- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Ivan R. Dee; 2 edition (February 15, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1566632986
- ISBN-13: 978-1566632980
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 7.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,337,446 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Voice of the City: Vaudeville and Popular Culture in New York 2nd Edition
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From Library Journal
Snyder's 1989 history of vaudeville is more than just a catalog of the performers and their acts, although that is included. The author studies the social aspects of this cheap form of theater, which brought people of diverse ethnic backgrounds together both on the stage and in the audience. Performing also proved a source of employment for recently landed immigrants who had yet to learn English and acclimate themselves to their new society. This edition offers a new introduction in which the author updates his findings. "A scholarly but highly readable discussion" (LJ 11/1/89).
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
For anyone interested in American entertainment and popular culture, this pioneering history is not only 'must reading' but, like its subject, plenty of fun. (Kathy Peiss)
The most authoritative book on American vaudeville...a remarkably good read, filled with colorful details and incisive commentary on American popular culture. (David Nasaw)
A fascinating and highly readable social history. (Thomas Bender, New York University)
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The vaudeville artiste's life was often hard. Snyder shows how many of the booking circuits were controlled by a single syndicate, who would not only extract commission from the artistes but the agents as well. If anyone was unfortunate enough to be blacklisted, that could signal the end of their entire career. There were movements to form unions to resist such moves, but the syndicates eventually helped to destroy them (by forming unions of their own). Only the biggest stars enjoyed real freedom to choose their dates; for the most part vaudeville artistes had to perform where they were told, even if the date proved uncongenial for them.
Snyder is also quick to point out the racist undertones of much of the humor of the time. With New York experiencing unprecedented levels of immigration during the period of vaudeville's popularity, it's not surprising that many long-standing citizens resented the presence - for example - of African Americans, Jews or Irish people on the bill of fare at the variety theaters. Many white actors blacked up; even African Americans such as the comedian Bert Williams were forced to do this, so as to ensure continued employment. Although things improved a little as the twentieth century dawned, many ethnic groups still remained marginalized.
In the end vaudeville was superseded as a form of mass entertainment by the movies and radio; many of the biggest stars crossed over into both these media and extended their careers - Eddie Cantor and Sophie Tucker being two of the most successful.
The book offers some solid research: perhaps its only major fault lies in the author's rather pedestrian style, which lacks that quality of immediacy and freshness that characterized so many of the performers he writes about. The book shows its its origins as a doctoral thesis; perhaps some rewriting might have rendered less hard going on occasions.
"Didn't you know Ed? You're washed up. You're through."
Snyder is a New Yorker and it shows. He gives us a vision of the city and its culture between 1880 and 1930 that is captivating. If you want to understand how America, or at least New York, became modern this book should be on your list of must reads.