Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Road to Bluffton, Part 2: Vaudeville

Vaudeville. The entertainment form of the early 20th century. Variety was the order of the day. For one small price, you would get several acts in a single bill. Singers would be followed by jugglers. A tap dancer might be next, or a an actor reciting Shakespeare. There were knockabout comedians, illusionists, musicians, and contortionists.

Vaudeville was not a talent show. These performers were seasoned professionals. They honed their crafts and polished their acts through years of performances. Many of these performers went on to further fame in radio, movies, and eventually television. Jack Benny, Bob Hope, George Burns and Gracie Allen... even Cary Grant (when he was still Archie Leach).

I had a great time learning about vaudeville for Bluffton. It left me with a great admiration for the performers and a desire to hop in a TARDIS for a trip back in time.

Nora Bayes
If you are interested in learning more, I recommend No Applause — Just Throw Money by Travis S.D.  which is a pretty good overview of the various performers and circuits. I was lucky enough to find a copy of Bernard Sobel's out-of-print book A Pictorial History of Vaudeville at Philadelphia's Book Trader. That book really brings the past to life. Good stuff.

Bill Bojangles Robinson was a huge star and a good friend of the Keatons. He taught Buster how to do the soft shoe dance years before he taught Shirley Temple on film. 

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