing art that uses live performers, usually actors or actresses, to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place, often a stage. The performe ...
and brought vaudeville to the US and Canada. Later, E. F. Albee, adoptive grandfather of the
Pulitzer Prize#REDIRECT Pulitzer Prize The Pulitzer Prize () is an award for achievements in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, literature and musical composition within the United States. It was established in 1917 by provisions in the will of Joseph ...
-winning playwright
Edward Albee Edward Franklin Albee III ( ; March 12, 1928 – September 16, 2016) was an American playwright known for works such as ''The Zoo Story 333px, ''The Zoo Story''; photograph from a Luxembourgish production ''The Zoo Story'' is a one-act play by ...

Edward Albee
, 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 Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information. This may be done on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or "inconvenient". Censorship can be conducted by governments ...

censorship
, often to the delight of the very audience members whose sensibilities were supposedly endangered. He eventually instituted a set of guidelines to be an audience member at his show, and these were reinforced by the ushers working in the theatre. This "polite entertainment" also extended to Keith's company members. He went to extreme measures to maintain this level of modesty. Keith even went as far as posting warnings backstage such as this: "Don't say 'slob' or 'son of a gun' or 'hully gee' on the stage unless you want to be canceled peremptorily... if you are guilty of uttering anything sacrilegious or even suggestive you will be immediately closed and will never again be allowed in a theatre where Mr. Keith is in authority." Along these same lines of discipline, Keith's theatre managers would occasionally send out blue envelopes with orders to omit certain suggestive lines of songs and possible substitutions for those words. If actors chose to ignore these orders or quit, they would get "a black mark" on their name and would never again be allowed to work on the Keith Circuit. Thus, actors learned to follow the instructions given to them by B. F. Keith for fear of losing their careers forever. 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 The Orpheum Circuit was a chain of vaudeville Vaudeville (; ) is a theatrical genre of variety entertainment born in France at the end of the 19th century. A vaudeville was originally a comedy without psychological or moral intentions, based o ...
. It incorporated in 1919 and brought together 45 vaudeville theatres in 36 cities throughout the US and Canada and a large interest in two vaudeville circuits. Another major circuit was that of
Alexander Pantages Alexander Pantages (Περικλῆς Ἀλέξανδρος Πανταζής , ''Periklis Alexandros Padazis''; 1867 - February 17, 1936) was a Greek American vaudeville impresario and early motion picture producer. He created a large and p ...

Alexander Pantages
. In his heyday, Pantages owned more than 30 vaudeville theatres and controlled, through management contracts, perhaps 60 more in both the US 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 ( ) is the county seat of Peoria County, Illinois, and the largest city on the Illinois River. As of the United States Census, 2020, 2020 census, the city had a population of 113,150. It is the principal city of the Peoria Metropolitan Ar ...
, 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 capital of the big time was New York City's
Palace TheatrePalace Theatre, or Palace Theater, is the name of many theatres in different countries, including: Australia *Palace Theatre, Melbourne, Victoria *Palace Theatre, Sydney, New South Wales Canada *Palace Theatre, housed in the Robillard Block, Mont ...
(or just "The Palace" in the slang of vaudevillians), built by
Martin Beck Martin Beck is a fictional Swedish police detective and the main character in the ten novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, collectively titled ''The Story of a Crime''. Frequently referred to as the Martin Beck stories, all have been adapted ...
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 William Penn Adair Rogers (November 4, 1879 – August 15, 1935) was an American stage and film actor, vaudeville Vaudeville (; ) is a of born in France at the end of the 19th century. A vaudeville was originally a comedy without p ...

Will Rogers
), the Palace provided what many vaudevillians considered the apotheosis of remarkable careers. A standard show bill would begin with a sketch, follow with a single (an individual male or female performer); next would be an alley-oop (an acrobatic act); then another single, followed by yet another sketch such as a blackface comedy. The acts that followed these for the rest of the show would vary from musicals to jugglers to song-and-dance singles and end with a final extravaganza – either musical or drama – with the full company. These shows would feature such stars as ragtime and jazz pianist
Eubie Blake James Hubert "Eubie" Blake (February 7, 1887 – February 12, 1983) was an American pianist, lyricist, and composer of ragtime Ragtime – also spelled rag-time or rag time – is a musical style that enjoyed its peak popularity between 1895 ...
, the famous and magical
Harry Houdini Harry Houdini (; born Erik Weisz; March 24, 1874 – October 31, 1926) was a Hungarian-born American escape artist, illusionist, stunt performer and wikt:mysteriarch, mysteriarch, noted for his Escapology, escape acts. He first attracted notice ...

