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The Informational Economy of Vaudeville and the Business of American Entertainment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 November 2021


In the early twentieth century, vaudeville was the most popular theatrical form in the United States. Operating before the rise of mechanically reproduced entertainment, its centralized booking offices moved tens of thousands of performers across hundreds of stages to an audience of millions. Designed to gather and analyze data about both audiences and performers, these offices created a complex informational economy that defined the genre—an internal market that sought to transform culture into a commodity. By reconstructing the concrete details of these business practices, it is possible to develop a new understanding of both the success of the vaudeville industry and its influence on the evolution of American mass culture.

Research Article
Copyright © The President and Fellows of Harvard College 2021

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I want to thank Angus Burgin and François Furstenberg for their incisive analysis, careful reading, and supportive advice throughout the process of researching and writing this article. The guidance and suggestions of Walter Friedman—along with generous and clarifying feedback from two anonymous reviewers—greatly strengthened the piece over several drafts. Thanks to all of you. Finally, I wish to express my deep gratitude to the many members of the Atlantic History and Modern American History seminars—as well as a host of other colleagues at Johns Hopkins—for providing time, community, and attention that greatly benefited this work.


1 Stein, Charles, ed., American Vaudeville as Seen by Its Contemporaries (New York, 1984), xiGoogle Scholar; Monod, David, Vaudeville and the Making of Modern Entertainment (Chapel Hill, 2020), 3CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 A brief taxonomy of vaudeville organizations is useful here. I use “circuit” to refer to a series of theaters owned, booked, or managed together. A syndicate was a large (multi-firm) organization that united several circuits for the purposes of booking and management over a larger scale. Theatrical syndicates were usually organized around booking offices, corporations that remained technically—albeit not structurally or financially—distinct from the circuits and theaters that worked through them. While the individual theaters and circuits that comprised the major syndicates were ostensibly independent, many fell under the direct or indirect control of the most powerful companies within these broader organizations. Monod, Vaudeville, 166–67; Samuel K. Hodgdon Testimony, 5 Feb. 1919, RG 122, Records of the Federal Trade Commission, Docket Section, Docketed Case Files 1915–43 (hereafter FTC Records), docket 128, box 70, p. 511–512, National Archives at College Park, MD (hereafter NACP).

3 Vaudeville Year Book, 1914, Vaudeville Yearbook Co., n.d., TS, Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

4 “A Vaudeville Combine,” Indianapolis Journal, 26 Jan. 1900; New York Clipper, 24 June 1897.

5 “Jack Haverly,” Chicago Times, 16 March, 1879, Haverly's United Mastodon Minstrels. Playbills, 1876–1893 and undated. Houghton Library, Harvard College Library. Accessed September 03, 2021.

6 “Vaudeville in Combine,” Oshkosh Northwestern, 12 Oct. 1905; “Means Good Shows Here,” Palladium Item (Wayne, Indiana), 27 Jan. 1907. Wertheim, Arthur Frank, Vaudeville Wars: How the Keith-Albee and Orpheum Circuits Controlled the Big Time and Its Performers (New York, 2006), 151–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 For a sense of the types of acts that tended to predominate in vaudeville, see the numerical breakdown of New Haven performances in Oberdeck, Kathryn J., The Evangelist and the Impresario: Religion, Entertainment, and Cultural Politics in America, 1884–1914 (Baltimore, 1999), 341–49Google Scholar; “Kope the Komedy Klub Konjurer,” n.d., box 2, folder 50, Emerson Vaudeville Collection, New York Public Library, New York; The Sun (Pittsburg, KS), 14 Mar. 1916.

8 For a discussion of the creation of a vaudeville bill, see John DiMeglio, Vaudeville U.S.A. (Bowling Green, KY, 1973), 29–37.

