Variety 101:
Links & Suggested Reading
compiled by John Kenrick

Websites

  • A Life in Vaudeville - The family of vaudevillian and film maker Curly Wright has entrusted Musicals101 with photos and memories of his life and career. With a bio written by his wife, this is a unique and highly personal glimpse into the world of 20th Century show business.

  • Al Jolson Society - A loving tribute to a theatrical legend, with photos, facts, sound and film clips of the incomparable "Jolie." Definitely a musical theatre landmark on the web. Don't miss it!

  • American Variety Stage 1870-1920 - The Library of Congress site offers this extensive online collection of theatre and vaudeville programs, scripts, recordings, and film clips

  • American Vaudeville Museum - Lots of vaudeville fun on this website, with bios, photos and some interesting links too.

  • An Annotated Bibliography of Commedia dell'Arte, Music Hall, Panto, and Other Diversions - This is an excellent bibliography, with some great suggestions on books relating to music halls, vaudeville and burlesque.

  • Burlesque History- Both a tribute to burlesque history and an ongoing attempt to relocate surviving performers. A promising new site!

  • Musicals101 Research Guide - Musicals101 offers this list of helpful resources covering musical theatre & film

  • Vintage Vaudeville and Ragtime Show - Sound clips and photos recreate an online version of a traditional vaudeville bill. One of the most entertaining vaudeville sights on the web.


Special Collections
Almost every major library in the US is a good resource for researching local vaudeville history, through newspaper articles, reviews, etc. However, there are several facilities with extraordinary vaudeville-related collections.

  • The Libraries of the University of Iowa (http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/) maintain the Keith-Albee Collection of documents relating to the Orpheum circuit.

  • The Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center (www.nypl.org) maintains one of the largest public research facilities anywhere, with extensive related materials in their Billy Rose Collection and the Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

  • The Museum of the City of New York (www.mcny.org) has a Theatre Collection with extensive vaudeville and burlesque materials, and special files on major performers. One of the oldest theatre collections, MCNY remains a prime source for documents and rare photos.


Suggested Reading

  • Alexander, H.M. Strip Tease: The Vanished Art of Burlesque. New York: Knight Publishers, 1938. A first-hand look at 1930s burlesque audiences and performers, this was one of the first insightful books on the genre.

  • Allen, Ralph. The Best Burlesque Sketches. New York: Applause Books, 1994. The college professor whose research led to the Broadway hit Sugar Babies shares some of the funniest of the 1,800 routines he unearthed.

  • Allen, Robert C. Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture. Chapel Hill & London: University of North Carolina Press, 1991. The definitive scholarly study of burlesque and its contribution to American popular culture during the 19th and 20th Centuries.

  • Alter, Judy. Vaudeville: The Birth of Show Business. New York: Franklin Watts, 1998. This illustrated children's book is a quick and excellent introduction to vaudeville.

  • Barber, Rowland. The Night They Raided Minsky's. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960. This admittedly fanciful version of the last night at New York's legendary burlesque house takes all sorts of liberties, but it makes for a breezy, entertaining read.

  • Bratton, J.S., editor. Music Hall Performance and Style. Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1986. An interesting, if limited, collection of essays on varied aspects of the music hall tradition.

  • Carlyon, David. Dan Rice: The Most Famous Man You've Never Heard Of. New York: Public Affairs, 2001. Long overdue look at early show business in the United States, seen though the career of America's first great clown. Valuable insights into the circus based pre-history of minstrelsy and musical comedy. 

  • Cheshire, D.F. Music Hall in Britain. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickenson University Press, 1974. A clear and concise look at the rise and fall of music halls.

  • Corio, Ann. This Was Burlesque. New York: Madison Square Press, 1968. Inspired by Corio's long touring burlesque revue, this lavishly illustrated volume (ghost written by Joe DiMona) is entertaining and informative.

  • Davis, Lee. Scandals and Follies: The Rise and Fall of the Great Broadway Revue. New York: Limelight Editions, 2000.An entertaining (if sometimes stretched) overview of the history of American variety stage entertainment, focusing on the legendary Broadway revues of the early 20th Century.

  • Disher, M. Willson. Music Hall Parade. London, Charles Scribners Sons, 1938. A celebration of music hall history, with some fascinating illustrations. Hard to find but rewarding.

  • Georges-Graves, Nadine. The Royalty of Negro Vaudeville: The Whitman Sisters and the Negotiation of Race, Gender and Class in African American Theater, 1900-1940. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000. A thoroughly researched look at one musical family act that spent decades touring the TOBA (black vaudeville) circuit. Too many good ideas get bogged down in academic jargon (i.e. - references to "applying semiotics" and "Lacanian psychoanalysis").

  • Gilbert, Douglas. American Vaudeville: Its Life and Times. New York: Dover Publications, 1963. Still one of the best books on the history of variety and vaudeville -- getting hard to find, but essential reading for serious students of this subject.

