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.