9 Exhibit 4, 77, FTC Records, docket 128, box 73, NACP; Wertheim, Vaudeville Wars, xvii.

10 As a loose point of comparison, as of 2019 the American movie industry sold approximately 3.4 million daily tickets, while the population size has roughly tripled in the intervening years. “700 Theaters Merged in Vaudeville Circuit,” New York Times, 27 Jan. 1928, 14; “Domestic Movie Theatrical Market Summary 1995 to 2021,” The Numbers, accessed 17 Apr. 2021,

11 The same was not true for race. While not all vaudeville theaters were segregated, most were, with Black patrons frequently restricted to the upper balconies. Although Black performers provided vaudeville with many of its greatest talents, these artists were forced to work around (and often within) the ugly traditions of blackface minstrelsy—traditions actively embraced by many of the top white stars. Edward Albee, “Twenty Years of Vaudeville,” in Stein, American Vaudeville, 214; Snyder, Robert. W., Voice of the City: Vaudeville and Popular Culture in New York (New York, 1989), 82103Google Scholar. For the form's immigrant-heavy audiences, such racialized performances helped to support their still-developing relationship to American Whiteness. Kibler, M. Alison, Rank Ladies: Gender and Cultural Hierarchy in American Vaudeville (Chapel Hill, 1999), 2354Google Scholar; Sotiropoulos, Karen, Staging Race: Black Performers in Turn of the Century America (Cambridge, MA, 2008), 4281Google Scholar; Nasaw, David, Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements (New York, 1993), 1962Google Scholar; Rogin, Michael, Blackface White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot (Berkeley, 1998), 370Google Scholar. On the groundbreaking artistry of these Black performers, see Chude-Sokei, Louis, The Last “Darky”: Bert Williams, Black-on-Black Minstrelsy, and the African Diaspora (Durham, 2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Krasner, David, Resistance, Parody, and Double Consciousness in African American Theatre, 1895–1910 (New York, 1997)Google Scholar.

12 For examples of the first approach, see Erdman, Andrew L., Blue Vaudeville: Sex, Morals and the Marketing of Amusement, 1895–1915 (London, 2004), 2182Google Scholar; and Wertheim, Vaudeville Wars. For examples of the second, see Kibler, Rank Ladies; and Sotiropoulos, Staging Race.

13 Jenkins, Henry, What Made Pistachio Nuts? Early Sound Comedy and the Vaudeville Aesthetic (New York, 1994), 6263Google Scholar; McLean, Albert F., American Vaudeville as Ritual (Lexington, KY, 1965), 91105Google Scholar; Monod, Vaudeville, esp. 119–47; Nicholas Gebhardt, Vaudeville Melodies: Popular Musicians and Mass Entertainment in American Culture, 1870–1920 (Chicago, 2017).

14 Vaudeville Yearbook, 9.

15 Vaudeville Yearbook, 11.

16 Erdman, Blue Vaudeville, 43–63.

17 Wertheim, Vaudeville Wars, 81–84; Kibler, Rank Ladies, 23–33.

18 Discussing the system, manager Daniel Hennessey argued that it was capable of functioning without a single individual making decisions for the whole. “There is not,” he explained, “anyone in absolute charge of the booking aside from the fact that the managers have the right to reject anything that might be booked for them.” Daniel K. Hennessey Testimony, 27 March, 1919, FTC Records, docket 128, box 72, p. 914, NACP.

19 Timothy D. Connors, “American Vaudeville Managers: Their Influence and Organization” (PhD diss., University of Kansas, 1981). Marlis Schweitzer discusses the importance of new office technology to theatrical management in Transatlantic Broadway: The Infrastructural Politics of Global Performance (London, 2015). On the meaning of office layout as “part of a larger process of social construction,” see Oliver Zunz, Making America Corporate, 1870–1920 (Chicago, 1990), 104–24. Regarding the specific technologies of offices in this period, I rely on two essays by JoAnne Yates—“Business Use of Information and Technology during the Industrial Age,” in A Nation Transformed by Information: How Information Has Shaped the United States from Colonial Times to the Present, ed. Alfred D. Chandler and James W. Cortada (New York, 2000), 107–137; and “Evolving Information Use in Firms, 1850–1920: Ideology and Information Techniques and Technologies,” in Information Acumen: The Understanding and Use of Knowledge in Modern Business (London, 1994), 26–50—as well as Richard K. Popp, “Information, Industrialization, and the Business of Press Clippings, 1880–1925,” Journal of American History 101, no. 2 (2014): 427–53; and Ken Liparto, “Mediating Reputation: Credit Reporting Systems in American History,” Business History Review 87, no. 4 (2013): 655–77.

