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Vaudeville acts on the small screen?

Bob Cox • Jan 17, 2019 at 7:00 AM

A clipping from Hollywood on Aug. 19, 1948, longed for a return of vaudeville. The era of the tumbler and the talking dog is with us again, it surmised. If you missed them on vaudeville circuits in the Roaring Twenties and beyond, you can now catch them on television.

Every vaudevillian still on his feet is hobbling over to the to the nearest television station to sell the old act that wowed 'em so much in Buffalo, Schenectady and St. Paul.

We have this word from Phil Baker, an old vaudevillian who can hardly wait to play his accordion again and tell funny stores in everybody's living room.

Station managers can hardly wait to hire him to do this, he assured us. Compared to most of the stuff on television stations, even tired egg-throwing routines look sensational.

"Vaudeville can't miss," Baker said. "It'll be as big a thing as it ever was.”

Television Is Too Small As Yet

All that is holding up this great step backward is television's technique. Screens are too small to show all three layers of an acrobatic team. Pictures are too cloudy to disclose juggling balls. Makeup and lighting are too cruel for aging funnymen to endure.

"I'm holding off until 1952," Baker said. "In television, confidentially, I look like an ape."

The Baker version of what killed vaudeville is that theaters got too big for their pants. Back in the early day, a performance just could not get intimate.

"But there's nothing more intimate than television,” Baker said. “You are right there in their laps."

People who fall out of their armchairs over televised vaudeville are going to flock to see it in the flesh. This is Baker's theory, anyway in planning a Hollywood vaudeville theater.

He will put his acts on television after the performers have rehearsed sufficiently before paying audiences.

Vaudeville Is Better Than Movies

"There are enough good acts around the country to keep a television station going for a year," Baker said. There were more laughs in those 10-minute sketches than there are in a two-hour comedy movie.

"Some smart young man ought to learn Imhoff, Conan and Corine's ‘Pest House’ sketch,” he advised. "It was absolutely the funniest thing going in vaudeville.”

Walls, McGinty and West used to build and paint a house on the stage. If vaudeville returns on television, they will soon be doing some building in your living room.

"You're never too old to be funny," Baker acknowledged. "Victor Moore and Bert Lahr are still getting the same old laughs with the former routines."

Magicians also face a great comeback if cameramen are careful not to give away their hidden secrets.

A mistake like this occurred recently when a television trickster sawed a lady in half. Instead of photographing the awed audience, the camera switched to the victim. She was observed carefully climbing out of the box unharmed still in one-piece.

I guess we can determine the outcome with vaudeville's demise and television's rise. 1948 came and went. Vaudeville continued to fall and television continued to rise.

Reach Bob Cox at [email protected] and visit his website at www.bcyesteryear.com.

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