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At present there is no comprehensive brick-and-mortar museum of Vaudeville, but thanks to decades of passionate dedication to the subject by theatre historian Frank Cullen, we have the next-best-thing, the virtual online American Vaudeville Museum.

Frank Cullen established the AVM in 1982 as a nonprofit membership organization. In 1998 he launched the publication of the quarterly "Vaudeville Times," writing articles based on his research that were illustrated with photos and ephemera from his growing collection. With the assistance of equally committed colleagues Donald McNeilly and Florence Hackman, the publication grew into a respected journal among theatre scholars. Publication ceased after 40 issues, but thankfully, all back issues are still available. Also in 1998 the AVM launched its web site, www.vaudeville.org, designed to serve as a research center for Vaudeville, burlesque, variety, musical revues, musical comedies, and early sound movies. The web site fueled AVM's subscription list for a decade.

Through the years no actual premises for the museum was forthcoming, but Cullen was onto another monumental project, compiling a full-scale encyclopedia of Vaudeville. In 2006 Routledge Press published Vaudeville Old and New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America, a hefty two-volume set that filled a huge gap in American theatre history scholarship. This landmark reference can be found in university libraries, theatre archives, and in the collections of the most ardent scholars on the subject.

Cullen and the AVM were based in Boston, Mass. for many years until he retired to New Mexico several years ago. (The irony is that Frank Cullen and R.W. Bacon, two Vaudeville historians based in the Boston area for decades, never crossed paths. In those years Cullen was working in his career for various nonprofits, while Bacon was traveling far-and-wide during his performance career with his wife, L.J. Newton, in their theatrical show, The Goodtime Ragtime Vaudeville Revival. They have since connected via correspondence.)

In April 2008 the University of Arizona announced that the AVM was donating its entire collection, very likely the largest collection of its kind in existence, to the school. Cullen had carefully evaluated numerous theatre archives as potential recipients of his collection, and ultimately decided on the University of Arizona. The collection features recordings, sheet music, videos, costumes, posters, and other artifacts dating back to Vaudeville’s beginnings in the 1860s, and once it is cataloged, it will be made available for research and education. (To read a news story on the donation of the AVM collection, click here.)

Frank Cullen's research, and especially his drive to achieve the publication of Vaudeville Old and New, has been a help in the development of content for the museum program, "A Vaudeville Retrospective." Your presenter is always surrounded by towers of books when doing research for museum interpretation, but also having the two-volume encyclopedia close-at-hand as a quick reference certainly streamlined the process. "Thanks Frank!" will be echoed by Vaudeville enthusiasts and scholars for years to come.

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Vaudeville Studies:

Selected Bibliography, Audio & Video Resources,
Internet Links, & Brick-and-Mortar Repositories

The study of Vaudeville --- like every other area of study --- has been made easier since the burgeoning growth of online resources beginning in the 1990s. This page aims to serve as a brief guide to resources for those who may be new to the study of Vaudeville.

A General Vaudeville Bibliography

The following books form the basis of a well-rounded general library of Vaudeville studies.

Gilbert, Douglas. American Vaudeville: Its Life and Times. New York: Whittesly/McGraw-Hill, 1940.

DiMeglio, John. Vaudeville U.S.A. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1973.

Laurie, Joe Jr. Vaudeville: from the Honky-Tonks to the Palace. New York: Henry Holt, 1953.

McLean, Albert F. American Vaudeville as Ritual. Lexington, Ky.: University of Kentucky Press, 1965.

S. D., Trav. No Applause --- Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous. New York: Faber and Faber, 2005.

Slide, Anthony. Encyclopedia of Vaudeville. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Snyder, Robert W. The Voice of the City: Vaudeville and Popular Culture in New York. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Sobel, Bernard. A Pictorial History of Vaudeville. New York: Bonanza/Crow/Citadel, 1961.

Stein, Charles W. American Vaudeville as Seen by its Contemporaries. New York: Borzoi/Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.

Wertheim, Arthur Frank. Vaudeville Wars: How the Keith Albee and Orpheum Circuits Controlled the Big Time and Its Performers. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006.


OK, OK ... You just want ONE book?

If you are looking for a single book that will give you a solid overview of Vaudeville in context, breezy in style, and under five pounds, look for the book cited above by Trav S.D. (as in "travesty"): No Applause --- Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous. New York: Faber and Faber, 2005.


Want to dig a little deeper?

After digesting one or two of the books listed above, you may want to pursue your curiosity with the following titles.

