A Revolution in Three Acts: The Radical Vaudeville of Bert Williams, Eva Tanguay, and Julian Eltinge

David Hajdu and John Carey. Columbia Univ, $19.95 (200p) ISBN 978-0-231-19182-1
Music critic Hajdu (Adrianne Geffel: A Fiction) and artist Carey recapture the bygone days of vaudeville, bringing to fresh light and life the stories of three transgressive performers in this entertaining graphic group biography. Hajdu convincingly argues that, through their individual acts, these performers “transformed themselves for the vaudeville stage and their audience was transformed in the process.” Bert Williams (1874–1922) subverted the virulent racism of the early 20th century by performing his own version of minstrel shows, determined to present his authentic Black experience to white audiences. Eva Tanguay (1878–1947) performed uninhibitedly sexual musical numbers, while her fierce rejection of “acceptable” behavior for women anticipated modern-day feminism. Rounding out the trio, the closeted Julian Eltinge (1881–1941) devised meticulous cross-dressing presentations, which mainstreamed expressions of gender fluidity (he once advertised himself as a “feminine delineator”). Though all three met with great success, the advent of motion pictures eventually killed off vaudeville and their careers. Carey’s art can be stiff, but his hand-drawn, crosshatched style ably captures the flavor of the post-Victorian era. The history is relayed via robust storytelling, combining a little-remembered piece of showbiz history with insights into the ways in which entertainment both reflects and shapes American cultural life and values. Agent: Chris Calhoun, Chris Calhoun Agency. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 08/03/2021
Release date: 09/01/2021
Genre: Comics
Ebook - 1 pages - 978-0-231-54954-7
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