No Applause—Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous

Trav S. D., Author
Trav S. D., Author Faber and Faber $25 (328p) ISBN 978-0-571-21192-0
Reviewed on: 08/15/2005
Release date: 10/01/2005
Paperback - 328 pages - 978-0-86547-958-6
Ebook - 336 pages - 978-1-4299-3041-3
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Much has been written about the American institution of vaudeville, but readers would be hard-pressed to find an account as humorous and sharp as writer and performer Trav S.D.'s tasty chronicle. Although critics in the early 20th century lambasted vaudeville as crude, sometimes clever, but generally "trite and empty," the author points out that from 1881 to 1932, vaudeville "was the heart of American show business," so ubiquitous that "if you were beyond the reach of vaudeville, then you were really in the sticks." He comments on the artistic and commercial ties between vaudeville and Hollywood's glamour industry and Broadway; they often shared performers in hit plays and films (though Trav S.D. also reveals how essential managers were to the medium, since "performers, as Jesus said of the poor, are always with us"). There are candid moments about the resistance to hiring black players in a few fascinating segments about minstrelsy and blackface, as Trav S.D. writes of the trials African-American legend Bert Williams endured. Throughout, the author, a humorist, never forgets to get his laugh quota, whether he's talking about audiences (Midwestern crowds were tough: "Do they like me? Hate me? Are they alive? Hello?") or burlesque ("a sort of bush league for broad comedians"). The result is a well-researched, riotous book about a cultural mainstay, "the theatrical embodiment of freedom, tolerance, opportunity, diversity, democracy, and optimism." B&w illus. (Nov.)

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