September 16 is the birthday of the great Broadway impresario Earl Carroll (1892-1948), best known for his series of revues Earl Carroll’s Vanities , which ran from 1923 through 1940. His first theatrical credits were as songwriter, with contributions for shows such as the Passing Show of 1912 and Ziegfeld Follies of 1913. Soon he was contributing books and complete songbooks to a long list of shows that have long since been forgotten. It wasn’t until 1923 that his career began to take off, when he produced the smash-hit play play White Cargo (with its lusty miscegenation plot) and launched the first edition of the Vanities.
By the 1920s, Ziegfeld’s Follies were beginning to seem old hat. Carroll offered Broadway audiences near-nudity…sometimes complete nudity, and his racy show became the new thing. In addition to the Vanities he produced two editions of Earl Carroll’s Sketchbook (1929 and 1935), and Murder at the Vanities (1934), a murder mystery that was also made into a movie. He also built several theatres that bore his name: one in New York in 1922, that was replaced by another in 1931; and one in Hollywood in 1938, which is also where his last film was set A Night at Earl Carroll’s (1940).
Sadly, his career was cut short in 1948 when he and his wife were killed in an airplane crash. In the words of Ecclesiastes, “Vanity, Vanity, All is Vanity”.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.