Harry Houdini
, and child star
Baby Rose Marie Rose Marie (born Rose Marie Mazzetta; August 15, 1923 – December 28, 2017) was an American actress, singer, comedian, and vaudeville performer with a career that ultimately spanned ten decades — and included film, radio, records, theater ...
. In the ''
New-York Tribune The ''New-York Tribune'' was an American newspaper, first established in 1841 by editor Horace Greeley. Between 1842 and 1866, the newspaper bore the name ''New-York Daily Tribune.'' From the 1840s through the 1860s it was the dominant Whig Party ...
''s article about Vaudeville, it is said that at any given time, Vaudeville was employing over twelve thousand different people throughout its entire industry. Each entertainer would be on the road 42 weeks at a time while working a particular "Circuit" – or an individual theatre chain of a major company. 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. Black 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 may refer to: * Anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Italy ** Italians, an ethnic group or simply a citizen of the Italian Republic ** Italian language, a Romance language *** Regional Italian, regional variants of the ...

Italian
and
Yiddish Yiddish (, or , ''yidish'' or ''idish'', , ; , ''Yidish-Taytsh'', ) is a West Germanic The West Germanic languages constitute the largest of the three branches of the Germanic languages, Germanic family of languages (the others being the ...
. (For a brief discussion of Black vaudeville, see
Theatre Owners Booking AssociationTheatre Owners Booking Association, or T.O.B.A., was the vaudeville Vaudeville (; ) is a theatrical genre of variety entertainment born in France at the end of the 19th century. A vaudeville was originally a comedy without psychological or moral ...
.) This foreign addition combined with comedy produced such acts as "minstrel shows of antebellum America" and Yiddish theatre. Many ethnic families joined in on this entertainment business, and for them, this traveling lifestyle was simply a continuation of the circumstances that brought them to America. Through these acts, they were able to assimilate themselves into their new home while also bringing bits of their own culture into this new world. White-oriented regional circuits, such as
New England New England is a region comprising six states in the Northeastern United States The Northeastern United States (also referred to as the American Northeast, the Northeast, and the East Coast) is a geographical region In geography ...

New England
'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. Another slightly different aspect of Vaudeville was an increasing interest in the female figure. The previously mentioned ominous idea of "the blue envelopes" led to the phrase "blue" material, which described the provocative subject matter present in many Vaudeville acts of the time. Many managers even saw this scandalous material as a marketing strategy to attract many different audiences. As stated in Andrew Erdman's book ''Blue Vaudeville'', the Vaudeville stage was "a highly sexualized space ... where unclad bodies, provocative dancers, and singers of 'blue' lyrics all vied for attention." Such performances highlighted and objectified the female body as a "sexual delight", but more than that, historians think that Vaudeville marked a time in which the female body became its own "sexual spectacle". This sexual image began sprouting everywhere an American went: the shops, a restaurant, the grocery store, etc. The more this image brought in the highest revenue, the more Vaudeville focused on acts involving women. Even acts that were as innocent as a sister act were higher sellers than a good brother act. Consequently, Erdman adds that female Vaudeville performers such as Julie Mackey and Gibson's Bathing Girls began to focus less on talent and more on physical appeal through their figure, tight gowns, and other revealing attire. It eventually came as a surprise to audience members when such beautiful women actually possessed talent in addition to their appealing looks. This element of surprise colored much of the reaction to the female entertainment of this time.


Women

In the 1920s, announcements seeking all-girl bands for vaudeville performances appeared in industry publications like ''Billboard'', ''Variety'' and in newspapers. Bands like The Ingenues and
The Dixie Sweethearts The Dixie Sweethearts were an all-women jazz group in the 1930s. Members of the group have later played with other similar acts like the Harlem Playgirls and the Darlings of Rhythm with individual members continuing to perform through the 1940s. The ...
were well-publicized, while other groups were simply described as "all-girl Revue". According to Feminist Theory, similar trends in theater and film objectified images of women to allow
male gaze In feminist theory Feminist theory is the extension of feminism into theoretical, fictional, or Philosophy, philosophical discourse. It aims to understand the nature of gender inequality. It examines women's and men's Gender role, social roles, e ...
in the gender divisions that developed as women's role in public life was expanding.


