American Vaudeville Museum

All material © 1998-2011 American Museum of Vaudeville, Inc.  Page 3

The People’s Art

History II

Vaudeville was more than an assembly of ragtime pantaloons, topical monologists, eccentric dancers, barr el house songbirds, ventriloquists, tumblers and jugglers, and more than a coast-to-coast network of once-gilded theaters now shambling into plaster dust.

Vaudeville was a people’s culture.  Some folks have made the case that vaudeville acculturated more immigrants than our national system of public libraries and public schools.  Not everyone went to night school or felt comfortable in the majestic reading rooms of Andrew Carnegie’s monuments.  But, for a few cents, an immigrant could go to the neighborhood Proctor’s Theatre without worrying that he wasn’t dressed well or that she was unaccompanied. 

Merchants and customers, adults and children, old-country folk and assimilationists, they met weekly to cheer their own who were triumphing on stage for all to see.  The success of the Irish step dancer, the Jewish singer, the Mittel European circus act, the Italian musician was a signal to every man and woman in the audience that they had a chance too.