20 On booking in lyceums, see Joe Kember, “The Lecture-Brokers: The Role of Impresarios and Agencies in the Global Anglophone Circuit for Lantern Lecturing, 1850–1920,” Early Popular Visual Culture 17, no. 3–4 (2019): 279–303; and Angela G. Ray, The Lyceum and Public Culture in the Nineteenth-Century United States (Ann Arbor, 2005). On Circuit Chautauquas, see Charlotte M. Canning, The Most American Thing in America: Circuit Chautauqua as Performance (Iowa City, 2005), esp. 1–20. The best text on the business of circuses remains Janet M. Davis, The Circus Age: Culture and Society under the American Big Top (Chapel Hill, 2002). On the legitimate theater, see Schweitzer, Transatlantic Broadway, esp. 69–102.

21 Wertheim, Vaudeville Wars, 95–100; “Vaudeville Trust a Reality,” San Francisco Chronicle, 29 July 1897.

22 Snyder, Voice of the City, xv.

23 Only a handful of earlier works attempt to examine vaudeville as a general phenomenon. The most important are McLean, American Vaudeville as Ritual, and DiMeglio, Vaudeville U.S.A.

24 See Roy Rosenzweig, Eight Hours for What We Will: Workers and Leisure in an Industrial City, 1870–1920 (New York, 1983), 171–221; Snyder, Voice of the City; and Kathy Peiss, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-Of-The-Century New York (Philadelphia, 1987), 142–45.

25 Kibler, Rank Ladies; Erdman, Blue Vaudeville; Oberdeck, Evangelist; Chude-Sokei, Last “Darky”; Sotiropoulos, Staging Race.

26 Richard Butsch, The Making of American Audiences: From Stage to Television, 1750–1990 (New York, 2000), 95–121; Wertheim, Vaudeville Wars; Michelle R. Scott, “These Ladies Do Business with a Capital B: The Griffin Sisters as Black Businesswomen in Early Vaudeville,” Journal of African American History 101, no. 4 (2016): 469–503; Alan Gevinson, “The Origins of Vaudeville: Aesthetic Power, Disquietude, and Cosmopolitanism in the Quest for an American Music Hall (Pt. 1)” (PhD diss., Johns Hopkins University, 2007); Gillian M. Rodger, Champagne Charlie and Pretty Jemima: Variety Theater in the Nineteenth Century (Chicago, 2010); Monod, Vaudeville.

27 Snyder, Voice of the City, 105.

28 This extensive literature includes Lewis Erenberg, Steppin’ Out: New York Nightlife and the Transformation of American Culture (Chicago, 1984); William R. Taylor, ed., Inventing Times Square: Commerce and Culture at the Crossroads of the World (Baltimore, 1991); Nasaw, Going Out; Michael Oriard, Reading Football: How the Popular Press Created an American Spectacle (Chapel Hill, 2000); Joel Dinnerstein, Swingin’ the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture between the World Wars (Boston, 2003); Jayne Brown, Babylon Girls: Black Women Performers and the Shaping of the Modern (Durham, 2008); David Gilbert, The Product of Our Souls: Ragtime, Race, and the Birth of the Manhattan Musical Marketplace (Chapel Hill, 2015); Michael Denning, Noise Uprising: The Audio-Politics of a World Musical Revolution (New York, 2015); Ann Douglas, Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the ’20s (New York, 1996).

29 Butsch, American Audiences, 66–80; Marlis Schweitzer, When Broadway Was the Runway: Theater, Fashion, and American Culture (Philadelphia, 2009); Michael Newberry, “Polite Gaiety: Cultural Hierarchy and Musical Comedy, 1893–1904,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 4, no. 4 (2005): 381–407; David LeRoy Ashby, With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture since 1830 (Bowling Green, KY, 2006), 73–176; William Leach, Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture (New York, 1993).

30 Linda L. Tyler, “‘Commerce and Poetry Hand in Hand’: Music in American Department Stores, 1880–1930,” Journal of the Musicological Society 45, no. 1 (1992): 75–120; Butsch, American Audiences, 66–139; Schweitzer, Broadway, 12–95; Holly George, Show Town: Theater and Culture in the Pacific Northwest (Norman, OK, 2016); Lawrence Levine, Highbrow Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (Cambridge, MA, 1988), 86–168.

31 This dynamic is epitomized by the rise and fall of the patent medicine empires of the 1890s, another important topic that has yet to receive adequate attention. Jackson Lears, Fables of Abundance: A Cultural History of Advertising in America (New York, 1994); Ann Anderson, Snake Oil, Hustlers and Hambones: The American Medicine Show (New York, 2000); Pamela Laird, Advertising Progress: American Business and the Rise of Consumer Marketing (Baltimore, 2001).

