Glory Days: Vaudeville
Stefan Kanfer, writing in 2008 in City Journal, on an amazing institution:
Then came an eccentric novelty act. This might involve a magician who sawed his spangled assistant in half, or a mind reader, or a trio like the Three Keatons: mother, father, and Buster, “the Human Broom”—father Keaton delighted audiences by grabbing his son by the ankles and sweeping tables, chairs, and the floor with the boy’s hair. Other favorites included the escape artist Houdini, who would emerge from a sealed coffin; Julian Eltinge, a female impersonator; and Julius Tannen, a monologist celebrated for his word pictures: he said that using a paper cup reminded him of drinking out of a letter, and excused himself for being late by explaining that he had squeezed out too much toothpaste and couldn’t get it back into the tube. A little girl caught his act in upstate New York; to her, Tannen was pure enchantment: “Just this voice,” wrote Lucille Ball, “and this magnificent man enthralling you with his stories, his intonations. He changed my life. I knew it was a very serious, wonderful thing to be able to make people laugh and/or cry, to be able to play on their emotions.”
Be sure to read the entire article.