Vaudeville @ the Harry Ransom Center

Vaudeville: novelty, naughtiness, noir at the HRC

Vaudeville broke sexual, gender, racial and cultural taboos and continues its evolution today in performances by Colbert, on Saturday Night Live and in many live venues worldwide. I was also struck by it as an early prototype of the internet – browsing  an oddball collection of incidental entertainment.

Comedian George Gordon Fuller created the Vaudeville Managers Association, or White Rats Union, originally open only to white impresarios.  As the demand grew and the shows evolved, women and black entertainers started circuits and shows of their own. Both white and black actors used black face and minstrel formats, some black artists ironically.  You can see some of the musicians and stars who progressed into the movie and TV era with much more power than their Vaudeville predecessors.

Drag shows are nothing new. Few performers had careers that were as vaunted and long lasting as drag sensation Vander Clyde/Dora Kallmus from Austria, known internationally as Barbette.

Sex, music, magic, comedy and drama still exert their fascination.  The exhibit is up until July 15th. Go see the show!

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