Dr. Bernardo still exists! Who knew? Not I.

In my gothic mystery, Stolen Memories, I mention a man named Dr. Barnardo (d. 1905), who founded a charity for children in England in 1866 with orphanages. My fictional character, Claire, spent some time in one of Barnardo’s orphanages in London, and this plays a significant role in her story. 

Still, while I knew about the late doctor’s deeds, I was unaware that the charity was still going strong. At least, this is what I saw from the window of the bus I was riding last week in Scotland. We were vacationing in Edinburgh, taking the bus to Leith to visit the Royal Yacht, when we passed several of these establishments. They seem to be something like Goodwill or Salvation Army, selling donated goods to raise money for the charity. According to Wikipedia, this is the UK’s largest children’s charity. I was surprised to see this link to my story, which is set in the 1920s. 

 

Published in: on August 12, 2017 at 2:50 pm  Comments (3)  

Invitation to my new book’s birthday party

It’s my book’s Birth Day! The date the publisher chose to release it. Come to the party on Aug. 16 at Chop Suey Books in Richmond’s Carytown district and get a copy of my latest mystery, MURDER IN DISGUISE. In the spirit of the Roaring Twenties, I’m doing a short reading at 6:00 and serving suitable Prohibition beverage–and giving away a hardcover copy of the first in the series, THE IMPERSONATOR, with every purchase. Convenient, free parking behind the Byrd Theater across the street. 

Published in: on July 28, 2017 at 8:24 am  Leave a Comment  

How long was a vaudeville act?

Of course, the length of time for each act varied, but not by much–no less than ten minutes, no more than twenty. A standup comic might run a ten-minute act, a song-and-dance routine could be twelve, and a short play might run as long as twenty minutes, but twelve was the average and the number most acts aimed to meet.

“Vaudeville demands speed,” said Edward Albee of the Keith-Albee circuit. “You cannot move too fast in vaudeville. The dramatic sketch must plant its story and have the action stirring rapidly before the curtain has ceased to rustle; the acrobats must show the best they have and show off the singer, the monologuist, the dancer, the animal trainer and every other artist must have his or her act boiled down to essentials, and the appeal must be direct, sudden and unmistakable.” 

In my books, the acts last twelve minutes. 

Published in: on July 22, 2017 at 10:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit Grows in the 1890s

When I write my Roaring Twenties mystery series, which is set in the 1920s, I depend on my research about the vaudeville circuits of the early 20th century. One thing I learned was that these “circuits” (groups of theaters that joined together to host an itinerant group of performers) didn’t materialize out of nowhere. In the 1890s, the Orpheum Circuit, which was largely made up of west coast theaters and a few in the Midwest, needed to find some theaters in between so that performers didn’t waste a week of unpaid time traveling from the Midwest cities (like Chicago) to the west coast. Yes, it could take three or four days to travel from the Midwest to the far west by rail, which meant the performers lost that week. Anything less than one day of travel cut into their 6-day week, rendering the act unemployable for that week.

The first in-between theaters added were in Kansas City, MO, and Omaha, NE, both railway hubs that were growing in population and sophistication. After that came Denver, in those days, the largest city between Kansas City and San Francisco. The Denver Orpheum was built in 1899 at the unheard of cost of $350,000. (Sadly, it was torn down in the 1930s.) But with this stunning theater, the Orpheum Circuit could at last attract big names, because performers could travel between engagements one day at a time.

Published in: on July 10, 2017 at 4:45 pm  Comments (1)  

Houdini’s Rise to Stardom

I mention Houdini briefly in a couple of my mysteries, so I became interested in his remarkable life and unusual talents.

Houdini began as a small-time magician in vaudeville. Fortunately for him, he was spotted by Martin Beck, an immigrant from the Austro-Hungarian Empire who became one of the top booking agents in vaudeville thanks to his uncanny ability to discover new talent. When he saw young Houdini, he told him he should cut out the regular magic tricks that other magicians did and concentrate on one big thriller that only he could do–escape-artist tricks like the handcuffs in the trunk.

Houdini took his advice and became a vaudeville sensation. Beck became the Orpheum Circuit’s general manager.