32 Peiss, Cheap Amusements, 88–139; Ashby, With Amusement for All, 132–42.

33 Nasaw, Going Out; Randy D. McBee, Dancehall Days: Intimacy and Leisure among Working-Class Immigrants in the United States (New York, 2000); McLean, American Vaudeville as Ritual.

34 Notable exceptions include Tracy C. Davis, The Economics of the British Stage, 1800–1914 (New York, 2000); Rodger, Champagne Charlie; Rachel Lockwood Miller, “Capital Entertainment: Stage Work and the Origins of the Creative Economy, 1843–1912” (PhD diss., University of Michigan, 2018); David Suisman, Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music (Cambridge, MA, 2009); and Michael Schwartz, Broadway and Corporate Capitalism: The Rise of the Professional-Managerial Class, 1900–1920 (New York, 2009). More work on the concrete activities of the entertainment industry is available for both earlier and later periods, including Thomas Bogar, Thomas Hamblin and the Bowery Theatre: The New York Reign of “Blood and Thunder” Melodrama (New York, 2017); and Laurence Senelick, The Age and Stage of George L. Fox, 1825–1877 (Iowa City, 1999). Hollywood has its own extensive bibliography; see, for example, Thomas Schatz, The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era (New York, 1988); Douglas Gomery, The Hollywood Studio System: A History (London, 2005); and Ronny Regev, Working in Hollywood: How The Studio System Turned Creativity into Labor (Chapel Hill, 2018).

35 This approach is (or at least ought to be) a double move, reshaping our idea of the economy by exploring, as Rosanne Currarino puts it, “the economic as an endogenous force” that functions within rather than beyond human society. Currarino, “Toward a History of Cultural Economy,” Journal of the Civil War Era 2, no. 4 (2012): 565. See also Nan Enstad, “The ‘Sonorous Summons’ of the New History of Capitalism, Or, What Are We Talking about When We Talk about Economy?,” Modern American History 2, no. 1 (2019): 83–95; Seth Rockman, “What Makes the History of Capitalism Newsworthy?,” Journal of the Early Republic 34, no. 3 (2014): 439–66; Seth Rockman and Sven Beckert, “Introduction,” in Slavery's Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development, ed. Beckert and Rockman (Philadelphia, 2016), 1–29.

36 The list of innovative works within the history of capitalism is far too extensive to be recounted here. For scholarship more specifically focused on using related approaches to explore the history of entertainment, see Suisman, Selling Sounds; Alex Sayf Cummings, Democracy of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright in the Twentieth Century (New York, 2013); Timothy Taylor, The Sounds of Capitalism: Advertising, Music, and the Conquest of Culture (Chicago, 2012); Regev, Working in Hollywood; and Davis, Economics of the British Stage.

37 Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (New York, 1977), esp. 61–62.

38 Arjun Appadurai, ed., The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective (Cambridge, U.K., 1988); Victor Turner, From Ritual to Theater: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York, 1982), 72–87; Suisman, Selling Sounds, 1–17.

39 This is particularly important given both the limits of and the myriad interconnections between specific genres and industries. See, for example, Robert C. Allen, Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture (Chapel Hill, 2000); and Kyle Barnett, Record Cultures: The Transformation of the U.S. Recording Industry (Ann Arbor, 2020).

40 Gender was the key to this class orientation. While variety featured a wide array of performance styles, it was best known for the sexualized female singers and dancers who attracted its primarily working-class male audiences. Butsch, American Audiences, 95–107; Rodger, Champagne Charlie, esp. 149–57.

41 Armond Fields, Tony Pastor: The Father of Vaudeville (New York, 2007); Butsch, American Audiences, 108–20; Snyder, Voice of the City, 17–21.

42 These circuits were often formed not in major markets like New York or Philadelphia but in smaller, more peripheral areas that relied on the promise of a series of bookings to attract talent. Alfred L. Bernheim, The Business of the Theatre: An Economic History of the American Theatre, 1750–1932 (New York, 1964), 33–45; “A Vaudeville Circuit,” San Francisco Chronicle, 29 July 1897; “Thirteen Theatres,” Morning News (Wilmington, DE), 23 Mar. 1888; Wertheim, Vaudeville Wars, 58–62; Miller, “Capital Entertainment,” 165–171.