  • Glenn, Susan A. Female Spectacle: The Theatrical Roots of Modern Feminism. Cambridge MS: Harvard University Press, 2000. A insightful, clearly written academic look at how theatre and vaudeville helped redefine the role of women in American society. Includes extensive discussion of various vaudeville stars and Ziegfeld's Follies.

  • Haskins, Jim, and M.R. Mitgang, Mr. Bojangles: The Biography of Bill Robinson. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1988. A straightforward, well-researched and long overdue look at the life and career of the legendary tap dancer.

  • Havoc, June. Early Havoc. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959. A frank autobiography, recalling Havoc's years as vaudeville's "Baby June" and her coming of age during the Great Depression. Her vivid experiences as a dance marathon contestant make for compelling reading, and if you think the musical Gypsy made Mama Rose look ruthless, wait until you get June's version!

  • Hoyt, Harlowe R. Town Hall Tonight. New York: Braham House, 1955. The author's recalls his family's experiences operating a small town theater in the days of variety, minstrelsy and touring melodramas like East Lynne.

  • Leslie, Peter. A Hard Act to Follow: A Music Hall Review. London: Paddington Press, 1978. Covers variety and music hall in England, France and the US. Tons of illustrations and informative text make this hard to find book a standout.

  • Laurie, Joe, Jr. Vaudeville. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1953. A warm, personal look at vaudeville from someone who grew up in it.

  • Lott, Eric. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. An examination of cultural/political role played by minstrel show in the 1800s. Too many good ideas -- and a few ill-founded ones too -- are mired in academic persiflage. (" . . . disarticulations of hegemony accompany periods of extreme capitalist crisis, generating fresh repertoires of domination.")

  • Mizejewski, Linda. Ziegfeld Girl: Image and Icon in Culture and Cinema. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999. Academic approach with refreshingly readable text in this insightful examination of how the Ziegfeld legacy spread through the pop culture of the 20th Century.

  • Samuels, Charles and Louise. Once Upon a Stage: The Merry World of Vaudeville. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1974. A casual, nostalgic look at vaudeville by two veteran journalists. Some factual errors, but dozens of great anecdotes.

  • Sante, Luc. Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1991. An engrossing look at the long ignored history of New York's lower, working and criminal classes. One of the most original and enllightening books on the history of New York City, this includes fascinating coverage of the city's night life, legitimate and otherwise.

  • Slide, Anthony. The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994. A landmark work in vaudeville scholarship, with detailed looks at hundreds of entertainers and vaude terms.

  • Slide, Anthony. The Vaudevillians. Westport, CT: Arlington House, 1981. Predecessor to the encyclopedia mentioned above, it features hundreds of profiles and photos.

  • Slide, Anthony. Selected Vaudeville Criticism. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, Metuchen NJ, 1988. Reviews from hundreds of publications, grouped by performer. A magnificent piece of scholarship from one of vaudeville's greatest students.

  • Sobel, Bernard. A Pictorial History of Burlesque. New York: Bonanza Books, NY, 1956. Not just strippers, but a well considered look at all of burlesque. Great photos!

  • Sobel, Bernard. A Pictorial History of Vaudeville. New York: Citadel Press, 1961. Now hard to find, this is a priceless collection for fans of the genre. Many rare photos.

  • Smith, Bill. The Vaudevillians. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1976. Thirty vaudeville performers share their often fascinating memories. This is essential reading to anyone seriously interested in the subject.

  • Snyder, Robert W. The Voice of the City. New York: Ivan R. Dee, 2000 (Hardcover edition - New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989). A delightful and thoroughly researched look at the history of vaudeville and popular culture in New York City. A superb book!

  • Spitzer, Marian. The Palace. New York: Atheneum, 1969. A detailed look at the rise and decline of New York's famous vaudeville house.

  • Staples, Shirley. Male-Female Teams in American Vaudeville 1865-1932. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1984. Intelligently written and well researched, covering couples form the early days of variety to the beloved Burns and Allen.

  • Stein, Charles; Editor. American Vaudeville. New York: Da Capo Press, 1984. This collection of period articles shows how vaudeville was written about in its own time.

  • Tanner, Jo A. Dusky Maidens: The Odyssey of the Early Black Dramatic Actress. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992. A detailed account of the way most of America's earliest black actresses got their first professional engagements in the musical theater. Hard to find but well worth reading, this is a great treatment of a sadly neglected topic.

  • Tucker, Sophie and Dorothy Giles. Some of These Days. (No publisher credited), New York. 1945. A warm and entertaining autobiography from one of vaudeville's greatest headliners. A firsthand look into a lost world.

  • Weightman, Gavin. Bright Lights, Big City: London Entertained 1830-1950. London: Collins & Brown, 1992. Lavish illustrations but broadly focused text cover the many facets of popular entertainment in London from Victoria's reign to the aftermath of World War II. Includes music halls.

  • Zeidman, Irving. The American Burlesque Show. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1967. No academic gobbledygook here! The author was a NY attorney with a lifelong passion for burlesque, so he approaches the subject with firsthand frankness. Great stories, rare photos and more honest assessment of burlesque than most scholars can hope to offer.

 

Back to: Variety 101