I found another vaudeville playbill this week, one from an orpheum lineup from 1927. Unlike all others I’ve seen, this doesn’t give the theater’s name and location, which is very strange. Nothing has been cut off. I can’t explain it. Nor can I explain what an “Emergency Slip Program” is. Maybe someone out there knows . . .
The date is interesting: “Week Beginning Sunday, February 6th, 1927.” You might think that opening night was Sunday. But vaudeville didn’t play on Sundays. It was family fare and Sunday was for church. Sunday was the day that vaudeville players changed towns and got ready for the next week’s performance. Monday was opening day.
While there are several inexplicable things here, I can explain some of the acts. The show starts out with musicians playing musical selections while people are still being seated. You may recognize one: “Blue Skies” by Irving Berlin. It was a song from a Rodgers & Hart musical (more on them later). The first act is a newsreel by Pathe, a company that began producing newsreels in 1910 and only stopped in 1970. Then comes a comedy of some sort, followed by “Man Bait.” “Man Bait” is a silent film made in 1926 starring young Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Marie Prevost. It was a feature film, meaning longer than a couple reels, but I find it hard to believe that they showed the whole movie at this point in the show. Perhaps it was a preview.
Next is some sort of musical sister act, with Mildred and Marjorie Deere, who may or may not have been sisters. It was common to put together family acts where only a few or even none of the players were related. A ventriloquist follows the Deere Girls, then comes what is no doubt the headline act: am extravaganza of staged songs that probably involved elaborate costumes and short vignettes. The songs were written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, who were becoming famous as Rogers & Hart. They would ultimately write 28 musicals including “Betsy,” the one with “Blue Skies.”
A short comedy act came next, then a pair of singers, and finally the Novelle Brothers clown act. In vaudeville, you wanted to end with a “dumb act,” one that didn’t require listening to the dialog, because people would begin leaving during the last act. (“Dumb” = no words, not stupid.)
But the Novelle clowns aren’t quite last–here comes “Man Bait” again. I think that the first showing was a teaser, like the previews we see today, and that the whole movie was shown at the end for those who wanted to stay. From musical start to movie finish, it would have been a long haul, maybe 4 hours. Not your typical vaudeville show.