43 While both men directly owned limited chains of their own theaters, their true power emerged from their leadership within these regional systems. Kathryn J. Oberdeck, “Contested Cultures of American Refinement: Theatrical Manager Sylvester Poli, His Audiences, and the Vaudeville Industry, 1890–1920,” Radical History Review 1996, no. 66 (1996): 67–75; Wertheim, Vaudeville Wars, 117–21; Alfred L. Bernheim “The Facts of Vaudeville,” in Stein, American Vaudeville, 124–30; “Majestic List Partly Ready,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 5 September, 1906; untitled, Jackson (MI) Daily News, 7 Nov 1909; Anthony Slide, “Kohl and Castle,” in The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville (Jackson, FL, 2004); “Colonial to Add a Vaudeville Act,” Daily Gate City (Keokuk, IA), 8 May 1910.

44 Robert Grau, Businessman in the Amusement World (New York, 1910), 1; Oberdeck, “Contested Cultures,” 60–65; Snyder, Voice of the City, 33–35, 64–81; “Vaudeville Alliance a Fact,” Chicago Tribune, 24 May 1900; New York Clipper, 24 June 1897; Wertheim, Vaudeville Wars, 170–71.

45 Taken as a whole, performers frequently paid 10 percent or more of their salaries back to the companies they worked for. As a bemused lawyer for the Federal Trade Commission explained, “the employee employs the employer to get the employer to employ the employee.” Pat Casey Testimony, 3 February 1919, FTC Records, docket 128, box 72, p. 182, NACP.

46 Henry D. Wallen Testimony, 14 March 2019, FTC Records, docket 128, box 72, p. 835, NACP.

47 Kerry Segrave, Actors Organize: A History of Union Formation Efforts in America, 1880–1919, (London, 2008); Sean P. Holmes, Weavers of Dreams Unite! Actors’ Unionism in Early Twentieth-Century America (Chicago, 2013); Edward Fay Testimony, 9 February, 1919, FTC Records, docket 128, box 72, p. 633, NACP.

48 This investigation was instigated by White Rats, an unsuccessful vaudeville union. For further details about the trade commission lawsuit, see Wertheim, Vaudeville Wars, 233–36. On the precise accusations made against the syndicate owners, see “Brief of the Attorneys of the Federal Trade Commission,” 25 Sept. 1914, FTC Records, docket 128, box 71, NACP.

49 Despite ostensibly working on behalf of artists, these agents were widely understood to be on the side of (and indeed, indirectly employed by) the syndicates. Required to obtain a “franchise” to book through the major offices, most agents relied on their continued connection to the syndicates for their livelihood. Limiting the number of available franchises allowed the syndicates to control these agents, many of whom gradually developed small firms representing numerous performers. Casey Testimony, 88–89; Harry Weber Testimony, 27 March 1919, FTC Records, docket 128, box 72, p. 1067–1070, NACP; Wertheim, Vaudeville Wars, 158.

50 Hennessey Testimony, 984–85.

51 Casey Testimony, 88–89; Wertheim, Vaudeville Wars, 158.

52 The WVMA also seems to have opened short-lived “branch offices” in a handful of geographically important towns and cities. Casey Testimony, 46; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1 Jan. 1911; “To Open Branch Booking Office,” Topeka Daily Capital, 13 Nov. 1908.

53 “Complete Organization Commencing,” Variety, 7 Oct. 1910; Casey Testimony, 173.

54 “To Retire From Active Management” The Chat (Brooklyn, NY), 2 May 1912.

55 Hennessey Testimony, 909.

56 Hodgdon Testimony, 522–523.

57 The terminology of the booking office is often confusing. For the sake of clarity, I use “artist's agent” to refer to the performer's representative and “booking representative” or “booking manager” to indicate someone working for a circuit, theater, or the booking agency and attempting to procure talent for theaters. Hodgdon Testimony, 520.

58 Casey Testimony, 88–89; Wertheim, Vaudeville Wars, 158–61.

59 Hodgdon Testimony, 523.

60 Hodgdon Testimony, 520.

61 Hodgdon Testimony, 524.

62 Hennessey Testimony, 920.

63 Hodgdon Testimony, 536; “Mecca of the Two-a-Day,” New-York Tribune, 16 Feb. 1913.

64 While press accounts suggest that this form of reportage was widespread, the only extant managers’ reports come from theaters owned by B. F. Keith. For a description of these reports, and the unlikely story of their survival, see M. Alison Kibler, “The Keith/Albee Collection: The Vaudeville Industry, 1894–1935,” Books at Iowa, no. 56 (1992): 7–24.

