American Vaudeville Museum

All material © 1998-2011 American Museum of Vaudeville, Inc.  Page 17

Vaudevillians in Television

History Part XV

In 1947, show business seemed to have conquered the final frontier: bringing sight and sound entertainment into America’s parlors through television.

The phonograph, radio and silent movies had once seemed the ultimate. Technology can enhance but does not define artistry. So creativity turns limits to advantages. A silent screen lacking dialogue and sound effects (save musical accompaniment) seems experimental and incomplete, yet the artists of the silent film created poetic masterpieces for which chatter and realistic sound effects would have been ruinous. Deprived of words, the silent movie surmounted the barriers of specific language and became a universal art form.

Then came radio, which offered sound but no picture. Listeners, though, accustomed to phonograph records, were fully engaged by singers, orchestras, orators, news reports, stand-up comedians and dramas and comedies for which those at home provided the mental images. Even ventriloquists (Edgar Bergen), mentalists (Dunninger) and tap dancers could succeed in a totally aural environment. Sound effects, good writing, direction and acting combined with the listener’s imagination to create the vision.