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Sprinkles in Springs: Vaudeville

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


In it's heyday, Vaudeville was the most sought-after form of entertainment in America. It finally died out around the mid 1900s for several reasons: cinema, radio, unchanging routines of the performances from year to year, too many singers and dancers- not enough novelty acts, etc. The decline in the need for live Vaudeville performers left them looking for jobs in other places like state fairs, nightclubs and resorts. Only a few of them became successful in movies. I didn't know this, but a lot of well-known actors/singers/performers started out as Vaudevillians (Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Houdini, Rita Hayworth, Betty Hutton, Ginger Rogers, The Three Stooges, Mae West, Abbott & Costello, Fred Astaire, and saving the best for last... Charlie Chaplin (but I knew that one!))

I had only known of Vaudeville, that there were short acts making up a live variety show, but that was about it. My recent viewing of the documentary, American Masters' Vaudeville, opened my eyes and answered some questions I had about it. So here is what I found out:

In each show on the circuit, there were about 10 acts. Spot 1 was usually silent (like a Lebanese family acrobatic act) and was mainly ignored because that was when the audience was still trickling in and getting settled- not a spot you would want to be in. Spot 2 was usually a sister singing act, like The Ponce Sisters. Spot 3 was usually where they stuck someone that was either a rising or a falling star. The biggest acts played right after intermission. The most coveted spot was next to last and was reserved for the best act. And the other worst spot besides the opener was the closer, which they called 'Playing to the Haircuts,' because that was their view as the audience left during their act.

A Lebanese family acrobatic act

Trixie Friganza

The Ponce Sisters

The Nicholas Brothers (Harold & Fayard)
These two were among the greatest of children acts.
(See a youtube video here)

Hadji Ali
A regurgitator. Here he is spewing kerosine onto a fire.

Ginger Rogers
Her lace dress reminds me of the Dior Spring 2010 RTW dress Doutzen Kroes wore in the Feb 2010 issue of Marie Claire:

Fanny Brice
(love the name... the whole film I thought they were saying Fanny Price...the Jane Austen character)

Ethel Waters
Her headwrap is very much like the Serena Denim Bow Headband from Marc by Marc Jacobs:

The adorable Rose Marie
(See a youtube video here)

Burns and Allen
They do a little dance and then say little quips:

B: "You're lovely. Name 3 types of nuts."
A: "Walnuts, chestnuts..."
B: "That's two."
A: "...and forget-me-nuts."

B: "What did you take up in school?"
A: "Anything that wasn't nailed down."

B: "You're too smart for one girl."
A: "I'm more than one."
B: "You are more than one?"
A: "Ya, my mother has a picture of me when I was two."

*All photos are screenshots from the DVD American Masters' Vaudeville.



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