vaudeville (vôd´vĬl), originally a light song, derived from the drinking and love songs formerly attributed to Olivier Basselin and called Vau, or Vaux, de Vire. Similar to the English music hall, American vaudeville was a live entertainment consisting of unrelated songs, dances, acrobatic and magic acts, and humorous skits and sketches by a variety of performers and acts, each on stage for about five minutes. From humble origins in barrooms and "museums," vaudeville became the dominant attraction in American popular entertainment, playing in hundreds of theaters throughout the United States. It flourished from 1881, when Tony Pastor gave the first "big time" vaudeville show in New York City, until 1932, when its greatest center, New York's Palace Theatre, abandoned live shows and became a movie theater. Such headliners as George M. Cohan, Harry Houdini, Eva Tanguay, W. C. Fields, Fay Templeton, Will Rogers, Ed Wynn, Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, Irene Franklin, Fred Allen, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen, and the Marx Brothers began their careers playing the vaudeville circuits. Beginning in the 1890s there also was an invigorating influx of performers from England and France who were a major influence on the growing sophistication and high quality of vaudeville. The popularity of radio and motion pictures caused vaudeville's decline, and many established performers moved into the new media. Television, however, brought about a revival of vaudeville-style revues.

See C. W. Stein, ed., American Vaudeville As Seen by Its Contemporaries (1984); S. Staples, Male-Female Comedy Teams in American Vaudeville, 1865–1932 (1984); A. Slide, ed., Selected Vaudeville Criticism (1988); Trav S. D., No Applause—Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous (2005).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Vaudeville: Selected full-text books and articles

American Popular Music and Its Business: The First Four Hundred Years, from 1790-1909 By Russell Sanjek Oxford University Press, vol.2, 1988
Librarian's tip: "Vaudeville and Popular Music" on p. 337
Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture By Robert C. Allen University of North Carolina Press, 1991
Librarian's tip: "Vaudeville and Burlesque: Consolidation and Excorporation" on p. 185
FREE! The Popular Theatre By George Jean Nathan A. A. Knopf, 1918
Librarian's tip: Chap. 14 "It's 'Big Time' Vaudeville" and Chap. 15 "It's 'Small Time' Vaudeville"
Dancing till Dawn: A Century of Exhibition Ballroom Dance By Julie Malnig Greenwood Press, 1992
Librarian's tip: Chap. 4 "Taking the Palace by Storm: Exhibition Ballroom Dance in Vaudeville of the Teens and Twenties"
Humor and Ethnic Stereotypes in Vaudeville and Burlesque By Mintz, Lawrence E MELUS, Vol. 21, No. 4, Winter 1996
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Pages from the Harlem Renaissance: A Chronicle of Performance By Anthony D. Hill Peter Lang, 1996
Librarian's tip: Chap. IV "Improving Conditions on the TOBA Black Vaudeville Circuit"
Fools and Jesters in Literature, Art, and History: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook By Vicki K. Janik; Emmanuel S. Nelson Greenwood Press, 1998
Librarian's tip: "George Burns and Gracie Allen: The Jewish Vaudeville Tradition" begins on p. 106
Popular Theatres of Nineteenth-Century France By John McCormick Routledge, 1993
Librarian's tip: Chap. 8 "The Vaudeville"
Singing the French Revolution: Popular Culture and Politics, 1787-1799 By Laura Mason Cornell University Press, 1996
Librarian's tip: "Theatrical Singing and the Vaudeville" begins on p. 70
Encyclopedia of 20th-Century American Humor By Alleen Pace Nilsen; Don L. F. Nilsen Oryx Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: "Vaudeville and Burlesque" on p. 304
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