Selected vaudeville artists


Immigrant America

In addition to vaudeville's prominence as a form of American entertainment, it reflected the newly evolving urban inner-city culture and interaction of its operators and audience. Making up a large portion of
immigration to the United States Population growth rate with and without migration in the U.S. Immigration to the United States is the international movement of individuals who are not natives or do not possess citizenship Citizenship is a relationship between an individ ...
in the mid-19th century, Irish Americans interacted with established Americans, with the Irish becoming subject to discrimination due to their ethnic physical and cultural characteristics. The ethnic stereotypes of Irish through their greenhorn depiction alluded to their newly arrived status as immigrant Americans, with the stereotype portrayed in avenues of entertainment. Following the Irish immigration wave, several waves followed in which new immigrants from different backgrounds came in contact with the Irish in America's urban centers. Already settled and being native English speakers, Irish Americans took hold of these advantages and began to assert their positions in the immigrant racial hierarchy based on skin tone and assimilation status, cementing job positions that were previously unavailable to them as recently arrived immigrants. As a result, Irish Americans became prominent in vaudeville entertainment as curators and actors, creating a unique ethnic interplay between Irish American use of self-deprecation as humor and their diverse inner city surroundings. The interactions between newly arrived immigrants and settled immigrants within the backdrop of the unknown American urban landscape allowed vaudeville to be utilized as an avenue for expression and understanding. The often hostile immigrant experience in their new country was now used for comic relief on the vaudeville stage, where stereotypes of different ethnic groups were perpetuated. The crude stereotypes that emerged were easily identifiable not only by their distinct ethnic cultural attributes, but how those attributes differed from the mainstream established American culture and identity. Coupled with their historical presence on the English stage for comic relief, and as operators and actors of the vaudeville stage, Irish Americans became interpreters of immigrant cultural images in American popular culture. New arrivals found their ethnic group status defined within the immigrant population and in their new country as a whole by the Irish on stage. Unfortunately, the same interactions between ethnic groups within the close living conditions of cities also created racial tensions which were reflected in vaudeville. Conflict between Irish and African Americans saw the promotion of black-face minstrelsy on the stage, purposefully used to place African Americans beneath the Irish in the racial and social urban hierarchy. Although the Irish had a strong Celtic presence in vaudeville and in the promotion of ethnic stereotypes, the ethnic groups that they were characterizing also utilized the same humor. As the Irish donned their ethnic costumes, groups such as the Chinese, Italians, Germans and Jews utilized ethnic caricatures to understand themselves as well as the Irish. The urban diversity within the vaudeville stage and audience also reflected their societal status, with the working class constituting two-thirds of the typical vaudeville audience. The ethnic caricatures that now comprised American humor reflected the positive and negative interactions between ethnic groups in America's cities. The caricatures served as a method of understanding different groups and their societal positions within their cities. The use of the greenhorn immigrant for comedic effect showcased how immigrants were viewed as new arrivals, but also what they could aspire to be. In addition to interpreting visual ethnic caricatures, the Irish American ideal of transitioning from the shanty to the lace curtain became a model of economic upward mobility for immigrant groups.


Decline

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, sometimes shortened to TV or telly, is a telecommunication Telecommunication is the transmission of information by various types of technologies over wire A wire is a single usually cylindrical A cylinder (from Gre ...

television
's diminishing the cultural and economic strength of the cinema. Cinema was first regularly commercially presented in the US in vaudeville halls. The first public showing of movies projected on a screen took place at in 1896. Lured by greater salaries and less arduous working conditions, many performers and personalities, such as
Al Jolson Al Jolson (born Asa Yoelson; c. 1885 – October 23, 1950) was an American singer, comedian, and actor. Jolson was dubbed "The World's Greatest Entertainer" at the peak of his career and has been referred to by modern critics as "the king of bla ...

Al Jolson
, W. C. Fields,
Mae West Mae West (born Mary Jane West; August 17, 1893 – November 22, 1980) was an American stage and film actress, playwright, screenwriter, singer, and sex symbol whose entertainment career spanned over seven decades. She was known for her breezy se ...
,
Buster Keaton Joseph Frank Keaton (October 4, 1895 – February 1, 1966), known professionally as Buster Keaton, was an Americans, American actor, comedian, film director, producer, screenwriter, and stunt performer. He is best known for his silent films, in w ...

