placeholder

Houdini at the Orpheum. Poster, 1918. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

From the early 1880s to the end of the 1920s vaudeville was the most popular form of live entertainment in the United States. A vaudeville show was a succession of seven to ten live stage acts, the "bill," which built to a climax with the performance of its top star, the "headliner." A vaudeville bill always included comedians and musicians, but might have included dancers, acrobats, trained animals, magicians, and novelty performers as well. Its form and content had been shaped by a wide range of 19th century diversions, including minstrel shows, the circus, medicine shows, traveling repertoire companies, curio museums, wild west shows, chautauquas, and British Music Hall.

The growth of vaudeville in the late 19th century reflected the rise of urbanization and industrialization in America. Vaudeville's audiences, as well as many of its stars, were drawn from the newly immigrated working classes. Just as goods in the late 19th century could be manufactured in a central location and shipped throughout the country, successful vaudeville routines and tours were first established in New York and other large cities and would then be booked on a tour lasting for months. The act would change little as it was performed throughout the United States. In this sense, vaudeville was a precursor of mass media -- a means of creating and sharing a national culture. While its popularity declined after the 1920s, vaudeville's influence on most popular entertainment forms of the 20th century -- musical comedy, motion pictures, music, radio, television -- was pervasive.

All images are from the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress, unless otherwise noted.

The Bill

Proctor Ladies Club, 1894. Music Division, Library of Congress

Tony Pastor, 1896. Music Division, Library of Congress

Back to top

Novelty Acts

Bicycle Act. 1907

Dog Act. 1921. Dramatic Mirror. New York, 1921. General Collections, Library of Congress

Frank X. Silk. National Vaudeville Artists Yearbook. 1928. General Collections, Library of Congress

Eva Fay. National Vaudeville Artists Yearbook. 1928. General Collections, Library of Congress

The Three Vagrants

The Three Vagrants. National Vaudeville Artists Yearbook. 1928. General Collections, Library of Congress

Naro Lockford & Co.

Naro Lockford & Co. National Vaudeville Artists Yearbook. 1928. General Collections, Library of Congress

Al Gordon and His Comedy Canines. National Vaudeville Artists Yearbook. 1928. General Collections, Library of Congress

Snoozer Jr. National Vaudeville Artists Yearbook. 1928. General Collections, Library of Congress

Tomah Genero. National Vaudeville Artists Yearbook. 1928. General Collections, Library of Congress

Jean Lee and Gail Leon. National Vaudeville Artists Yearbook. 1928. General Collections, Library of Congress

The Bardelangs. National Vaudeville Artists . Yearbook. 1928. General Collections, Library of Congress

The Agemos. National Vaudeville Artists Yearbook. 1928. General Collections, Library of Congress

The Juggler Felovis. National Vaudeville Artists Yearbook. 1928. General Collections, Library of Congress

Coram & Jerry. National Vaudeville Artists Yearbook. 1928. General Collections, Library of Congress

Back to top

Family Acts

The Dolly Sisters. ca. 1915 - 1920

Eddie Foy with his children. ca.1910. Bob Hope Collection. Motion Picture Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress

Buster Keaton. 1908. Dramatic Mirror. New York, 1908. General Collections, Library of Congress

Back to top

Black Face Acts

Eddie Cantor. 1941

Bert Williams. ca. 1922

Lew Dockstader. 1902

Al Jolson. 1927

Back to top

Dancers

Sally Rand. 1934

Hope & Byrne. ca. 1925. Bob Hope Collection. Motion Picture Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress

Bill Robinson. National Vaudeville Artists Yearbook. 1928. General Collections, Library of Congress

Back to top

Comedy Teams

Montgomery & Stone. ca. 1916

Weber & Fields. ca. 1920

Smith & Dale. 1955

Olsen & Johnson. 1939

Burns & Allen. 1924. National Vaudeville Artists Yearbook. 1924. General Collections, Library of Congress

Bert Lahr and Mercedes. 1925 .National Vaudeville Artists Yearbook. 1925. General Collections, Library of Congress

Back to top

Illusion and Magic

The Great Leon. National Vaudeville Artists Yearbook. 1928. General Collections, Library of Congress

Back to top

Male-female Impersonators

Kitty Doner. 1923

Vesta Tilley. 1906

Julian Eltinge. 1913. New York Clipper. New York, 1913. General Collections, Library of Congress

Back to top

Ventriloquists

Back to top

Comic Singers

Jimmy Durante. ca. 1950

Fanny Brice. 1910

Harry Lauder. ca. 1911

Trixie Friganza. ca. 1907

May Irwin. 1898

Elsie Janis. 1910. American Stage of Today. New York, 1910. General Collections, Library of Congress

Willie Solar. 1924. National Vaudeville Artists Yearbook. 1924. General Collections, Library of Congress

Back to top

Monologists and Entertainers

Will Rogers. ca. 1920

Bob Hope at the Palace. 1932. Billboard. Cincinnati, 1932. General Collections, Library of Congress

Hope in the Follies

Back to top

Musicians

Harry Richman. 1932

Ted Lewis. 1931

Janet Kippen. National Vaudeville Artists Yearbook. 1928. General Collections, Library of Congress

Back to top

Comedians

Will Mahoney. 1956

W.C. Fields. ca. 1934

Bert Lahr. 1934

Ed Wynn. ca. 1930

Molly Picon. ca. 1930-35

Milton Berle. 1952

Jack Benny. 1924. National Vaudeville Artists Yearbook. 1924. General Collections, Library of Congress

Back to top

Singers/Entertainers

Nora Bayes. ca. 1920

June Havoc. 1924. National Vaudeville Artists Yearbook. 1924. General Collections, Library of Congress

Ruth Etting. 1929. Theater, 1929. General Collections, Library of Congress

Eva Tanguay. 1913. Billboard. Cincinnati, 1913. General Collections, Library of Congress

Back to top

Actors

Sarah Bernhardt. ca. 1890

Anna Held. 1896

Winnie Lightner. 1927

Fanny Ward. 1894

Back to top