There is a cheerful frivolity in vaudeville which makes it appeal to more people of widely divergent interests than does any other form of entertainment. It represents the almost universal longing for laughter, for melody, for color, for action, for wonder-provoking things. It exacts no intellectual activity on the part of those who gather to enjoy it; in its essence it is an enemy to responsibility, to worries, to all the little ills of life. It is joyously, frankly absurd, from the broad, elemental nonsense of the funmakers to the marvellous acrobatic feats of performers who conceive immensely difficult things for the pleasure of doing them. Vaudeville brings home to us the fact that we are children of a larger growth, and this is one of the finest things about it. It supports the sour Schopenhauer theory-one of those misleading part truths-that life consists in trying to step aside to escape the immediate trouble that menaces us.

Like all forms of theatrical entertainment, it has had a bitter fight against hypocrisy, and this struggle would have been its undoing had it not possessed a vitality drawn from its relation to some of the strongest, most enduring instincts in human nature. Though it is true that "specialties," as variety features used to be called, were frequently introduced into various entertainments that had reputation, the stage performances that gave only a variety bill started on a pretty low plane, because managers sought to attract by them only those who had no respectable prejudices, to whom coarseness, evil jokes, and atrocious pantomime appealed most quickly. The variety theatres scattered through the country were dives for the most part, places frequented by men of the lowest order of intelligence. There was a stock company of a dozen or more poor painted women who appeared in the "First Part," like that of a minstrel show, but the strength of the show was in the olio, a variety performance given by traveling performers. There were "knockabout" teams, who drove home each joke by batting each other all over the stage, a form of fun that endures to this day, to the sad concern of optimistic philosophers, though the cynics have rejoiced in it. It merely exemplifies the painful fact that there is nothing which will provoke such immediate and spontaneous laughter as the physical mishap of another. And there was always a "seriocomic" singer, who usually warbled something about being "happy for to meet you" and "I'll not detain you long," with a reference to a "little shady dell." At least, it was nearly always "dell," and pretty sure to be shady. There were also musical acts and acrobatic acts-in fact, the general idea was practically the same as that which prevails today. But there is a vast difference in the character of the shows.

Three or four times a year a variety show would be presented in the first-class theatres by companies made up by the managers of the few really high-class variety theatres that were even then in existence, like Tony Pastor's in New York, Hyde & Behman's in Brooklyn, and the Howard Athenaeum in Boston, but these did not even try to combat popular prejudice. The existence of the average variety theatre was regarded as a reproach to a community, and with justice. These theatres still survive in certain isolated places, but for the most part they have disappeared in the larger cities.

The evolution of the "variety business" into vaudeville is one of the most cheering and significant demonstrations of a universal growth in intelligence and refinement. Also it is the most important development in American amusements during the past decade. It is a fine thing that the change should have come from the inside. The variety stage has worked out its own salvation without external reformatory pressure. It has become vaudeville. There is a real distinction: it is the difference between vulgarity and decency; between pandering to the depraved instincts of the few and providing clean amusement for the multitude. The variety show was an outcast; vaudeville is an institution, respected and respectable.

The evolution began in Boston, where an honest belief in hypocrisy makes of that vice almost a virtue. Your true Bostonian is the sincerest individual that ever strove for light against fettering environment and tradition. Managers contemplating the popularizing of the theatre in Boston realized conditions, and they evolved the idea of a museum-in the old days chiefly weird and fearsome wax figures misrepresenting historical subjects in the most atrocious manner-whose supposed educational value appeased the stern, unyielding Puritan conscience, whichever approved a struggle for intellectual advancement. For the ungodly they provided a stage show, discreetly screened off by curtains through which the elect might peer to satisfy curiosity and an earnest desire to secure at first hand facts for damnation. But they saw more to applaud than to condemn, and gradually they came to believe that a stage show was not such an evil thing after all. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was a mighty weapon in the hands of the managers in those days. The dime museum, which spread over the country with amazing rapidity, also did much to regenerate the variety performances, because these amusement places attracted women and children, whom the managers could not offend; while the popularity of "minstrels" and the success of the high-class traveling variety shows further educated a great mass of the people. But the ordinary variety show still remained with the pale, and if respectable people would go to see it, conventional ones would not.

The real transformation of variety into vaudeville was brought about by a Massachusetts farmer boy who joined a circus and who later opened a dime museum in Boston where a freak baby laid the foundation for his success. He united imagination with great executive ability and he was a good churchman as well. His wife is one of those devout women whose whole life is an inspiration. He knew that variety and decency are not incompatible, that women and children like the diversified form of entertainment, and he believed that if he could conduct a variety theatre in such a manner as to overcome the prejudices of right-thinking and right-living people, he would draw great numbers who were not in the habit of going to theatres. B. F. Keith opened the original of the modern type of vaudeville house in Boston in 1882; it was the first to present the best possible bill that could be secured, with all objectionable elements eliminated and with prices ranging from fifteen to fifty cents.

The new idea prospered; not immediately, because it took time to make people understand what manner of entertainment it was. When Keith had demonstrated that he could give a clean show, he gained the support of that powerful church whose liberality toward amusements is one of the factors of its hold upon young people. From one of its orders he was able to borrow money to almost an unlimited amount, and it was this credit that enabled him to make such rapid progress as the succeeding years showed. He evolved the "continuous" idea, in 1886, and in 1893, having previously entered Providence and Philadelphia, he descended upon New York, leasing the Union Square Theatre, a playhouse of distinguished traditions. His new theatres in Boston and Philadelphia cost upward of a million dollars each, and among other luxuries, each has twenty dressing rooms with private baths, an innovation of which no high-priced theatre can boast. The enormous financial returns aroused other managers and the Keith notions spread rapidly; theatres multiplied with exceeding rapidity, new buildings being erected where it was impossible to buy or lease first-class theatres.

