Archive for history

Six Tall Towers of Coney

Posted in Amusement Parks, AMUSEMENTS, BROOKLYN, Coney Island with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2017 by travsd

I don’t want to weird you out too much, but I essentially wrote this post while I was asleep last night. I laid the whole thing out in a dream state. Granted, I’d been reading about the subject before going to bed. Feel free not to read anything Freudian into it.

I’ve been working a bit at Coney Island lately and my interest in its history has consequently stepped up. I’m beginning to get a much better understanding of the geography of where the old  parks, pavilions and hotels were located. For those new to the historic layout of Coney — it has never been a single amusement park, like Disney World or Six Flags. In true American fashion, it has always been a neighborhood containing several different amusement parks in competition with each other. We’ll be blogging much more about that and other aspects of Coney Island in the near future.

At any rate, I found it interesting that towers have always been a major feature out there, sometimes as observation structures, sometimes as rides, sometimes as frames for dazzling lighting displays. It seems as though at any given time, there’s always at least one. Here they are!

The Iron Tower:  Never mind what the postcard says, most sources call it the Iron Tower. It was moved to its location, on what is now the grounds of the New York Aquarium, following the Philadelphia Centennial in 1877. It was 300 feet tall (for reference; that’s twice as tall as the Wonder Wheel). Patrons could get to the top on steam powered elevators and see for 30 miles around. Unfortunately the Iron Tower was destroyed in the 1911 Dreamland fire. That will be a recurring theme in this post! The Iron Tower was the tallest structure in the State of New York until the advent of the Beacon Tower (see below)

The Electric Tower: A scant 200 feet tall, The Electric Tower was the centerpiece of Luna Park when it opened for business in 1903. Impressive enough in the daytime, its real selling point was the 20,000 electric lights which illuminated it at night. This, at a time when the use of electric lighting for such purposes was still brand new (Broadway was just getting in on the act at the same time). And to tell you the truth, this would still be an impressive spectacle in our own day. Luna Park was destroyed by fires in 1944.

The Beacon Tower: I said “competition” and I meant it. When Dreamland Amusement Park opened in 1904, its centerpiece the Beacon Tower was both taller (375 ft) than the Iron Tower AND brilliantly illuminated at night like the Electric Tower. But the light which burns brightest often burns the briefest. The Beacon Tower was destined to live a much short life than either of the other two. It was destroyed in the 1911 Dreamland fire after just seven years of existence.

The Airship Tower: I can’t find the height or the date this one was built. It definitely went up some time between 1897 (when the first Steeplechase Park was built; that’s where it was located) and 1905 when it turns up on surviving postcards. The Airship Tower rotated and featured a blimp ride! It was destroyed by the Steeplechase fire in 1907. Steeplechase Park was rebuilt the following year and remained open through 1964.

Parachute Jump:  Now we come to the only one left standing! The 250 foot tall Parachute Jump was a highlight of the 1939 Worlds’ Fair in Queens. It was then purchased by the Tilyous of Steeplechase Park and moved there in 1941, becoming THE iconic Coney Island ride of the 1940s. No longer used as a ride, today it is gloriously lit up at night much as the Electric and Beacon Towers had been back in the day

The Astro Tower: Ironically the last of the big Coney Island amusement towers to be built is no longer standing. The 270 foot tall Astro Tower was erected in the center of Astroland Amusement Park in 1964. It was part of our lives here in New York for decades. I myself took that slow elevator ride to the top at least a couple of times. The Astro Tower remained up until 2013, when it began to sway precipitously, freaking everyone out. It was dismantled immediately.

