In the early 1930s, vaudeville's popularity began to fade, primarily as a result of competition from motion pictures and radio. In addition, audiences were becoming tired of vaudeville's formulas and often were hard pressed to purchase tickets because of the Depression. In 1932, New York's Palace Theatre changed from two-a-day performances to the less prestigious continuous shows, and then to films and shows. This marked the end of vaudeville's primacy.
Bob Hope's stature as a vaudeville headliner and comic master of ceremonies enabled him to make a transition from vaudeville to musical comedy. In the 1930s Hope starred in revues and musical comedies, made appearances on radio, and was featured in several motion picture comedy shorts.
The live variety show has endured beyond vaudeville. Amateur talent contests provide the most common contemporary approximation of a vaudeville show but professional variety entertainment still exists in a number of forms. Rock concerts often begin with a performance by a stand-up comedian, a throwback to the monologist and masters of ceremonies in vaudeville. "Revues," which, like vaudeville, are series of variety acts, but with a unifying theme, are popular attractions in gambling casinos in Las Vegas, Nevada, and elsewhere. In fact, acts cultivated within the vaudeville tradition enrich many twentieth-century entertainment forms enjoyed today -- revues, musical comedies, motion pictures, radio, and television.
Gowns by Roberta
Vaudeville performers of talent and ambition routinely appeared in revues and musical comedy productions. In 1933, Bob Hope appeared as Huckleberry Hanes in Jerome Kern's and Otto Harbach's musical comedy Roberta. The musical was set in the fashion trade and introduced the songs "Smoke Gets in Your Eye" and "Yesterdays." Roberta was Bob Hope's most prestigious engagement to date.
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Roberta. Souvenir program cover, 1934. Reproduction. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (42a.1)
Program for Gowns by Roberta. Forest Theatre, Philadelphia, October 23, 1933. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (42a)
Dolores Reade at the Vogue Club
Bob Hope was taken by Dolores Reade the first time he met her, when she was singing at the Vogue Club in December 1933. They were married on February 19, 1934. Newspaper columnist Nick Kenny, writing of Dolores Reade's singing on the radio, called her "one of the finest voices ever to hit the airwaves."
Dolores Reade at the Vogue Club, December 1933. Copyprint. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (42)
"A Night With the Stars" at the Greenbrier Hotel
In 1935 Bob Hope and Dolores Reade Hope were stars of a nightclub variety show at the Greenbrier Hotel resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
Program from "A Night With the Stars," Greenbrier Hotel, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, 1935. Copyprint. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (43)
Dolores Reade was a professional singer when she and Bob Hope first met. Hope went to hear her sing at the Vogue nightclub in New York City in 1933 and was immediately attracted to her. The couple was married in February of 1934.
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Autographed photograph of Dolores Reade, Photograph, ca. 1933. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (43f)
Vogue nightclub program, 1933. Page 2. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (43g)
Bob Hope and Dolores Reade Hope on Stage
Bob Hope and his wife, Dolores, performed together on stage frequently in the 1930s.
Bob Hope and Dolores Reade, 1935. Photograph. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (43a)
Capitol Theatre Program
In the 1930s Bob Hope played vaudeville dates between other engagements. Although by then vaudeville had declined in popularity, variety entertainment was frequently offered between showings of a feature film in movie palaces. At the Capitol Theatre in New York, Bob Hope and Dolores Reade performed on an outstanding variety bill, which played between the newsreel and a Jean Harlow feature.
Run-down of a vaudeville show, August 3, 1934. Typed program. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (43c)
Special lyrics for "Thanks for the Memory"
Bob Hope began using "Thanks for the Memory" as a theme song soon after the success of the film, The Big Broadcast of 1938, in which he introduced the song. Hope performed these special lyrics for the song on his summer 1938 vaudeville tour. They evoke both nostalgic and comical memories of his vaudeville roots.
Thanks for the Memory, with special lyrics dedicated to vaudeville, 1938. Typed manuscript. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (43d)
Bob Hope's Autobiography
Bob Hope's life as an entertainer is humorously recounted in this 1954 autobiography. Throughout his career Bob Hope contributed his time and talents tirelessly to charities, raising millions of dollars for worthy causes. He has donated many hours as the master of ceremonies and comic entertainment at thousands of benefits.