Ashby, Leroy With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture Since 1830. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 2006.

Caffin, Caroline. Vaudeville. New York: M. Kennerley, 1914.

Cullen, Frank. Vaudeville Old and New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America (Two vols.; with Florence Hackman & Donald McNeilly) New York: Routledge Press, 2006.

Davis, Janet. The Circus Age: Culture and Society under the American Big Top. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Erenberg, Lewis A. "Steppin' Out": New York Nightlife and the Transformation of American Culture, 1890-1930. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1981.

Holland, Charlie. Strange Feats and Clever Turns: Remarkable Specialty Acts in Variety, Vaudeville, and Sideshows. London: Holland & Palmer, 1998.

Keegan, Marcia. We Can Still Hear Them Clapping. New York: Avon/Hearst, 1975.

Nasaw, David. Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements. New York: Basic Books, 1993

Reed, Bill. Hot from Harlem: Profiles in Classic African-American Entertainment. Los Angeles, Calif.: Cellar Door Press, 1998.

Samuels, Charles & Louise. Once upon a Stage: the Merry World of Vaudeville. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1974.

Slout, William L. Broadway Below the Sidewalk: Concert Saloons of Old New York. San Bernadino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1994.

Smith, Bill. The Vaudevillians. New York: Macmillan, 1976.

Toll, Robert C. Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth Century America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.

Toll, Robert C. On With the Show!: The First Century of Show Business in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.


Selected Biographies & Autobiographies

Fawning showbusiness biographies and self-indulgent memoirs are always suspect as accurate research sources. The handful of books listed below, however, are of particular merit --- the biographies for the author's scholarship, and the autobiographies for their honesty and insight.

Allen, Fred. Much Ado About Me. Boston: Little, Brown, 1956.

Benny, Jack and Joan Benny. Sunday Nights at Seven: The Jack Benny Story. New York: Warner Books, 1990.

Berle, Milton. Milton Berle: An Autobiography. With Haskel Frankel. New York: Delacorte Press, 1974.

Brown, Joe E. As told to Ralph Hancock. Laughter Is a Wonderful Thing. New York: Barnes, 1956.

Carlyon, David. Dan Rice: the Most Famous Man You Never Heard Of. New York: Public Affairs/Perseus Books, 2001.

Charters, Ann. Nobody: The Story of Bert Williams. London: Macmillan Co., 1970.

Curtis, James. W. C. Fields: A Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.

Fields, Armond. Eddie Foy: A Biography of the Early Popular Stage Comedian. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1999.

Fields, Armond. Fred Stone: Circus Performer and Musical Comedy Star.. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2002.

Fields, Armond. Sophie Tucker: First Lady of Show Business. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2003.

Fields, W. C. W. C. Fields by Himself: His Intended Autobiography. Commentary by Ronald J. Fields. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1973.

Haskins, Jim, and Mitgang, N.R. Mr. Bojangles: The Biography of Bill Robinson. New York: W. Morrow, 1988.

Hynd, Noel. Marquard & Seeley. Chicago: Parnassus Press, 1996.

Ketchum, Richard M.. Will Rogers: The Man and His Times. New York: American Heritage, 1973.

Marston, William M., and Feller, John H. F.F. Proctor: Vaudeville Pioneer. New York: Richard R. Smith, 1943.

Marx, Harpo. Harpo Speaks! With Rowland Barber. New York: Bernard Geiss, 1961.

Sellers, Parker. Tony Pastor: Dean of the Vaudeville Stage. Ypsilanti, Mich.: Eastern Michigan University Press, 1971.

Stone, Fred. Rolling Stone. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1945.

Tucker, Sophie. With Dorothy Giles. Some of These Days: The Autobiography of Sophie Tucker. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran, 1945.

Waters, Ethel with Charles Samuels. His Eye Is on the Sparrow. New York: Doubleday, 1951.


Audio Resources

A separate Vaudeville discography will be forthcoming as a separate PDF file. In the meantime, rather than cite individual recordings, the list below enumerates representative Vaudeville performers and musicians. Enthusiasts are encouraged to search their favorite music source --- or brick-and-mortar record store --- for available recordings.

