100 Years Ago: The Music Box Revue

September 22, 1921 marked the opening day of Irving Berlin’s Music Box Revue, a century ago! The genesis of this short-lived annual production was the fact that producer Sam Harris had recently broken up with his partner George M. Cohan over the 1919 Actor’s Strike. (Amusingly, Harris, a producer, sided with the actors, and Cohan an actor-producer, sided with the producers). Harris built Berlin the Music Box Theatre, and they co-produced their own in-house revue to compete with the ones put on by Ziegfeld, George White, The Shuberts, John Murray Anderson, and theoretically Cohan himself (he had produced The Cohan Revue in 1916 and 1918 but there were no more after the split with Harris).

The first edition of The Music Box Revue featured Berlin himself, William Collier (who also wrote the book), Sam Bernard, The Brox Sisters, Paul Frawley (brother of William), Miriam Hopkins, Margaret Irving, Florence Moore, Renie Riano, Joseph Santley etc. Clark and McCullough made a splash in the 1922 edition, along with The Fairbanks Twins, William Gaxton, Charlotte Greenwood, Grace La Rue, Margaret Irving (again), et al. 1923 saw the return of Florence Moore, Joseph Santley and the Brox Sisters, plus the talents of Robert Benchley, Phil Baker, Grace Moore, and Frank Tinney. The fourth and final edition (1924) had Clark and McCullough, Grace Moore, and The Brox Sisters again, along with Fanny Brice, Clare Booth Luce, and Oscar Shaw. All of the shows were staged by Hassard Short.

Oh Berlin wasn’t done with revues by a long way! He just had the good sense to stop producing them. His very next show was George White’s Scandals of 1925.

For more about the variety arts please consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous