Sime Silverman and “Variety”

Sime Silverman (born today in 1873) is one of the most beloved figures in vaudeville lore. He was the founder/ owner/ publisher/ editor of Variety. You’d little  suspect so today, but Variety was originally established as the trade paper for vaudeville. Hence the name! Indeed, many regard that tragic day when movies were moved to the front of Variety, and vaudeville to the back pages, as the “writing on the wall” for the vaudeville industry’s demise.

Sime, originally from Syracuse, started out as a bookkeeper in his family’s business, but didn’t care for it much. He started out doing vaudeville reviews for the Daily American (which folded) and the Daily Telegraph (which canned him when he dared to trash an act who happened to be an advertiser). He decided to found Variety in 1905 as a publication whose integrity would be beyond reproach, and for the most part he succeeded. Everybody, acts and managers alike, advertised in Variety (they had to) and the fact that they did so had no bearing on the sorts of reviews or coverage they would get. Consequently, some people adored him, others (the managers, for example, whom we often took to task in his pages) hated him. Variety echoed the aesthetics of Broadway and vaudeville in its famous abbreviated, slangy headlines, i.e. “Stix Nix Hick Pix” and “Wall Street Lays an Egg”.

In 1922, Sime purchased The New York Clipper, which had been covering sports and entertainment in New York since 1853. The Clipper was absorbed into Variety in 1924, so in a way you could claim that the present Variety’s legacy begins in the mid-19th century.

Sime pass the the reigns of editorship to Abel Green in 1931, and passed away two years later, just as Hollywood was starting to dominate the industry and the pages of his paper, and vaudeville was slipping into memory. When Sime died, his son Sidne Silverman (1898-1950) became President/editor/publisher of Variety, although his contraction of TB in 1936 forced him to take a limited role. He was married to vaudeville entertainer Marie Saxon. Their son, Syd Silverman (1932-1917) was published from 1950 to 1990. It is now a property of Penske Media Corporation.

For more info on Sime and the paper he founded, check out this cool site.

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

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