Female vocalists: Nora Bayes, Fanny Brice, Ruth Etting, Florence Mills, Blossom Seeley, Sophie Tucker, Ethel Waters

Male Vocalists: Eddie Cantor, Frank Crumit, Jimmy Durante, Cliff Edwards (Ukulele Ike), Gallagher & Sheen, Al Jolson,, Harry Lauder, Eddie Morton, Billy Murray, Jack Norworth, Harry Richman, Bert Williams

Solo Instrumentalists: Zez Confrey, Eddie Peabody, Harry Reiser, Roy Smeck

Jazz & Ragtime: Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, James P. Johnson, Scott Joplin, Willie (The Lion) Smith, Bessie Smith, Fats Waller

The Red Hot Jazz Archive. Subtitled "A History of Jazz Before 1930," this site includes biographical and musical information, photos, and film & audio clips. Visit their web site at: www.redhotjazz.com.

Archeophone Records. Especially notable in their efforts in making available the recordings of early 20th century performers is Archeophone Records records based in Champaign, Ill. The company was founded in 1998 by Richard Martin and Meagan Hennessey with the aim of preserving public-domain recordings of the acoustic era on digitally remastered media. Visit their web site at: www.archeophone.com.

Worlds Records. Since 1974 California-based Worlds Records has served early jazz enthusiasts with a gigantic catalog of recordings. They stock many recordings of 1920s recording artists like Ukulele Ike, Louis Armstrong, Harry Reiser, and Ethel Waters. Visit their web site at: www.worldsrecords.com.

Venerable Records. This George-based Internet business sells CDs of music recorded in the 78rpm era. Among their vast online listing, they appear to stock CDs from the former ASV/Living Era label (later swallowed by Universal Music Group) that reissued 1920s-30s recordings of performers like Eddie Cantor, Sophie Tucker, Jimmy Durante, and many others. Visit their web site at: --- www.venerablemusic.com.


Video Resources

Below are links to the early film clips of Vaudeville acts available at the U.S. Library of Congress. In recent years, YouTube has become a gold mine of early video clips and movie excerpts. However, experience has shown that the effort to keep a large list of links current can become a full-time job. The video links on YouTube come-and-go with regularity. Therefore, below are descriptions of some specific clips to look for, with performer names and song or movie titles.

Library of Congress Collection:
Variety Stage Motion Pictures
Direct link to the Variety Stage Motion Pictures of the Library of Congress American Memory Collection.

YouTube videos worth searching for (performers listed in alphabetical order):

Fanny Brice shows how she could command attention in a reprise of her "Quainty Dainty Me" stage routine in the 1930s movie "Everybody Sing."

Buck & Bubbles (the team of tap dancer John Bubbles & pianist Buck Washington) were headliners for decades, and excerpts from the movie "Varsity Show" (1937) of John Bubbles dancing atop the piano shows why.

Joe Cook ("The One-Man Vaudeville Show") lives up to his name in the 1930 circus-themed movie, "Rain or Shine," with an 8-minute non-stop display of blazing talent.

Cliff Edwards ("Ukulele Ike") was one of the biggest names of 1920s Vaudeville, but is voice is familiar to people today from his classic 1940 recording of "When You Wish Upon a Star" for Walt Disney's animated movie, "Pinocchio." Edwards was the voice of Jiminy Cricket, and the Academy Award winning song was written especially for Edwards' remarkable vocal range. Three clips worth looking for are (1) The Cliff Edwards Story (3-minute bio); (2) "Hang On To Me" (excerpt from 1936 movie, "Starlit Days at the Lido" --- with the bonus accompaniment of legendary European sleight-of-hand artist Suzy Wandas); and (3) "When You Wish Upon A Star" (from "Pinocchio," 1940)

Bessie Love & Gus Shy recreate a high-spirited Vaudeville act with comedy, skill, and character in a movie excerpt from 1930, in which they sing "Gee, But I'd Like to Make You Happy."

Eddie Peabody fires it upon the tenor banjo on "St. Louis Blues" in a 1920s clip ...and again 40 years later on the Lawrence Welk Show.

Bill Robinson is the personification of style, grace, and elegance at age 60 in the deleted opening scene from the 1937 movie "Cafe Metropole." (The deletion may have been an injustice, but Robinson was paid handsomely.)

Blossom Seeley & Benny Fields personify both the high spirit and first-class professionalism of the experienced Vaudevillian in "Hello Bluebird," a 1928 Vitaphone short.

Roy Smeck (The Wizard of the Strings") lives up to his title in a virtuosic 1926 Vitaphone short entitles "His Pastimes.

Ethel Waters was the highest-paid woman in the theatre world in 1929 when she filmed one of her stage hits, "Birmingham Bertha" as an insert for the short subject, "On With the Show." (The dancer is John Bubbles, who played "Sportin' Life in the original production of "Porgy & Bess" on Broadway.)

