Did Joe Kennedy Kill Vaudeville?

The short answers is Joe Kennedy! And not just because this number was from an MGM film (“Pick a Star”) and Kennedy was RKO

Joe Kennedy, you wonder? What the hell’s he doing on this show biz blog? Well, in some respects he may be the most important of all the people in these annals. In some respects, he may be viewed as the man who killed vaudeville!

The biz in show biz is business, and the sharkish Kennedy managed to gain a majority stake in Keith-Albee-Orpheum, the biggest of the big time vaudeville circuits, at the end of the 1920s. Kennedy sold his stock to RCA’s David Sarnoff who used its assets to help RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum), a movie concern with no use for vaudeville. Joe Kennedy actually fired Edward Albee, the most powerful man in vaudeville, with the words, “You’re washed up, Ed. You’re through.” And so was vaudeville.

Jpe Kennedy and Tom Mix. Pictures were the future.

Kennedy went on to dabble as a Hollywood producer, notably championing Gloria Swanson, before being appointed to be U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James by President Roosevelt. Thereafter, Kennedy’s main interest was an amount of power not even Hollywood could offer.

To find out more about the history of vaudeville, including how it died, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.



  1. […] Keith’s cut-rate operettas gave the organization enough profit to lease the much larger (900 seat) Bijou Theatre in 1885. Gone were the freaks and specimens in glass jars now. Now they were presenting something called “vaudeville”.  During the next few years, they grew the one theatre into a chain. By the end of the 1920s, this particular chain had swallowed almost all of the competition for a virtual monopoly on the vaudeville business — hundreds of theatres from coast to coast.This would, in turn, become R.K.O. […]


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