And now I throw down the gauntlet! I know for certain that new towers are coming to Coney Island, but unfortunately they will be big ticket residential towers. Someone with dough should build something spectacular out there for The People! Something like this 700 foot Tower Globe but not a swindle! (Read its remarkable story here):

My New Cultural Tourism Blog

Posted in ME with tags , , , , , , , on May 30, 2017 by travsd

As promised I’m making big changes at Travalanche — close to 3,000 posts have been removed. Most were disposable and have been/will be trashed. Others are being moved on to other blogs. So here’s the first of the new ones. The Trav-a-log (travsd.blogspot.com) is where I’m putting all of my posts related to cultural tourism. Most of it has a historical bent, but not all. For the time being, some stuff with a show biz angle (e.g. the Houdini Museum) is remaining on Travalanche. The Trav-a-log is for our trips to other cities and countries, historical museums, monuments, re-enactment culture, ceremonies, parades and festivals, and notable restaurants with a historical angle. I wish I’d had this idea before, there would have been a lot more posts! As it is I start with 57 — there will be many more.  There may well be tons of overlap in the readership of these blogs but it won’t be total — I get the sense that some people only want the show biz content, but this sort of material means just as much to me, and I imagine some friends might be interested. There’ll be some dead links and other confusion in the transitional period, but this already seems to make more sense than the old concept of a monster-blog that does everything. http://travsd.blogspot.com/

More Dreams of Fields (W.C. Fields Team-Ups That Might Have Been)

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , , , on December 19, 2016 by travsd
W.C. and Groucho out of uniform at a Hollywood party

W.C. and Groucho out of uniform at a Hollywood party

This post is sort of a follow-up to our earlier one “Unfilmed Fields: 20 Films W.C. Fields Might Have Made But Didn’t.” 

W.C. Fields worked with some of the great Hollywood directors (D.W. Griffith, George Cukor, Leo McCarey, Norman McLeod, George Marshall, Gregory LaCava) as well as some decent ones (Fred Newmeyer, Eddie Sutherland, Chuck Reisner, Eddie Cline, Clyde Bruckman, Arthur Ripley) and some well-known, prolific hacks (William Beaudine, Norman Taurog). And he worked closely with great producers like Mack Sennett and William Le Baron. Here’s a lost opportunity I thought of the other day — how great would it have been if PRESTON STURGES had directed W.C. Fields? There was a certain amount of overlap in their stock companies: Franklin Pangborn especially, and both worked with Edgar Kennedy, Jimmy Conlin etc. And the film Sturges did with Harold Lloyd, The Sin of Harold Diddlebock comes close to showing what such a thing might have been like, with its circus and alcohol themes. YES, the boozing on the set might have gotten out of hand. Sadly, they both passed out of (in?) Hollywood around the same time, but, gosh, it would have been swell. (Someone brought up the good point that Sturges was a stickler for his carefully crafted lines, whereas Fields loved to paraphrase and ad lib, making for potential conflict. C’est la guerre. It’s all academic anyway!)

And here’s ANOTHER one I thought of! Fields would have been GREAT in a movie with WILL ROGERS. Rogers starred in a series of great comedies (many directed by John Ford) in the early 30s. Like many of Fields’ comedies of the time, most of them had small town settings. Both men were friends and colleagues from their Follies days — I can see the pair of them interacting in one of these small town comedies PERFECTLY, maybe with Rogers as the town judge, and Fields as a guy he has to keep locking up, or the Mayor, or both. Sadly, Rogers died in a plane crash just as Fields career in talkies was catching on. Anyway, just day dreaming — that’s what I do!

Jack Benny, W.C. Fields, Eddie Cantor in p.r. shot with Miss America, 1939

Jack Benny, W.C. Fields, Eddie Cantor in p.r. shot with Miss America, 1939

And while we’re on Fields’ Follies cohorts….Fields DID appear on screen some of them, including Marilyn Miller, Leon Errol, Marion Davies and Louise Brooks. But there are some people Fields was teamed with in Follies comedy sketches who also had film careers in the talking era whom he never shared a screen with. How great would it be to see him opposite comedy giants Eddie Cantor, Fanny Brice, Ed Wynn, or Walter Catlett?

