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.
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.