Three New Books About Vaudeville

Far be it from me to recommend any vaudeville book above my own (and I’m not, I stand by it as the best of its kind available, though I am also champing at the bit to do a revised, updated edition)…however I also cherish all of the books on the topic that came before mine, and in the spirit of letting a million gardens bloom, I alert you to the existence of three new volumes on the topic. Click on the links for more info and how to purchase:

Vaudeville and the Making of Modern Entertainment, 1890-1925 (pub. October 2020)

Published by University of North Carolina Press, and authored by David Monod, Professor of American Cultural and Social History at Wilfrid Laurier University, who wrote the previous books Settling Scores: German Music, Denazification, and the Americans, 1945-1953 and Storewars: Shopkeepers and the Culture of Mass Marketing, 1890-1939. I haven’t read it yet but how can the writer not have a metaphysical bent with a name like “monod”? Oh, sorry, I guess that’s “monad”!

American Vaudeville (pub. July 2021)

Geoffrey Hilsabeck’s book is a sui generis — chock full of the STUFF of vaudeville (facts, names, dates, moments) and then regurgitated as an avant-garde work of literature. It’s really amazing; read it for pleasure if you already love the lore of vaudeville. And if you’re new to it, it may help you become intrigued. But we’re already getting too utilitarian. In addition to teaching at the University of West Virginia, which also published the book, Hilsabeck is a poet, and this is a poem. Luc Sante also endorses it, and Luc Sante is a God. It’s a lousy cover though, both ugly and misleading. I have no doubt the Three Keatons are mentioned, but as I hope we’ve already made clear, this is a book about EVERYTHING, not just them.

American Vaudeville: A Celebration (pub. May 2020)

Buy this one only if you’re compelled to for some class or if you need it to complete your library and can afford the $137 sticker price. While I am glad I own it, as it contains some information I have not seen elsewhere, I found it badly organized and written, and in want of the stern hand of an editor. Reading it is a slog, but it may have some use as a reference work. Its strongest virtue is aesthetic — it is probably the best book on the market in terms of color reproduction of vaudeville ephemera, and photographs, although it also contains a large number that are oddly irrelevant to the topic. Were they purchased in bulk? There is confusion even in the title. It seems to be a textbook, but are we learning or are we “celebrating”? That sort of muddle categorizes the whole book. Author/editor David Soren is a former child performer of the post-vaudeville period and, as it happens, a MAJOR scholar in other areas: he is Regents Professor of Anthropology and Classics at the University of Arizona and Director of the Orvieto Institute in Umbria, Italy. He has a Ph.D. in Classical Archaeology from Harvard, and degrees also in Greek and Roman Studies and Fine Arts, and too many other impressive credits and accomplishments to name. So I sure wish I liked this one more! BTW, the preface is by Frank Cullen of the American Vaudeville Museum, whose Vaudeville, Old and New remains the gold standard for published vaudeville reference works.

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