Published in: on July 1, 2017 at 6:19 am  Comments (1)  

Murder in Disguise Gets a Nice Review

Author: MARY MILEY

Title: MURDER IN DISGUISE

Publication: PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

Issue: 19TH JUNE 2017

 Murder in Disguise: A Roaring Twenties Mystery, Mary Miley. Severn, $28.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7278-8714-6

The shooting murder of projectionist Joe Petrovitch, during a showing of Chaplin’s The Gold Rush at a Hollywood movie theater, propels Miley’s engrossing fourth Roaring Twenties mystery (after 2016’s Renting Silence). The police rush to the theater, but the gunman escapes without a trace. The victim’s wife, a hairdresser at the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio, asks script girl Jessie Beckett, who’s a skilled amateur sleuth, to investigate. With help from Adele Astaire (Fred’s glamorous sister and dance partner), actress Myrna Loy (later to achieve fame in The Thin Man), assorted vaudevillians, and police detective Carl Delaney, spunky, resourceful Jessie sets to work. Aficionados of showbiz history will delight in the technical details of filmmaking in the silent era and the peripatetic lives of the performers. Readers will also get the lowdown on bootlegging, speakeasies, and gin joints. Series fans will be pleased to know that David Carr, Jessie’s love interest, has a tidy subplot of his own.

 

Published in: on June 26, 2017 at 3:26 pm  Comments (2)  

Vaudeville Wars: Book Review

With a title like Vaudeville Wars: How the Keith-Albee and Orpheum Circuits Controlled the Big-Time and it’s Performers, I knew it would be right up my Roaring Twenties alley. I was right, and I learned some things. But the book itself was excruciatingly dull reading. Granted, it was published by Palgrave-MacMillan, the academic imprint for MacMillan publishing company, so I should have expected dry. 

Basically this is a book about how Keith, Albee, and other vaudeville tycoons monopolized the business and screwed the performers as they made boatloads of money.

In pursuit of their goal to make vaudeville a form of family entertainment, Keith and Albee stressed the Three C’s — cleanliness, comfort, and courtesy. “The city’s (New York) social reformers and religious leaders attacked the concert saloon for its drinking and lewd amusements and instead avidly supported wholesome recreation for the working class. Keith’s refined vaudeville was exactly the type of entertainment the city’s leaders wanted.” In the early years (1880s and 1890s), Keith himself welcomed audiences at his Grand Opera House and emphasize the rules: no hats, no smoking, no whistling, and no stamping feet, spitting or yelling obscenities. Playbills pointedly mentioned the wholesome environment. Performers were forbidden to use profanity or off-color jokes. Profanity meant something different in the 1880s: words like slob, son-of-a-gun, and gee, would result in an act’s cancellation. Keith hired a Sunday school teacher to censor the jokes. From then on, vaudeville was family entertainment. Those looking for more risqué fare could visit one of the many burlesque houses where raunchy jokes and semi-nudity were common. 

Published in: on June 18, 2017 at 3:46 pm  Comments (2)  

ABC Agents Talk about Moonshine, Then and Now

An interesting lecture today at the Library of Virginia involved 2 agents, one retired, from the ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control), who talked about busting illegal moonshine operations in Virginia back in the Prohibition days and today. I had no idea stills were so common! I learned that Virginia’s ABC was formed in 1934, the year after liquor became legal again, to regulate and control liquor sales. I learned that while it has been okay to make wine or beer in your home for your own consumption since the 1970s,  it is NOT okay to make distilled beverages. 

I also learned that Franklin County in southwestern Virginia, which was said to be the moonshine capital of the state (and of the country or world, according to some) continues to have the most illegal stills today. In the 1920s, a lot of Virginia’s illegal whiskey was shipped to Chicago. One of the agents, who was from that general region, said his father and grandfather made moonshine and that they remembered the mule-drawn wagons hauling moonshine to the Galax, Virginia, train station to send it to Al Capone. Maybe I can work that tidbit into my next story . . . 

Published in: on June 7, 2017 at 4:22 pm  Comments (2)  

Last Call in Virginia 1916

On November 1, 1916, all saloons, breweries, and distilleries in Virginia shut down. (Or they were supposed to. Some stayed open secretly and illegally.) There was one great, last-minute stampede to buy drinks, and it was reported in the Alexandria Gazette.

“The rush for liquor refreshments [in Harrisonburg, VA] Monday night and yesterday morning resembled a football mass attack or a charge of women on a bargain counter . . . it was like a Christmas holiday rush” as people swarmed the saloons for a last, legal drink.

So when national prohibition came around to the rest of the country in 1920, Virginians hardly noticed.

Published in: on May 27, 2017 at 1:36 pm  Comments (1)  

Hidden Flasks

This is a common photo–I’ve used it several times. But only last week did I come across an actual example of a hidden flask like the one pictured. A handy size, it could tuck into a gentleman’s breast pocket or under a lady’s skirt . . . too shocking for words.  (From the Library of Virginia exhibit on Prohibition.) 

 

Published in: on May 22, 2017 at 3:49 pm  Comments (4)