AMERICAN VAUDEVILLE AS SEEN BY ITS CONTEMPORARIES by Charles W.--Ed. Stein

AMERICAN VAUDEVILLE AS SEEN BY ITS CONTEMPORARIES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

About 60 short pieces--most of them from newspapers and magazines of the vaudeville period (1880-1930), some excerpted from memoirs written in later, retrospective years. The differences between ""variety"" and the classier vaudeville are discussed by several writers, including vaudeville entrepreneur B. F. Keith. (""The entertainment of today is freely patronized and enjoyed by the most intelligent and cultivated people."") Others, however, attack vaudeville for its occasional vulgarity, for its use of child labor (""these miserable little slaves of the stage""), for its demeaning effect on guest artists from the legitimate theater. There are mildly informative reports on the backstage nitty-gritty, the rules for putting the vaudeville acts in running order, the vaudeville band, the ""business side."" A few skits and jokes are included. Vaudeville's decline is lamented by Brooks Atkinson and others. And, from a slew of memoirs (many of them probably ghost-written), come vaudeville memories by Eddie Cantor, George M. Coban, George Burns, Bob Hope, Lillian Russell, James Cagney, and others. With 70 photos, this will probably add up to a modestly satisfying browse for theater-history buffs. But, full of repetitions, lacunae, and lackluster writing, it's no substitute for a solid history of vaudeville--with Douglas Gilbert's American Vaudeville (1940, kept in print by Dover) still perhaps the richest, liveliest choice.

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 1984
Publisher: Knopf