Bert Williams shows why he was such a captivating pantomimist in his 1916 film, "Natural Born Gambler." The solo pantomime of the poker hand in the last two minutes is a timeless gem.


Internet Links

There are some fabulous resources available on the Internet with mountains of information about Vaudeville, its times, and its performers. All these sites are well-worth visiting.

American Vaudeville Museum --- www.vaudeville.org
Web site of Frank Cullen's virtual American Vaudeville Museum. See the sidebar on this page for more information about Frank Cullen's work and magisterial two-volume encyclopedia, Vaudeville Old and New: An Encyclopedia of Variety Performers in America.

Vaudeville: A Dazzling Display of Heterogenous Splendor.
Rick Easton's (U. of Va. American Studies) hypertext extension of Alan Trachtenberg's The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age.

Library of Congress American Memory Collection
Direct link to the "American Variety Stage: Vaudeville & Popular Entertainment 1870-1920" collection.

The Vaudeville Pages --- www.musicals101.com
This link is to the Vaudeville section of John Kenrick's encyclopedic "Musicals 101" web site.

The "Bob Hope and American Variety" Exhibition
This is the web site of the Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment at the U.S. Library of Congress. The exhibition has been financed by Bob and Dolores Hope and their family for the preservation of the Bob Hope Collection.

Vaudeville Wars web site --- www.vaudevillewars.com
Web site of Vaudeville Wars,scholar Frank Wertheim's excellent book on the business of Vaudeville.

Virtual Vaudeville --- www.virtualvaudeville.com
The University of Georgia's Virtual Vaudeville web site.

Wikipedia's Vaudeville page
This page is a surprisingly reliable assemblage of information.

The Circus Historical Society --- www.circushistory.org
This is the fabulous, information-packed web site of the Circus Historical Society. Among valuable resources on the site are a discussion board with searchable archives, and a biographical dictionary of the 19th century American circus, Olympians of the Sawdust Circle, compiled and edited by William L. Slout.

The Theatre Historical Society of America --- www.historictheatres.org
This web site is a gold-mine of links for those interested in theatre architecture, history, and preservation.

Cinema Treasures --- www.cinematreasures.org
This searchable site has information on over 23,000 theatres past and present, many of them former Vaudeville houses that were converted for motion picture presentation.


Brick-and-Mortar Repositories

It may seem hard to believe, but everything is not online. Yet. Therefore the following list of brick-and-mortar libraries and repositories may prove useful for those seeking region-specific information. Most large university libraries have theatre collections relating to their home city or state.

Harvard Theatre Collection
Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
The Harvard Theatre Collection includes documentary material pertaining to the history of the performing arts, including the fields of theater, dance and ballet, and opera and musical theater, as well as many forms of popular entertainment, such as magic and conjuring, music hall and variety, pantomime and extravaganza, puppetry, toy theater, circuses and menageries, fairgrounds, pageants and outdoor drama, festivals and spectacles, film, and minstrelsy.

New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
The Billy Rose Theatre Collection of The New York Public Library is one of the largest and most comprehensive archives devoted to the theatrical arts. Collections holdings illuminate virtually every type of performance, from street corner to stage to studio, and include drama and musical theatre, film, television, radio, and popular entertainment (circus, magic, vaudeville, puppetry). A previously mounted exhibition, "Vaudeville Nation," has its own information-packed web site.

University of Arizona
and the American Vaudeville Museum Collection

This news story from April 2008 announces the donation of the entire American Vaudeville Museum collection to the University of Arizona. The collection, which is likely the largest single collection in existence, features recordings, sheet music, videos, costumes, posters and other artifacts dating back to Vaudeville’s beginnings in the 1860s.

University of Iowa, Keith-Albee Collection
In the late 1880s, Benjamin Franklin Keith and Edward F. Albee joined forces to promote "polite" vaudeville. The Keith/Albee Collection at The University of Iowa Special Collections Department preserves much of the cultural and industrial history of this vaudeville circuit. The collection chronicles the expansion of the circuit, changes in leadership, and the decline of vaudeville.

Theatre Collection, Museum of the City of New York
Theatre Collection, including the John Golden Archive.

The Sheet Music Consortium at UCLA
The Sheet Music Consortium is a group of libraries working toward the goal of building an open collection of digitized sheet music using the Open Archives Initiative:Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI:PMH). The four main hosts of the consortium are UCLA, Indiana University, Johns Hopkins University, and Duke University. Tens of thousands of sheet music titles are accessible via searchable databases.