65 Jenkins, What Made Pistachio Nuts, 73–75.

66 Although Wertheim claims that “salaries often depended on supply and demand,” evidence points against this being true in the immediate sense he describes (rather than, for instance, rising demand for vaudeville pushing up the salaries of stars over a period of years). Wertheim, Vaudeville Wars, 160.

67 Wertheim, Vaudeville Wars, 171–172.

68 For example, see the Madden and Fitzpatrick booking records, 22 May 1919, Exhibit 104, FTC Records, docket 128, box 72, NACP; and Beatrice Morgan and Company Contracts, Beatrice Burton Papers, Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library; Hennessey Testimony, 931.

69 Marian Spitzer, “The Mechanics of Vaudeville,” in Stein, American Vaudeville, 167–69.

70 In recent years, a literature has developed to explore the feedback loops between informational systems and the processes they describe. See, for example, Daniel Bouk, How Our Days Became Numbered: Risk and the Rise of the Statistical Individual (Chicago, 2018); Sarah E. Igo, The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public (Cambridge, MA, 2008); and Josh Lauer, Creditworthy: A History of Consumer Surveillance and Financial Identity in America (New York, 2017).

71 Hennessey Testimony, 930.

72 Hennessey Testimony, 928–29.

73 Hennessey Testimony, 924.

74 Hennessey Testimony, 922.

75 Hennessey Testimony, 933.

76 Hodgdon Testimony, 531.

77 Jenkins, What Made Pistachio Nuts, 63–64.

78 Manager's Report Book, 13 June 1910–20 Feb. 1911, 17, Keith/Albee Collection, University of Iowa Special Collections, University of Iowa (hereafter Keith/Albee Collection).

79 Manager's Report Book, 13 Nov. 1916–21 Jan. 1918, p. viii (1), Keith/Albee Collection.

80 Jenkins, What Made Pistachio Nuts, 63–64.

81 Hennessey Testimony, 916.

82 Brett Page, Writing for Vaudeville (Springfield, MA, 1915), 8.

83 Sophie Tucker, Some of These Days: The Autobiography of Sophie Tucker (Garden City, NY, 1945), 84.

84 Manager's Report Book, 13 June 1910–20 Feb. 1911, 4, Keith/Albee Collection.

85 Joe Laurie Jr., Vaudeville: From the Honkey-Tonks to the Palace (New York, 1953), 20–230.

86 Jenkins, What Made Pistachio Nuts, 65.

87 Edwin Milton Royle, “The Vaudeville Theater,” in Stein, American Vaudeville, 30.

88 Snyder, Voice of the City, 105; Gebhardt, Vaudeville Melodies, 20; Walter De Leon, “The Wow Finish,” in Stein, American Vaudeville, 193–208.

89 “Success of Vaudeville Explained by Manager,” Los Angeles Herald, 10 Feb. 1905.

90 Butsch, American Audiences, 57–81; Daniel J. Watermeir, “Actors and Acting,” in The Cambridge History of American Theater, vol 2, ed. Don Wilmeth and Christopher Bigsby (New York, 1999), 452–66; Monod, Vaudeville, 104–18.

91 Gebhardt, Vaudeville Melodies, 19.

92 Tucker, Some of These Days, 96; Monod, Vaudeville, 62–66.

93 “They are my friends,” explained vaudeville star Nora Bayes of her relationship to her audience. “I can think of no better symbol to express my own feelings toward the audience than that of a small party seated at a friendly table. . . . The vaudeville audience is the most sensitive, because it is there to meet old friends. . .” Of course, “the audience” was itself a creation of the system through which Bayes moved so successfully; it reflected both a generalization of individual crowds into a general public and the types of seemingly personal relationships created with each of them by vaudeville's “technologies of feeling.” Nora Bayes and Harry Richman, “Two Who Sang for Their Supper,” in Stein, American Vaudeville, 267–70; Marlis Schweitzer and Daniel Guadagnolo, “Feeling Scottish: Affect, Mimicry, and Vaudeville's ‘Inimitable’ Harry Lauder,” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 26, no. 2 (2012): 145–60; Gebhardt, Vaudeville Melodies, 60; Monod, Vaudeville, 39–42.