Ziegfeld Follies of 1936
Bob Hope, Fanny Brice, Eve Arden, and Josephine Baker starred in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936. Florenz Ziegfeld produced his first revue in 1907 and annually thereafter until 1925. The extravagant productions featured beautiful women, opulent sets, and some of the greatest stars in variety. After Ziegfeld's death in 1932, the Shubert Brothers produced three more Follies.
Ira Gershwin manuscript "I Can't Get Started"
Vernon Duke's and Ira Gershwin's now classic song, "I Can't Get Started" was introduced by Bob Hope, singing to Eve Arden in the1936 Follies. This great song which lists a series of impressive accomplishments capped a short skit in which Hope's romantic advances on Arden were thwarted -- until he sang the song.
Bob Hope and Fanny Brice as Baby Snooks
Fanny Brice supplied many of the comedy highlights of the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936. In it she satirized herself in the song "He Hasn't a Thing Except Me" and revived her popular characterization of the bratty child, "Baby Snooks."
Bob Hope with Fanny Brice as "Baby Snooks." New York: Murray Korman, ca. 1936. Copyprint. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (49)
Autographed Photograph of Actress Eve Arden
Bob Hope introduced the Vernon Duke-Ira Gershwin song "I Can't Get Started" in The Ziegfeld Follies of 1936, singing it to Eve Arden (1908-1990). Arden is best known for her starring role in the radio and television series Our Miss Brooks.
Autographed photograph of actress Eve Arden, ca. 1936. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (48)
Red, Hot and Blue!
Cole Porter's Red, Hot and Blue! is still remembered as the Broadway musical in which the two leads, Ethel Merman and Jimmy Durante, could not agree on who was to receive top billing. Thus, the criss-crossed names above the title. Third-billed Bob Hope introduced the standard, "It's De-Lovely" with Ethel Merman. Hope and Merman recreate their version of the classic song in a television clip in this Gallery.
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Jimmy Durante, Ethel Merman, and Bob Hope in Red, Hot and Blue!, 1936. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (50a)
Advertising flyer for Red, Hot and Blue! Alvin Theatre, New York, 1936. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (50)
An Early Benefit Performance
Bob Hope's performances on behalf of charities helped to raise tens of millions of dollars for important causes. He began this work, for which he remains well-known, in the early 1930s. At that time Hope viewed benefit performances as a means to try out new routines and meet the "right people," as well as practice the values instilled in him by his family.
Program printed on fabric, February 23, 1936. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (44.1)
Bob Hope and George Burns "In Person" at Madison Square Garden-179 Years of Comedy
In 1989, at the ages of 93 and 86, former vaudevillians George Burns and Bob Hope returned to the boards for a one-night stand in New York. They were joined by singer Dionne Warwick, Miss Universe, and Miss USA.
Program for "Burns & Hope At Madison Square Garden." New York, October 1, 1989. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (51)
Many gambling casinos today, especially in Las Vegas, offer variety-style entertainment to their patrons. Jubilee! at Bally's is a throwback to the 1920s: a full-fledged theatrical revue with comedy, mini-dramas, music, and beautiful women. But the variety shows of the 1920s offered by Florenz Ziegfeld, unlike Jubilee! today, offered top-name talent and featured beautiful women in costumes with both tops and bottoms.
The Borscht Belt
The decline of vaudeville in the 1930s was a serious setback to up-and-coming variety artists. The opportunities and venues to develop and refine a talent on the small-time vaudeville stage had disappeared. Summer resorts in the Catskill Mountains of New York filled the need for some performers. In their heyday, from the 1920s to the 1960s, Catskill Mountains resort hotels offered a wide range of variety entertainment to their guests. Big-name talent appeared regularly at the largest mountain hotels. Even the more modest hotels offered some type of live variety entertainment in their main dining rooms.
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Stand-up act at the Raleigh Hotel, Catskill Mountains, New York, 1970. Copyprint. Courtesy of Catskill Entertainers/Native New Yorker Hall of Fame and Museum (53aa)
Program featuring Danny Kaye, Beatrice Kay and Rose Marie. "Highlight and Shadows." Catskill Mountains, New York, 1937. Page 2 - Page 3. Copyprint. Courtesy of Catskill Entertainers/Native New Yorker Hall of Fame and Museum (53a)
Ted Lewis at Kentucky Country Club
Traditionally after-dinner entertainment at nightclubs has been variety based. Vaudeville veteran Ted Lewis's late-1940s engagement at a Kentucky country club included a singing trio, dancers, and a comedian in addition to Lewis and his orchestra.
