Friday, July 15, 2011

The Vaudevillians - Bill Smith

This book was originally published in 1976, and the author compiled some interviews with former vaudeville stars who were still living at that time. It's interesting to read their first-person accounts of their lives in show business. I was surprised at how many of them had been in vaudeville during Nat Wills' lifetime - some of them must have been very old when they gave these interviews! About half of the people interviewed I had heard of (Edgar Bergen, Milton Berle, John Bubbles, George Burns, Jack Haley, Lou Holtz, George Jessel, Rose Marie, Rudy Vallee) and the other half didn't seem at all familiar to me.

One thing that many of the interviewees brought up was the lack of opportunity for people to break into show business these days. Of course this book is now 40+ years old but it still seems true. In vaudeville days, there was a need for lots of acts, to fill the spots on theater bills. A typical vaudeville show would have about 8 acts, and these changed all the time to make sure the audience kept coming back for more. So a theatrical agent needed to have lots of acts, and a wide variety of acts - singers, dancers, musicians, comedians, random novelty acts - to keep up with the demand. Nowadays it's hard to become successful because there aren't as many places to get work as an entertainer. I guess that's why some of the talent-based reality competition shows have become popular - people who have a talent can get an opportunity to become successful through the show. It's too bad that we don't have big variety shows any more though, it would be nice to be able to see a lot of different types of entertainment in one place.

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