94 For a broader take on this dynamic, see Barry King, Taking Fame to Market: On the Pre-History and Post-History of Hollywood Stardom (London, 2015); and Charles L. Ponce de Leon, Self-Exposure: Human-Interest Journalism and the Emergence of Celebrity in America, 1890–1940 (Chapel Hill, 2002). For a direct comparison, see Jennifer M. Bean, ed., Flickers of Desire: Movie Stars of the 1910s (New Brunswick, NJ, 2011); and Warren Susman, Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (New York, 1973), 271–85.

95 In many cities, the arrival of a high-class vaudeville theater was something to boast of, an indication of the growing refinement of the community. “Colonial to Add a Vaudeville Act,” Daily Gate City (Keokuk, IA), 8 May 1910; “Open New Vaudeville House,” Freeport (IL) Journal-Standard, 21 Nov. 1906; “Majestic List Partially Ready,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 9 May 1906; “New Scenic Curtain at Industrial Is Up,” The Dispatch (Moline, IL), 9 Mar. 1906; “Palladium,” Item (Richmond, IN), 27 Jan. 1907.

96 “We might say then that on the circuits a new form of life was invented by the Vaudeville managers and the booking agents for American popular performers, and that it was the emergence of this form of life that explains many of the claims that were made about the significance of show business.” Gebhardt, Vaudeville Melodies, 35. For a more expansive view of the types of social claims connected to the theater, see Jean-Christophe Agnew, Worlds Apart: The Market and the Theater in Anglo-American Thought, 1550–1750 (New York, 1986).

97 The idea of intentional indeterminacy as a creative act is drawn from the writings of composer John Cage. See Cage, Silence: Lectures and Writings (Middletown, CT, 1939); and Michael Nyman, Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, 2nd ed. (New York, 1999).

98 Hennessey Testimony, 949.

99 Segrave, Actors Organize, 29–127.

100 For a comparison between the individualistic aesthetic of vaudeville and developments in the legitimate theater, see Jenkins, What Made Pistachio Nuts, 67; and Hirsch Foster, The Boys from Syracuse: The Shuberts’ Theatrical Empire (New York, 2000), 83–93.

101 Hodgdon Testimony, 535. The comparison to the stock exchange is drawn from quotes in Wertheim, Vaudeville Wars, 158.

102 The classic account of the transformation of individual items into generic commodities during this period is found in William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (New York, 1991), 97–147.

103 Wertheim, Vaudeville Wars, 153–93, 239–43; Russell Sanjek, American Popular Music and Its Business, vol. 3 (New York, 1988), 16–22, 57–61.

104 This is not to suggest a teleological replacement—many nickelodeons incorporated live performances into a program of short films, and the rise of “small time” vaudeville during this period was based entirely on the interaction between these two forms of entertainment. Rather, by missing an opportunity to substantively engage with the burgeoning film industry, the principal vaudeville firms ceded control to a new cohort of producers and exhibitors. Peiss, Cheap Amusements, 139–62; Charles Musser, The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907 (New York, 1990), 417–49. Much of our understanding of nickelodeon audiences comes from the moral rhetoric directed at them. See, for instance, Lee Grievson, Policing Cinema: Movies and Censorship in Early-Twentieth-Century America (Berkeley, 2004). For a classic debate about the composition of the nickelodeon audience, see Ben Singer, “Manhattan Nickelodeons: New Data on Audiences and Exhibitors,” Cinema Journal 34, no. 3 (1995): 5–35; and Robert C. Allen, “Manhattan Myopia; Or, Oh! Iowa!,” Cinema Journal 35, no. 3 (1996): 75–103.

105 On changes in cinema construction, see Richard Abel, Americanizing the Movies and “Movie Mad Audiences,” 1910–1914 (Berkeley, 2006), 45–55. For a varied analysis of the rise of the “movie star” during this decade, see Bean, Flickers of Desire; and Michael Quinn, “Distribution, the Transient Audience, and the Transition to Feature Film,” Cinema Journal 40, no. 2 (2001): 35–56.

106 “Small time” vaudeville, a cheaper approach to the form represented by the Loew's circuit, had long adopted a far more conciliatory attitude toward film, incorporating it as the core of its attractions and building out a small vaudeville show around it. Robert C. Allen, Vaudeville and Film, 1895–1915: A Study in Media Interaction, (New York, 1980); Wertheim, Vaudeville Wars, 239–61.