Advertising flyer for Ted Lewis Orchestra and Revue. Beverly Hills Country Club. Newport, Kentucky, late 1940s. Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (53b)
"The Motor-Town Revue"
Touring musical acts assembled by record labels, such as Motown and Stax in the 1960s, were termed "revues." These tours differed from vaudeville-based revues in that the entertainment they offered was nearly exclusively musical. But like vaudeville-era revues, sometimes dancers or comedy-based musical acts, like Rufus Thomas, were included, and a master of ceremonies would keep the show running and provide continuity.
The Motor-Town Revue. Detroit: Motown, ca. 1960. Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (53e)
The Colonel and the Comic
Prior to managing the career of Elvis Presley, Colonel Tom Parker was a promoter of carnival midways. Carnivals of the early twentieth century offered the public variety entertainment in the form of phony animal and human oddities, sales of miracle tonics, and rigged games of chance. In keeping with his carnival background, Colonel Parker was known to refer to Elvis Presley generically as his "attraction." The colonel printed blank contract forms billing Presley as "The Nation's Only Atomic Powered Singer." This copy of the form was completed by Bob Hope, presumably as a gag for his brother Jack.
Elvis Presley personal appearance contract, ca. 1956. Bob Hope Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (53I)
Le Paradis Night Club in Washington, D.C.
Nightclubs have long provided performing venues for variety artists; some offering a multi-act show with comedian, singer, band, and other attractions. Bob Hope played at Le Paradis in Washington in the 1920s at a time when he was still establishing himself as a performer.
Clipped advertisement from one of Bob Hope's personal scrapbooks, ca. 1920. Reproduction. Courtesy Hope Archives (53f)
Comedy and Jazz
The variety format extended into the jazz venues as late as the 1960s. One of comedian Bill Cosby's early professional engagements, in July of 1963, was at the Village Gate nightclub in New York City. He opened the bill for an Afro-Cuban ensemble and jazz tenor saxophonist/leader Benny Golson.
Printed flyer, 1963. Courtesy of Experience Music Project (53E.3)
Rap Show and Variety
The variety tradition extends into the world of rap music. Charlie & Wayne, a ventriloquist act, was featured at many clubs in the early 1980s.
Advertising flyer, 1981. Courtesy of Experience Music Project (53E.1)
Variety Acts in Motion Picture Venues
The Palace Theatre ran motion pictures exclusively from 1934 to 1949, when it returned to a film and variety act schedule. This racially integrated 1949 bill featured "Pigmeat" Markham's "Fun in the Courtroom" skit. Markham's act popularized the phrase, "Here come de judge," heard widely twenty years later on television's Rowan and Martin's Laugh-in.
Vaudeville acts at RKO Palace Theatre. Printed poster, 1949. Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (53E.2)
Photo and Program from The Latin Quarter, New York
The Latin Quarter was one of the most famous nightclubs in New York. Its revues included ambitious variety line-ups. In this 1949 revue the headliners are Mae West and Mr. Universe, Mickey Hargitay. Lou Walters, proprietor of The Latin Quarter, was broadcast journalist Barbara Walters's father.
Vaudeville Stars on the Screen
Vaudevillian Jack Pearl's "Baron von Munchhausen" character became widely popular on the radio series The Ziegfeld Follies of the Air in 1932. The Baron was best known for his retort to those who doubted his wild exaggerations: "Vas you dere, Sharlie?" He was joined in the motion picture Meet the Baron by several other veterans of the stage.
The R 'n' B Revue on the Screen
One of the descendants of vaudeville is the rock and roll or rhythm and blues "revue," a varied roster of popular music acts. The Ike and Tina Turner revue, combined the vocals of star Tina Turner, precise instrumentals, backup singers, and intricately choreographed dance. The master of ceremonies in this film revue is David McCallum, then star of the television series The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
The Big T.N.T. Show. Poster, 1966. Courtesy of Experience Music Project (63A.1)