“Contrary to popular belief, Vaudeville was not wiped out by silent films. Many managers featured “flickers” at the end of their bills, finding them cheaper than the live closing acts that audiences walked out on anyway. Top screen stars made lucrative personal appearance tours on the big time circuits. So what killed vaudeville? The most truthful answer is that the public’s tastes changed and vaudeville’s managers (and most of its performers) failed to adjust to those changes.”
Read the rest of John Kenrick’s essay.
John Kenrick, an authority on vaudeville, reminds us that many phrases in our language originated on vaudeville stages. Here are six of them.
- Performers anxious to protect expensive costumes had bright red carpets laid between their dressing rooms and the stage. (This color made it easy to see if the carpeting was clean.) Only top headliners could insist on the red carpet treatment.
- Vaudeville slang referred to unsophisticated comedy as being “stuck in the corn,” soon shortened to
- Whenever a performer got a sensational response, the next act had to work twice as hard to capture audience attention. So it was a great compliment when you were called a tough act to follow.
- Vaudeville performers were the first to refer to winning over an audience as knocking them dead,laying them in the aisles or slaying them – still popular terms for successful performers in any field.
Explore John Kenrick’s website, Musicals 101, for interesting background stories of the American theatre.