And while he was teamed with some top stars like Mae West, and (early in their careers) both Bob Hope and Bing Crosby (in separate movies), I wonder what team-ups with some other similar heavyweights might have been like. For example, a possible co-starring with Marie Dressler was discussed. It’s an exciting prospect, one easily imagines her doing the kind of thing Alison Skipworth and others did in the role of Mrs. Fields, but with a lot more heft and star power. Unfortunately she passed away in 1934, just as Fields’ solo career was really getting rolling. Jack Benny is another tantalizing one. His film career was similar to Hope’s and Crosby’s in the 30s; both Fields and Benny had appeared in (different) editions of the Big Broadcast series, and had done comedy on radio together. So close and yet so far! And then there are his drinking buddies! It might have been interesting to see him co-star with John Barrymore, as a couple of old drunken thespians. Or to see Errol Flynn play Prince Hal to Fields’ Falstaff.

Fields with Lou Costello

Fields with Lou Costello

Another pairing that might have been inevitable had Fields lived a bit longer (and one that is kind of surprising did not occur in the 4-5 years after Never Give a Sucker an Even Break when Fields was more than available and dying to do a real movie), was a teaming with the reigning Universal comey stars of at the early ’40s, Abbott and Costello. I don’t claim it would have necessarily been good, but would have been smart producing, at least! He’s in publicity pictures with them (see above), and he appeared on radio with them. And he’d appeared in films with other radio stars like Burns and Allen and Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. But Abbott and Costello were waxing hot in the early ’40s, just as Fields was starting to be eclipsed. It may be that Fields’ ego couldn’t bear what such a screen teaming may have looked like (nor could Costello).

With the woman who Chaplin's leading lady during most of Fields' talkie career, Paulette Godard. (Whew, this one can use some re-touching, eh)

With the woman who was Chaplin’s leading lady during most of Fields’ talkie career, Paulette Godard. (Whew, this one can use some re-touching, eh?)

And what about a teaming with the biggest one of them all, Charlie Chaplin? Probably never likely…Chaplin tended not to surround himself with his equals (he kept conspicuously distant from his old Karno colleague Stan Laurel, for example…I’ve always thought something like insecurity must be the reason). And Fields’ had bad-mouthed Chaplin as a “damn ballet dancer”. But both men had shared screens with Chester Conklin and Jack Oakie, and Chaplin later threw a bone to Buster Keaton, every bit his equal, in Limelight. The President of Klopstokia perhaps could have interacted believably with Adenoid Hinkel. 

The photo at the top of this post suggests another possibility: one thing the Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields shared in common was Margaret Dumont as  foil. After finishing her last comedy with the Marxes, The Big Store, her next picture was Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, with Fields, followed by a re-teaming with him in Tales of Manhattan (1942) (their sequence was cut, essentially for being better than the rest of the movie). I don’t know how Fields would function in a movie with all three Marx Brothers (although I have my theories). But I can also see a team-up with solo Groucho along the lines of Copacabana. 

Lastly, in The Bank Dick, we get to see Fields alongside one of The Three Stooges, Shemp Howard.  The Stooges’ comedy was generally of a lower intellectual order than Fields’, but ya never know…he wouldn’t have been the first brainy comedian (Keaton springs to mind) to be shoe-horned into the Columbia comedy factory. Or if that tack seems unfortunate, consider the 1951 western feature Gold Raiders, in which the Stooges shared a marquee with George O’Brien. As we saw In My Little Chickadee, the western genre worked well for Fields as well!

Groucho Marx: Bouffon

Posted in Clown, Comedians, Comedy, Comedy Teams, Marx Brothers with tags , , , , , , , on October 2, 2016 by travsd
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“No Matter what it is or who commenced it — I’m against it!”

Today is the birthday of Groucho Marx. I’ve done over a hundred blogposts on the Marx Brothers as a team; but very rarely focusing solely on my favorite comedian (okay, he vies for the top spot with a short list of others). This one was prompted by a query I got from a young comedian named Darius Emadi a few months ago. His question was quite simple, but so revolutionary and new and unprecedented, I was taken quite aback and thought about it for days. I have been planning this post ever since then.

The question was this: “Groucho Marx: Clown or Bouffon”? The answer is immediately apparent. No rumination required. Groucho is a bouffon. And that realization came as such a delightful thunderbolt. The idea of bouffon is the perfect frame for thinking and talking about Groucho. And yet this conceptual tool is so new that it’s only recently become available. And the misconception that Groucho is a clown in the conventional sense has driven so much that’s been so misguided, including his casting in films, and criticisms and appreciations by fans and writers.

