ON WITH THE SHOW: The First Century of American Show Business by Robert C. Toil

ON WITH THE SHOW: The First Century of American Show Business

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A grass roots look at the origins of American stage entertainment, in which the common people ""shaped show business in their own image."" P.T. Barnum is seen plain along with Tom Thumb and the first lion tamer, black entertainers (and Ethiopian Delineators, or blackface minstrels), Buffalo Bill, sexual impersonators, Florenz Ziegfeld, the first musical comedies and girlie shows (""from statuary to strip-tease""), all the way up to Fannie Brice, W.C. Fields, and Al Jolson. There was a zap in live entertainment that is now denatured by electronics and film, and Toll expertly bares the nervous charge each performer made his specialty. None was more unique than Julian Eltinge, a very masculine drag artist who not only was praised for his female impersonations (""an ideal girl"", a woman ""the way they ought to be"") but went on to endorse bust developers and become the envy of insecure girls everywhere, providing them with cheap lessons in etiquette, bearing, make-uti, hair-styling and dress. Bert Williams, who sang amusingly sad songs about his fellow blacks (""the funniest man I ever saw and the saddest man I ever knew,"" said W.C. Fields) is the book's most tragic entry: he'd leave Ziegfeld's Follies each evening, his ears ringing with applause, and live a life condemned to second-class citizenship and back doors. Oddly, this is the first survey of its kind, and it's a charmer.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1976
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press