Alycia M Pietrzak
Research Mentor(s): Vincent Longo
Authors: Alycia Pietrzak
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, vaudeville – a type of theatrical entertainment with different varieties of singing, dancing, and comedic acts – held its popularity among audiences ranging from low to high income and differing social status. It has long since been thought that the economic struggles of the Great Depression, the rise of talking films and Hollywood’s prevalence, and the relative cheapness of these films compared to live acts put vaudeville to rest in 1932.
Our research contradicts this conclusion: vaudeville did not die but rather changed. Instead of hanging up their dancing shoes and tossing their act material, vaudevillian performers secured stage-time before or after screenings of films, cartoons, or newsreels in movie theaters, thus creating a hybrid form of entertainment often called “vaudefilm.” After searching archival databases for variety bills which document these acts, we recorded each show into a database and saw that vaudefilm persisted farther into the 20th-century, with 555 scheduled programs in 1952 alone.
Not only did popular entertainment change, but so did the meaning of being and becoming a star. Through another research method, I seek to uncover the relationship between live performance Hollywood’s stardom, or celebrity status, to determine if and why performers during this time sought one over the other and compare my discoveries with present day’s media and entertainment landscape. Information on some of these matters stem from my case study of comedienne Martha Raye’s life and the venues in which she performed with the intent of understanding her motives and use for live performance. Biographical sources also provide insight into what qualities Hollywood sought out in its potential stars, how it controlled images and personas, and in what ways it changed over the years.