Today is the birthday of Charles F. “Zit” Zittel (1877- 1943) Long forgotten today, during the vaudeville era, Zit was thought of as one of the principal competitors of Variety.
Around 1907 Zit launched a vaudeville column in the New York Evening Telegram called “Hitting Headliners on the Head”, which later went over to the Evening Mail and then the New York Evening Journal, a Hearst paper. One of the distinctive features of his column was a “racing chart” modeled on those used at the track for horse races, showing the standings for the top vaudevillians. He was also known for reporting only positive aspects of any show he saw. He didn’t believe in negative reviews. Undoubtedly this was a factor in one of his other notable accomplishments: being a pioneer in theatrical advertising.
Zit’s first publishing venture had been Golf magazine. In 1920, he founded Zit’s Weekly, his all show biz paper, for which he remains best known today, mostly because of it’s unusual name. When vaudeville died in the early ’30s, the paper (much like Variety) concentrated on radio and movies.
Zit also dabbled in show business himself. He had tried his hand at acting in small roles in Henry E. Dixey productions, like Adonis. He contributed some songs to the 1910 Broadway show The Yankee Girl. He was Eva Tanguay’s first manager, often credited with her success. And he also experimented with motion picture exhibition early his career, showing silent pictures in department store chains. In the 1920 he was one of the owners of the Central Park Casino, now known as Tavern on the Green.
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.