A Timeline of Vaudeville

10-1915

My friend is opening a play with a vaudeville setting in a couple of weeks. She asked me to make a little vaudeville timeline for her program, and it turned out to be a kind of fun, instructive exercise, and a possibly useful one, so I thought I would share it here:

TIMELINE OF VAUDEVILLE

1860s: M.B. Leavitt produces touring variety shows. He later claimed to have been the first to regularly apply the term “vaudeville”

1865: Tony Pastor, the “Godfather of Vaudeville” begins to manage his first Bowery variety saloon

1870: Koster & Bial open their first variety saloon

1880: F.F. Proctor opens his first theatre in Albany. By the end of the decade, he’ll have a circuit of 25

1881: Tony Pastor opens his famous vaudeville house at Tammany Hall

1883: B.F. Keith opens his first theatre in Boston

1885: Edward Albee begins to work for Keith; they produce the first continuous vaudeville

1886: The Orpheum Theatre opens in San Francisco

1889: Weber and Fields start their first touring vaudeville company

1893: Keith and Albee expand to Providence, Philadelphia and New York, starting their chain

1895: Oscar Hammerstein I opens the Olympia Theatre in what would become Times Square

1897: Sylvester Poli builds his New England circuit

1899: Martin Beck starts working for Orpheum, expanding it into a major circuit

1898: Oscar Hammerstein I opens the Victoria Theatre in Times Square

1901: The Vaudeville Managers Association, a cartel, is formed. The vaudeville performers union The White Rats go on strike. This is not a coincidence.

1901: Percy Williams opens his first theatre in Brooklyn

1904: Alexander Pantages opens his second Seattle Theatre, thus launching his chain

1904: Marcus Loew opens the People’s Vaudeville Company

1906: The United Box Office organization is formed, further consolidating the power of the managers. B.F. Keith merges with F.F. Proctor

1907: Shubert Vaudeville’s first ill-fated attempt at opposition

1912: Percy Williams sells his theatres to the cartel

1913: The Palace Theater opens in Times Square

1914: Victoria booker Willie Hammerstein dies, sealing the fate of that theatre. B.F. Keith dies the same year, leaving his chain in the hands of Albee

1915: The Birth of a Nation is a smash hit at the box office, boosting the popularity of feature-length films, the first of many ominous portents for the future of vaudeville

1916: The second ill-fated White Rats strike

1920: Shubert Vaudeville’s second ill-fated attempt at opposition

1921: Loew’s State opens in Times Square

1926: Network radio becomes a reality, further eating into vaudeville’s box office

1927: The Jazz Singer. Hollywood begins to convert to sound, causing further damage to vaudeville

1928: Joseph P. Kennedy wrests control of Albee’s circuit away from him and converts it to a cinema chain. Initially called “Keith-Albee-Orpheum”, within months it becomes “Radio-Keith-Orpheum”, or RKO

1929: The stock market crash is catastrophic to live theatre

1932: The last two-a-day at the Palace, considered by many to be the symbolic death of vaudeville.

For more on vaudeville history consult 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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