Buster Keaton
, the
Marx Brothers The Marx Brothers were an American family comedy act that was successful in vaudeville Vaudeville (; ) is a theatrical genre of variety entertainment born in France at the end of the 19th century. A vaudeville was originally a comedy witho ...
,
Jimmy Durante James Francis Durante ( , ; February 10, 1893 – January 29, 1980) was an American actor, comedian, singer, vaudevillian Vaudeville (; ) is a theatre, theatrical genre of variety show, variety entertainment born in France at the end of t ...
,
Bill "Bojangles" Robinson Bill Robinson, nicknamed Bojangles (born Luther Robinson; May 25, 1878 – November 25, 1949) was an American tap dancer, actor, and singer, the best known and the most highly paid Black American entertainer in America during the first half of ...

Bill
,
Edgar Bergen Edgar John Bergen (born Edgar John Berggren; February 16, 1903 – September 30, 1978) was an American actor, comedian, vaudevillian and radio performer, best known for his proficiency in ventriloquism Ventriloquism, or ventriloquy, i ...
,
Fanny Brice Fania Borach (October 29, 1891 – May 29, 1951), known professionally as Fanny Brice or Fannie Brice, was an American comedienne, illustrated song An illustrated song is a type of performance art and was a popular form of entertainment in ...
,
Burns and Allen Burns and Allen was an American comedy duo A double act (also known as a comedy duo) is a form of comedy originating in the British music hall tradition, and American vaudeville, in which two comedians perform together as a single act. Pairing ...
, and
Eddie Cantor Eddie Cantor (born Isidore Itzkowitz; January 31, 1892 – October 10, 1964) was an American "illustrated song An illustrated song is a type of performance art and was a popular form of entertainment in the early 20th century in the United Sta ...

Eddie Cantor
, used the prominence gained in live variety performance to vault into the new medium of cinema. In doing so, 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 Benjamin Kubelsky (February 14, 1894 – December 26, 1974), known professionally as Jack Benny, was an American entertainer, who evolved from a modest success playing violin on the vaudeville Vaudeville (; ) is a of born in France at th ...
,
Abbott and Costello Abbott and Costello were an American comedy duo composed of comedians Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, whose work on radio and in film and television made them the most popular comedy team of the 1940s and early 1950s and the highest-paid entert ...
,
Kate Smith Kathryn Elizabeth Smith (May 1, 1907 – June 17, 1986), known professionally as Kate Smith and The First Lady of Radio, was an American contralto A contralto () is a type of classical female singing Singing is the act of producing m ...

Kate Smith
,
Cary Grant Cary Grant (born Archibald Alec Leach; January 18, 1904November 29, 1986) was an English-American actor. Known for his transatlantic accent The Mid-Atlantic accent, or Transatlantic accent, is a cultivated Accent (sociolinguistics), accent o ...

Cary Grant
,
Bob Hope Leslie Townes "Bob" Hope (May 29, 1903 – July 27, 2003) was a British-American British American usually refers to Americans Americans are the Citizenship of the United States, citizens and United States nationality law, natio ...

Bob Hope
,
Milton Berle Milton Berle (born Mendel Berlinger; ; July 12, 1908 – March 27, 2002) was an American comedian and actor. Berle's career as an entertainer spanned over 80 years, first in silent films and on stage as a child actor, then in radio, movies and te ...
,
Judy Garland Judy Garland (born Frances Ethel Gumm; June 10, 1922 – June 22, 1969) was an American actress, singer, vaudevillian, and dancer. With a career spanning 45 years, she attained international stardom as an actress in both musical and dramatic rol ...
,
Rose Marie Rose Marie (born Rose Marie Mazzetta; August 15, 1923 – December 28, 2017) was an American actress, singer, comedian, and vaudeville Vaudeville (; ) is a theatrical genre of variety entertainment born in France at the end of the 19th cent ...

Rose Marie
,
Sammy Davis Jr. Samuel George Davis Jr. (December 8, 1925 – May 16, 1990) was an American singer, dancer, actor, vaudevillian and comedian whom critic Randy Blaser called "the greatest entertainer ever to grace a stage in these United States". At age th ...
,
Red Skelton Richard Red Skelton (July 18, 1913September 17, 1997) was an American entertainer best known for his national old-time radio, radio and television shows between 1937 and 1971, especially as host of the television program ''The Red Skelton Show' ...

