The history of vaudeville, root and branch, related by a modern-day player.
Many of the great names in American entertainment were baptized by fire on the vaudeville stage: a mythic place where shows could run for four hours and where it was kill-or-be-killed. Mae West, Al Jolson, the Marx Brothers, George Burns, Eddie Cantor, even the Three Stooges, honed their acts in front of audiences who had no compunction about throwing rotten vegetables if they didn’t like what they saw. Trav S.D. presents a dense, cultural history of vaudeville, from its post–Civil War beginnings as a “clean” alternative to contemporary theater (considered inappropriate for women and children) through its glory days in New York to its eventual absorption in the modern media of phonograph records, radio and television. The author, himself a current-day vaudevillian, also outlines the rebirth of the field in alternative circuses, burlesque nightclubs, even on the Muppet Show. This spices up the history with portraits of the muckety-mucks who ran the biz, legendary for their outsized personalities and indifference to the talent. And of course, he profiles the players themselves: singers, comedians, jugglers, dancers, animal acts, double-talkers, contortionists and anyone else who could hold the interest of the great unwashed for three or four minutes. The author gives a fascinating outline of how hard the players had to work; Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, for example, went through 20 or 30 pairs of shoes a year.
For fans, an astonishingly rich work of vaudeville itself.
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)