American Vaudeville Museum

All material © 1998-2011 American Museum of Vaudeville, Inc.  Page 14

Vaudevillians in Movies

History XII

Vaudeville still hadn’t peaked in popularity when challengers began to compete for theatre audiences. The emerging motion picture industry proved to be the most formidable of the contenders, and eventually it replaced vaudeville as America’s favorite theatrical pastime. Burlesque, musical comedy and revue were live entertainment rivals to vaudeville, but they, like vaudeville, faced their greater challenge from flickering images on a flat screen.

Movies were linked to vaudeville from the time they began to be exhibited to paying patrons. Even before motion pictures presented stories on the screen, many people saw their first films at the close of a vaudeville bill. Those early exhibited films were primitive in technique. Moviemakers had barely begun to explore the possibilities of editing and continuity, and the available cameras, usually mounted on tripods, required a steady focus and stable source of light to properly capture images. Cameras were repositioned only between scenes. Lacking plot, the most entertaining subjects for film were events—an automobile race, a gushing geyser in one of the new national parks or a locomotive steaming into a station, seemingly headed right into the audience’s laps.