Red Skelton
,
Larry Storch Lawrence Samuel Storch (born January 8, 1923) is an American actor, voice actor, and comedian, best known for his comic television roles, including voice-over work for cartoon shows, such as Mr. Whoopee on '' Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales'', and ...
and
The Three Stooges The Three Stooges were an American vaudeville Vaudeville (; ) is a theatrical genre of variety entertainment born in France at the end of the 19th century. A vaudeville was originally a comedy without psychological or moral intentions, base ...
, 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. The line between live and filmed performances was blurred by the number of vaudeville entrepreneurs who made more or less successful forays into the movie business. For example,
Alexander Pantages Alexander Pantages (Περικλῆς Ἀλέξανδρος Πανταζής , ''Periklis Alexandros Padazis''; 1867 - February 17, 1936) was a Greek American vaudeville impresario and early motion picture producer. He created a large and p ...

Alexander Pantages
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 a partnership with the
Famous Players-Lasky Famous Players-Lasky Corporation was an American motion picture and distribution company formed on July 19, 1916 from the merger of Adolph Zukor's Famous Players Film Company—originally formed by Zukor as Famous Players in Famous Plays—and th ...
, a major Hollywood production company and an affiliate of
Paramount Pictures Paramount Pictures Corporation (common metonym Metonymy () is a figure of speech A figure of speech or rhetorical figure is a word or phrase that entails an intentional deviation from ordinary language use in order to produce a rhetoric ...

Paramount Pictures
. By the late 1920s, most vaudeville shows included 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, the burgeoning film studios removed what had remained the chief difference in favor of live theatrical performance: spoken dialogue. Historian John Kenrick 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
RKO studios RKO Pictures was an American film production and distribution company. In its original incarnation, as RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. (a subsidiary of Radio-Keith-Orpheum, aka: RKO) it was one of the studio system, Big Five major film studio, studios ...
took over the famed Orpheum vaudeville circuit and swiftly turned it into a chain of full-time movie theatres. The half-century tradition of vaudeville was effectively wiped out within less than four years.Kenrick, John
"History of Musical Film, 1927–30: Part II"
Musicals101.com, 2004, accessed May 17, 2010
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 in 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 most theatres were forced by the
Great Depression The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression An economic depression is a sustained, long-term downturn in economic activity in one or more economies. It is a more severe economic downturn than a economic recession, recess ...
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. There was no abrupt end to vaudeville, though the form was clearly sagging by the late 1920s. Joseph Kennedy Sr. in a hostile buyout, acquired the Keith-Albee-Orpheum Theatres Corporation (KAO), which had more than 700 vaudeville theatres across the United States which had begun showing movies. The shift of New York City's Palace Theatre, vaudeville's center, to an exclusively cinema presentation on November 16, 1932, is often considered to have been the death knell of vaudeville. Though talk of its resurrection was heard during the 1930s and later, the demise of the supporting apparatus of the circuits and the higher cost of live performance made any large-scale renewal of vaudeville unrealistic.


Architecture

The most striking examples of
Gilded Age In History of the United States, United States history, the Gilded Age was an era that occurred during the late 19th century, from the 1870s to about 1900. The Gilded Age was an era of rapid economic growth, especially in the Northern United St ...
theatre architecture were commissioned by the big time vaudeville magnates and stood as monuments of their wealth and ambition. Examples of such architecture are the theatres built by impresario
Alexander Pantages Alexander Pantages (Περικλῆς Ἀλέξανδρος Πανταζής , ''Periklis Alexandros Padazis''; 1867 - February 17, 1936) was a Greek American vaudeville impresario and early motion picture producer. He created a large and p ...

Alexander Pantages
. Pantages often used architect B. Marcus Priteca (1881–1971), who in turn regularly worked with muralist
Anthony Heinsbergen Anthony Heinsbergen (December 13, 1894 – June 14, 1981) was an American American(s) may refer to: * American, something of, from, or related to the United States of America, commonly known as the United States The United States of Am ...
. 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.


