The Roaring Twenties—the decade that careened from the heights of vaudeville and silent film to the depths of Prohibition; a time when gangsters, flappers, bootleggers, and jazz musicians came right into the parlor courtesy of a new invention called radio; the moment that women declared their independence at the ballot box, raised their hems, bobbed their hair, slurped bathtub gin, and shimmied late into the night.
As a writer/historian working on a mystery series set in the Roaring Twenties, I’ve come across mountains of fascinating information that, sad to say, will never find its way into my novels. This is my way to share it.
For example, take vaudeville. Vaudeville was America’s primary form of public entertainment from the 1880s until the 1930s when it was muscled out by silent films, then talkies, and then the Great Depression, until finally, the advent of World War II finished it off forever.
But a form of vaudeville continued to entertain on television, of all places. What was Ed Sullivan if not a typical vaudeville emcee? And those variety shows of the Sixties and Seventies were little more than vaudeville resurrected on the airwaves.
To see some genuine examples of vaudeville, try these youtube links. These are pre-Twenties acts but they would not have differed much from what was to come. The first film shows some pretty lame animal acts, followed at minute 8:20 by a very odd muscle man performance that must have titillated the ladies. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZo4imTt4Og . The second is more burlesque than vaudeville. Burlesque was the risqué side of theatrical entertainment that featured scantily clad women, hoochy-kooch dancers, lewd jokes, bawdy skits, and mostly male audiences. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsVQ9e8nWx0 starts with a woman dancing while holding a chair in her mouth—something you’ve always wanted to see, right? Skip ahead to minute 3:25 and watch another woman on a swing take her clothes off. Well, some of them.