I’ve written a bit about bouffon here and here. (I urge you to follow the links and explore. It will provide much background and insight and relieve me from having to remake the wheel here). Bouffon certainly grew out of clowning, much as Lucifer fell out of the choirs of heaven. It has much in common with that ancient art on the outside: exaggeration, costume, make-up and the goal of making people laugh. What it does not share with clown however, and this is crucial, is a need for SYMPATHY. In fact, bouffons are profoundly UN-sympathetic. It is what they are there for. They are nasty. They are the nasty parts of us made manifest. Groucho exists to confuse, lacerate, run rings around, fuck with, tweak, rattle, undermine and muss up the people around him. He exists to break things down, not build them up. The essence of his character is not to help people, and neither does he want nor deserve help. On those occasions in his early vehicles where he does assist the perfunctory ingenue or some stuffed shirt of a leading man, it is because it is part of the conventions of the format, which he subverts with every breath he draws. He has no “heart”. The attempts to impose one on his character in his later movies are like trying to graft an elephant’s trunk onto an octopus. This organ does not belong here! It is useless and irrelevant to this character. This is not to rail against goodness and emotion and altruism. My point is that everyone else has those. Some characters do not. Groucho does not. Thus Charlie Chaplin is a clown. Groucho Marx is a bouffon.

Mr. Emadi gave me great hope with his question by even asking it. By even thinking to ask it. By even knowing to ask it. Not for some egghead reason, though you’ll probably think so if you’re a complete philistine, as most people are. But, the fact remains that I myself am not a scholar. I have no degree, I am not affiliated with any institution, I contribute to no scholarly journals, I do not speak at symposia. I consider myself first and foremost a theatrical practitioner. Sometimes I write it, sometimes I direct it, sometimes I perform it, sometimes I produce it, sometimes I review it. And part of living that life, according to my philosophy, is mastering its history. So sometimes I write about it. That’s just part of the gig. I’ve always felt that way. Have you ever met a magician? I know quite a few of them. And one thing I’ve observed ACROSS THE BOARD is that they are absolute geeks about the history of their art form — back to EGYPT! — and they’ve always been that way.  And I really feel actors and comedians should aspire to the same level of awareness. They certainly used to. That was the vaudeville way. Sometime around the 1960s, I think many began to cut loose from the moorings.

And contemporary Hollywood has so much to do with that,I think, this severing ties with tradition. And it happened in the same time frame, when “the business” became disconnected from its mother art, the theatre, and when self-respect became secondary to the bottom-line — a bottom line in a culture where everyone is racing to the bottom. The kind of thing that’s always bothered me: brilliant comic geniuses like Steve Martin (a philosopher and art collector) and Robin Williams (a Julliard grad) churning out the worst crappy movies for decade after decade…and then throw the art form a bone when they do Waiting for Godot in private for two weeks at Lincoln Center with Bill Irwin. I feel like you have a responsibility to the public, man. A great quote from the late Edward Albee (thanks Yvonne Roen!): “Don’t GIVE the people what they want. TELL them what they want.” Be a leader — LEAD. Make the culture better. Don’t degrade yourself. Especially when you’re a Hollywood player with wealth, power and fame at your disposal.

So what I love about Emadi is not that he’s an egghead — he’s actually a stand-up comedian. And he’s also studying clown in France. It won’t ruin him. So did Sacha Baron Cohen, whom I also admire. And really ultimately, in their way, so did Mack Sennett and Charlie Chaplin. Know whereof you speak and speak it. Anything else is to be a worm. You know what Groucho was doing when he wasn’t lampooning academia in Horsefeathers? He was compulsively reading books.

Fields Fest Lives!

Posted in Comedians, Comedy, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, Hollywood (History), Jugglers, ME, My Shows, PLUGS, Vaudeville etc., W.C. Fields with tags , , , , , , on September 26, 2016 by travsd

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December 25, 2016 will mark the 70th anniversary of the passing from our plane of the great stage and screen comedian W.C. Fields. To mark the occasion we have organized Fields Fest, a festival of talks, screening and other events to celebrate the life and career of the Great Man. Fields Fest is our follow up to the highly successful Marxfest, which took place in May of 2014. 