Vaudeville's cultural influence and legacy

Some of the most prominent vaudevillians successfully made the transition to cinema, though others were not as successful. Some performers such as
Bert Lahr Irving Lahrheim (August 13, 1895 – December 4, 1967), known professionally as Bert Lahr, was an American actor of stage and screen, vaudevillian and comedian. Lahr is best known for his role as the Cowardly Lion, as well as his counterpart Kan ...
fashioned careers out of combining live performance with radio and film roles. Many others later appeared in the Catskill resorts that constituted the " Borscht Belt". Vaudeville was instrumental in the success of the newer media of film, radio, and television. Comedies of the new era adopted many of the dramatic and musical tropes of classic vaudeville acts. Film comedies of the 1920s through the 1940s used talent from the vaudeville stage and followed a vaudeville aesthetic of variety entertainment, both in Hollywood and in Asia, including China. The rich repertoire of the vaudeville tradition was mined for prominent prime-time radio
variety show#REDIRECT Variety show Variety show, also known as variety arts or variety entertainment, is entertainment made up of a variety of acts including musical theatre, musical performances, sketch comedy, magic (illusion), magic, acrobatics, juggling, an ...
s such as ''The
Rudy Vallée Hubert Prior Vallée (July 28, 1901 – July 3, 1986), known professionally as Rudy Vallée, was an American singer, musician, actor, and radio host. He was one of the first modern pop stars of the teen idol type. Early life Hubert Prior Vall ...
Show''. The structure of a single host introducing a series of acts became a popular television style and can be seen consistently in the development of television, from ''
The Milton Berle Show ''Texaco Star Theater'' was an American comedy-variety show, broadcast on radio from 1938 to 1949 and telecast from 1948 to 1956. It was one of the first successful examples of American television broadcasting, remembered as the show that gave Milt ...
'' in 1948 to ''Late Night with David Letterman'' in the 1980s. The multi-act format had renewed success in shows such as ''Your Show of Shows'' with Sid Caesar and ''The Ed Sullivan Show''. Today, performers such as Bill Irwin, a MacArthur Fellow and Tony Award-winning actor, are frequently lauded as "New Vaudevillians". References to vaudeville and the use of its distinctive argot continue throughout Western popular culture. Words such as "flop" and "gag" were terms created from the vaudeville era and have entered the American idiom. Though not credited often, vaudevillian techniques can commonly be witnessed on television and in movies. In professional wrestling, there was a noted tag team, based in WWE, called The Vaudevillains. In 2018, noted film director Christopher Annino, maker of a new silent feature film, ''Silent Times'', founded Vaudeville Con, a gathering to celebrate the history of vaudeville. The first meeting was held in Pawcatuck, Connecticut.


Archives

The records of the New Tivoli Theatre, Sydney, Tivoli Theatre are housed at the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia, with additional personal papers of vaudevillian performers from the Tivoli Theatre, including extensive costume and set design holdings, held by the Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne. The American Vaudeville Museum, one of the largest collection of vaudeville memorabilia, is located at the University of Arizona. The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres in Toronto houses the world's largest collection of vaudeville props and scenery. The Benjamin Franklin Keith and Edward F. Albee Collection housed at the University of Iowa includes a large collection of managers' report books recording and commenting on the lineup and quality of the acts each night.


See also

*
American burlesque American burlesque is a genre of variety show derived from elements of Victorian burlesque, music hall and minstrel shows. Burlesque became popular in America in the late 1860s and slowly evolved to feature ribald comedy and female nudity. By the ...
* Blackface * Borscht Belt * Cabaret * Chapeaugraphy * Chautauqua * Concert party (entertainment) * Concert saloon * For Me and My Gal (film), ''For Me and My Gal'' (film) * Music hall *
Medicine show 250px, A reenactment of a medicine show in Ringwood, Illinois Medicine shows were touring acts (traveling by truck, horse, or wagon teams) that peddled "miracle cure" patent medicines and other products between various entertainments. They devel ...
* Minstrel show * Nightclub * Revue * Tab show * Tivoli circuit * Tom show * Variety show * Vaudeville Bellydance


References


External links


Vaudeville and Variety Collections
held in th
Performing Arts Collection
Arts Centre Melbourne.
Modern day vaudeville theatre in Austin TX



Virtual Vaudeville


* [http://content.lib.washington.edu/norrisweb/index.html University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections – Prior and Norris Troupe Photographs]
University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections – 19th Century Actors Photographs

University of Arizona Libraries The American Vaudeville Museum Archive Digital Exhibit


* [http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digitallibrary/ruckus.html Ruckus! American Entertainments at the Turn of the Twentieth Century] From the collection of th
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University

Hear Gary Stephens on Vaudeville, ICA 1988

Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections: Vaudeville News (1920–1929)

Vaudeville Cinema in Hollywood and China


digitized items from th
Rare Book and Special Collections Division
of the Library of Congress
University of Arizona Libraries Special Collections – American Vaudeville Museum Collection

Vaudeville to Cinema
A short documentary on the history of Vaudeville and how it was eventually replaced by the Cinema {{Authority control Vaudeville, Comedy genres