107 Wertheim, Vaudeville Wars, 262–73.

108 Suisman, Selling Sounds, 56–90; Gebhardt, Vaudeville Melodies, 1–2.

109 “How Singers Get Songs,” Billboard, 16 Feb. 1901.

110 For an example of a work that assumes the inevitable triumph of the studio film, see Schatz, Genius of the System.

111 This literature is quite extensive; see Tom Gunning, “The Cinema of Attraction[s]: Early Film, Its Spectator and the Avant-Garde,” Wide Angle 8, no. 3–4 (1986): 63–70; Miriam Hansen, The Babel in Babylon: Spectatorship in American Silent Film (Cambridge, MA, 1991), esp. 29–57; Paula Marantz Cohen, Silent Film and the Triumph of the American Myth (New York, 2001).

112 William Paul, When Movies Were Theater: Architecture, Exhibition, and the Evolution of American Film (New York, 2016), 114–21; Meredith C. Ward, Static in the System: Noise and the Soundscape of American Cinema Culture (Oakland, CA, 2019); Ward, “The ‘New Listening’: Richard Wagner, Nineteenth-Century Opera Culture, and Cinema Theaters,” Nineteenth Century Theatre and Film 43, no 1 (2016): 88–106.

113 Richard Maltby, “New Cinema Histories,” in Explorations in New Cinema History: Approaches and Case Studies, ed. Richard Maltby, Daniel Biltereyst, and Phillipe Meers (London, 2011), 3–41; Robert C. Allen, “Relocating American Film History: The ‘Problem’ of the Empirical,” Cultural Studies 20, no. 1 (2006): 48–88.

114 Abel, Americanizing the Movies; Quinn, “Distribution.” Steve Wurtzler develops a similar approach focused on the development of sound recording in Electric Sounds: Technological Change and the Rise of Corporate Mass Media (New York, 2007).

115 One potential avenue for such questioning is an examination of the changes and continuities of celebrity as it moved from stage to screen. See Ponce de Leon, Self-Exposure; and King, Taking Fame to Market. Also, Allen, Vaudeville and Film; Jenkins, What Made Pistachio Nuts?

116 Gomery, Hollywood Studio System, 71–80.

117 Richard Maltby, “The Standard Exhibition Contract and the Unwritten History of the Classic Hollywood Cinema,” Film History 25, no. 1–2 (2013): 138–53; Gomery, Hollywood Studio System, 73–75. For a discussion of similar practices within vaudeville, see Snyder, Voice of the City, 82–103.

118 Gerben Bakker, “Building Knowledge about the Consumer: The Emergence of Market Research in the Motion Picture Industry,” Business History 45, no. 1 (2003): 101–27; Michael Pokorny and John Sedgwick, “Profitability Trends in Hollywood, 1929 to 1999: Somebody Must Know Something,” Economic History Review 63, no. 1 (2010): 56–84.

119 Fox, RKO, and MGM all emerged in relation to vaudeville presentation. Neal Gabler, An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood (New York, 1989).

120 Monod, Vaudeville, 2, 91–147.

121 Jenkins, What Made Pistachio Nuts, 60–67.

122 Kibler, Rank Ladies, 23–54.

123 Recent examples of such work include Regev, Working in Hollywood; Barnett, Record Cultures; Suisman, Selling Sounds; Nicholas Sammond, Birth of an Industry: Blackface and the Rise of American Animation (Durham, 2015); Scott, “These Ladies Do Business”; Denning, Noise Uprising; and Sandra Jean Graham, Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry (Chicago, 2018).

124 The literature in theater and cultural studies offers numerous examples of the benefits of this approach; see Rosemarie K. Bank, Theatre Culture in America, 1825–1860 (New York, 1997); Sarah Meer, Uncle Tom Mania: Slavery, Minstrelsy, and Transatlantic Culture in the 1850s (Athens, GA, 2005); James Cook, The Arts of Deception: Playing with Fraud in the Era of Barnum (Cambridge, MA, 2001); Joseph R. Roach, Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance (New York, 1996); W. T. Lhamon Jr., Raising Cain: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip Hop (Cambridge, MA, 1998); Sotiropoulos, Staging Race; George, Show Town; and Brown, Babylon Girls.