Here’s some of what we have planned. Stay tuned for updates!:

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Tuesday, November 1, 7:00pm: Launch event at the Lambs: W.C. Fields for President

Did you know that in addition to being one of the most popular American entertainers of the 20th century, W.C. Fields was also a proud member of The Lambs? The clubhouse will once again be filled with the stories and charm so often on display from Fields during a special night on Tuesday, Nov. 1, at 7 p.m. The team behind the upcoming stage show W.C. Fields For President (based on the humor book Fields for President, recently re-released with a new forward by Dick Cavett) will present a night devoted to the showman’s legacy. The event will bring to The Lambs actor-circus performer Glen Heroy, star of the one-man show, and its writer-director, the mountebank Trav S.D. (author of No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous), and Lauren Milberger, as Gracie Allen!. A suggested donation of $10 supports The Lambs Foundation. 3 West 51st Street. www.the-lambs.org. Attendance is limited, RSVP to Kevin Fitzpatrick, kevin [AT ]fitzpatrickauthor.com.

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Thursday, November 17, 7:00pm: Hear and Now with Rachel Cleary

Trav S.D. and Glen Heroy (of W.C. Fields for President) will appear on Rachel Cleary’s Radio Free Brooklyn show. Listen to it here: http://radiofreebrooklyn.com/show/hear-and-now-with-rachel-c/

Fields and his comedy cohorts from the Ziegfeld Follies

Fields and his comedy cohorts from the Ziegfeld Follies

Saturday, Nov. 19, 1:00-3:00 PM: W.C. Fields History Walk
Walk in the footsteps of W.C. Fields and see where he lived, worked, and socialized. This two-hour walk is led by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick, author of The Algonquin Round Table New York: A Historical Guide (Globe Pequot) and Under the Table: A Dorothy Parker Cocktail Guide (Lyons Press). See more than a dozen locations associated with his life and times in a spirited walk. Meeting point: in front of the Shubert Theatre, Shubert Alley (44th Street between 7th and 8th avenues). The walk will encompass approximately 25 blocks, so wear comfortable shoes. The walk is open to the public. Kids, strollers, and dogs welcome. Buy tickets in advance by emailing Kevin: kevin [at] fitzpatrickauthor (dot) com. Tickets are $20.00 each.

 

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Tuesday, November 22, 7:30pm: The Bank Dick (1940)

The classic Fields film, introduced by Dr. Harriet Fields, W.C.’s only granddaughter and global health activist, at the Cinema Arts Center, Huntington Long Island: www.cinemaartscentre.org

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Young Fields in his days as a vaudeville tramp juggler

Thursday, December 1, 6:30pm: “W.C. Fields in Vaudeville”

Trav S.D. talks about the great comedian’s early years in show business as a juggler in vaudeville and a revue comedian, and the many ways those experiences influenced his later motion pictures. The talk will be illustrated and will draw from the author’s research on the comedian for his blog Travalanche (travsd.wordpress.com) and his popular book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous. At the Mid-Manhattan Branch of NY Public Library, 455 Fifth Ave, Sixth Floor. FREE

"Sally of the Sawdust" (1925)

“Sally of the Sawdust” (1925)

Saturday, December 10 1.30pm: “W.C. Fields in Astoria: The Paramount Silents”

Many people know that W.C. Fields had one of the most distinctive speaking voices of the classic comedy era. What they may not realize is that prior to the advent of talking pictures, Fields was a SILENT comedy star. From 1924 through 1928 he appeared in ten Paramount features filmed at that studio’s Astoria Queens facility. In this illustrated talk author and lecturer Trav S.D. takes you up close to this lesser known stretch of the Great Man’s career, and shows how much of Fields’ silent work presaged his better known talkies. At Greater Astoria Historical Society, Queens: www.astorialic.org

