Hollywood’s Lost Celebrities: Live Performance in Classical Era Movie Theaters – UROP Spring Symposium 2021

Hollywood’s Lost Celebrities: Live Performance in Classical Era Movie Theaters

Mackenzie Hubbard


Pronouns: she/her

Research Mentor(s): Vincent Longo, Research Associate II / Doctoral Candidate
Research Mentor School/College/Department: Film, Television, and Media, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts
Presentation Date: Thursday, April 22, 2021
Session: Session 3 (1pm-1:50pm)
Breakout Room: Room 1
Presenter: 7

Event Link


Prior to the 1930s, “going to the movies” was a very different experience that consisted of either attending a vaudeville theater or a movie theater where short live acts would appear on the same bills as films, cartoons, and newsreels. However, most scholarships attests that after this point, theaters switched almost exclusively to showing only movies, possible due to a number of factors. The common belief is that this shift happened quickly due to the growing popularity of sound films and the looming Great Depression which rendered live performance too expensive to program. However our research suggests that this story of demise and the reasons for it are overly simplistic at best, and frankly incorrect at worst. We demonstrate that live performance in movie theaters did decline during this time, but it was still widely used in the largest theaters in the country. We have primarily used two methods to explain and track the changing use of live performance in movie theaters. We have constructed a database of theater programs printed in Variety by inputting data such as city, theater, and acts into a Google Sheets spreadsheet. This data allows us to visually demonstrate the number of acts performing in certain years and shows that the common narrative that the death of vaude happened suddenly. In order to at least partially account for the changing prevalence of live performance, we have also traced the decisions of major film studios regarding the use of live performance in theaters. My case studies of Paramount and Fox, for example, show that this was not an instant decision, but rather a back and forth process where they would increase or decrease the use depending on what was profitable at the time. More broadly, these conclusions might tell us that vaude did not simply disappear, but rather the studio’s usage of it shifted back and forth for much longer before it’s demise.

Authors: Mackenzie Hubbard
Research Method: Library/Archival/Internet Research

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