Vaudeville Wars


How the Keith-Albee and Orpheum Circuits Controlled the Big Time and Its Performers
written by Arthur Frank Wertheim, published by Palgrave Macmillan

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“Until Wertheim’s Vaudeville Wars, the men who created the institution of vaudeville had remained as inscrutable as official portraits. Wertheim drags away from their ledgers, telephones and mahogany desks the derby-hatted, cigar-smoking barons of vaudeville and places them downstage center under the spotlight. They emerge as human beings—some venomous, all ambitious and a few nearly decent. Wertheim has provided the most clear, entertaining and reliable history of the business end of vaudeville. Besides being an engrossing read, Vaudeville Wars makes a fine case study fit for any MBA program.”
Frank Cullen, founder, American Vaudeville Museum, Vaudeville Times Quarterly.

CHOICE, 12/01/2006
Although related to forms of variety entertainment in other parts of the world, US vaudeville reflected the unique qualities of the nation. Evolving from raucous concert saloons patronized by men, vaudeville was gentrified by E. F. Albee (1857-1930) and other pioneers, who censored performances and built elegant theaters in which women and children felt comfortable. In keeping with the culture of the day, as reflected by the methods of contemporary railroad and industrial tycoons, vaudeville entrepreneurs competed ruthlessly with one another, developed monopolies, and fought efforts of their workers--i.e., performers--to unionize. In Blue Vaudeville: Sex, Morals and the Mass Marketing of Amusement 1895-1915 (CH, May'05, 42-5179), Andrew Erdman contends that theater owners modified rules for stars like Sophie Tucker and Eva Tanguay, who attracted large audiences. Wertheim (history, formerly UCLA and elsewhere) follows the development of vaudeville to its decline in the 1920s, when it fell from popularity due to the sameness in its programs, corruption among its managers and agents, and competition from motion pictures. The Depression sealed vaudeville's fate. Including extensive documentation and some photographs, this book will find an audience among those interested in American business as well as popular entertainment. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers, all levels. -- R. Sugarman, emeritus, Southern Vermont College. © American Library Association.

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Book Excerpts

Suggested Interview Questions

Notes on Wertheim’s Research

Book Reviews

American Historical Review

Journal of American History

Theatre Survey