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Monday, December 12, 7pm: “W.C. Fields: From Dime Museums to the Jazz Age” an illustrated talk by Trav S.D., sponsored by Zelda Magazine

A look at screen comedian W.C. Fields’ growth from humble sideshow and dime museum juggler to sketch comedian and one of the biggest stars of sophisticated Broadway revues like the Ziegfeld Follies, George White’ Sandals and Earl Carrol’s Vanities. Along the way meet the glittering stars he shared the limelight with like Louise Brooks, Fanny Brice, Will Rogers and Eddie Cantor. Admission: $8. Location: Morbid Anatomy Museum, 424 Third Avenue, 11215 Brooklyn NY

Sunday, December 25, 4pm: W.C. Fields Memorial Pub Crawl

The culminating event of Fields Fest, in honor of the 70th anniversary of the day in which The Great Man met the Man in the Bright Night Gown. Location TBA

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Thursday, December 29, 7:00pm: The Man on the Flying Trapeze

A screening of Field’s often overlooked 1935 Paramount classic The Man on the Flying Trapeze at Metrograph. Celebrity guest speaker TBA.

The Surprising, Violent Film Oeuvre of Mr. Duke Mitchell

Posted in Hollywood (History), Italian, Movies, Singers with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the one and only Duke Mitchell (Dominic Micelli, 1926-1981). Like most classic comedy and B movie horror fans, I’d long known Mitchell solely as the co-star, with his partner Sammy Petrillo, of the schlock film Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (read more about Petrillo, the team, and that movie here). 

Mitchell on the left, Jerry Lewis impersonator Petrillo on the right

Mitchell on the left, Jerry Lewis impersonator Petrillo on the right

You could have knocked me over with a feather when I learned that a little over 20 years later, Mitchell wrote, directed, produced and starred in two films of his own. And yet, when one looks at the films, it all makes sense. Mitchell is often thought of as a lesser Dean Martin (although I tend to think of him as a lesser Steve Rossi). An Italian American crooner, he made his living in big city night clubs and in the resort communities of Las Vegas and Palm Springs. There was more than a little “bada bing” in his act.

In 1974, inspired by films like The Godfather and Mean Streets, Mitchell decided to make his own statement, which he felt would enhance the genre by virtue of his intimate knowledge of gangster types (their experiences and their language), and authentic locations (much of his films were shot at the venues where he performed).

The resulting sui generis genre he invented might be called “goombasploitation”: low-budget, gritty, semi-documentary, completely amoral, and containing enough violence and blood splatter for a horror film. There is something trailblazing about the degree to which Mitchell pushes the profanity and violence. I’d be very shocked if I didn’t learn if Mitchell’s films didn’t turn around and influence Scorsese right back. At the same time, great pains are taken to explain Italian and Italian-American culture to us: monologues about duty and tradition, scenes at Catholic churches and weddings.

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His first film Massacre Mafia Style a.k.a Like Father, Like Son (1974) opens in medias res with a pair of hoodlums randomly murdering every single person in an office building. The rest of the film is ostensibly the set-up, justifying the event, but it’s really no justification. The guy just wants to do some crimes. And come to think of it, isn’t that the plot of every goddamn irredeemable Ocean’s 11 movie?

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The following year, Mitchell made Gone With the Pope, which went unreleased until 2011. Though finished in 1975, it lay on a shelf for years. Mitchell died of lung cancer in 1981 and it was decades before the virginal work print was discovered.

Like any good follow up picture, this one ups the ante substantially. Whereas the hero (antihero) of Massacre Mafia Style merely wanted to conquer Hollywood, Mitchell’s character in Gone with the Pope schemes to “snatch” His Holiness….and then charge every Catholic in the world one dollar for his release. Any moral intent the film may possess may be undercut by the scenes of gangsters roughing up a 350 lb naked hooker:

I think it’s fair to say that Duke Mitchell remained ahead of his time for the entirety of his career.

A Timeline of Vaudeville

Posted in Vaudeville etc. with tags , , on May 27, 2015 by travsd

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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

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

1897: Sylvester Poli builds his New England circuit

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

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

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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