In all of these theatres the rule is to permit nothing that, from the ethical viewpoint of the theatre, would offend a strict sense of morality. Mr. Keith paved the way for the change, and his was a monumental task. A questionable joke is sure to provoke laughter on the part of persons who make much noise, and it is laughs that measure the success of a performer. He is as jealous of them as a miser is of his gold. But in spite of the temptation to latitude, every word that is spoken or sung, gestures, pantomime, costumes, everything that goes to make up an act, undergoes a censorship infinitely more rigid than is exercised in any high-priced "legitimate" theatre. I haven't said anything about the quality of the refinement one encounters in the modern vaudeville houses. The managers lay much stress upon it and they are sincere, I am sure. But standards differ greatly, and it isn't at all certain but that the managerial criterion is the best. When one has sat through an act that calls for expletives and resignation on one's own part, it is rather disconcerting to hear one's neighbor praise it as being "real refined and genteel," especially when one is sure that the nice spectacled old lady is far less tolerant of moral shortcomings than one's self. And there is the gallery, if you don't mind, which demands things writ large and plain, and which is moved to enthusiasm by the elemental matters that weary highly developed intelligences. The manager minds the gallery very much; in fact he has more respect for its critical judgment than for that of the orchestra.

The new order of things was called "Polite Vaudeville," and with reason, for if that quality was not found on the stage, it surely pervaded the auditorium. William Dean Howells has said that it was a delight to go to Keith's, merely for the delight one experienced in the courtesy and attention of the employees, who seemed to find pleasure in doing everything possible for the comfort and enjoyment of the patrons. And I shouldn't ask for a better authority than Mr. Howells, whose life is all sunshine and kindness. The same conditions prevail in all the modern houses. It is one of the things that have attracted women and children, and they are the backbone of the success of vaudeville.

The conduct of the vaudeville theatres has been reduced to a system that makes that of the "legitimate" ones appear almost chaotic, and from being a most uncertain business it has become one of the most dependable. They are controlled chiefly through booking agencies, which are most remarkable places. Your real vaudeville performer-and he dominates the business-is the most clannish of persons. He has great respect for his profession and no great concern in anything outside of it. His greatest interest is in any new act, especially his own or one that bears any resemblance to it. These performers are the best paid and the frugalest {sic}, thriftiest workers in the world, I suppose. It is the rarest thing for any of them to be in financial straits. Most of them own real estate-farms appeal to them as to the wanderers of the sea, and a very considerable number are comfortably rich. Formerly they used to invest in diamonds, partly because they liked them, partly because the gems were collateral that could be turned immediately to cash. In the days when their incomes were uncertain, they had to be prepared for idle weeks. Moreover, the fact that they had to manage themselves and to pay all their own expenses, including railroad fares, made them fairly skillful in business affairs. For the most part they have rooted objections to spending money for sleeping cars and to paying the prices demanded by the first-class hotels. It is not in the least uncommon for a team receiving $400 a week to be perfectly content in a boardinghouse where they pay $15 a week for two persons. Unlike the "legitimate" actor, your true vaudevillist is seldom afflicted with that dangerous disease known as "nervous prosperity." With the performer, success and a doubled income mean so much more money to be saved, not spent. In New York there are three big apartment houses devoted exclusively to vaudeville performers, who can rent from two to six rooms, all furnished and ready for housekeeping, in which they can stay a week or a year. They move in when they reach town, and the lady who does such remarkable stunts on a trapeze unconcernedly sets about preparing breakfast before going to rehearsal.

The booking agencies are a sort of club. One may see Adjie coming on with one of her lion cubs in her arms, and watch another performer putting a trained dog through new tricks. There will be a group listening to a man singing over his latest song, while another will learn all the news of friends, from an actor who has been traveling through the West. There used to be many booking agents in New York; now the eastern vaudeville theatres are practically supplied by three agencies. One provides attractions for the higher-priced vaudeville theatres, as well as those that adhere to the fifty-cent maximum; it also serves what is called the "Peanut circuit," consisting of half a dozen theatres in New England, so called because the proprietor is a marvellously shrewd {man} whose amusement places are famous for trying out acts. He is willing to give any act that promises well a chance to prove itself at half the salary it expects to command on the big circuits. The enterprising Mr. Keith has united his own theatres with some eight or ten others in a very powerful combination, and some notion of the amount paid to performers can be gained when it is said that the five percent commission charged by this agency yields an income of about $120,000 a year. I should say that not less than $10,000,000 represents the salaries paid to vaudeville performers in this country every year, and that the public pays considerably more than twice that amount for its vaudeville entertainment. I am sure that this rough estimate is under, rather than over, the actual figures.

The Keith Circuit works in close association with the Orpheum Circuit, which practically controls the best vaudeville theatres west and south of Chicago. It is a very rich corporation, which began in San Francisco ten years ago, but which now has its headquarters in Chicago. It owns or controls some twenty widely scattered theatres, and its Chicago offices resemble those of a New York financial institution, with the mahogany desks for the heads of departments, the richly carpeted floors, and the small army of clerks and stenographers. Here General Manager Beck, like the executives of the big eastern vaudeville enterprises, keeps in touch with what is going on in that line of activity the world over. He receives reports from every European vaudeville theatre and music hall, with an estimate of the value of each act. He has reports from his own theatres which enable him to keep tab on each performer-his trustworthiness, his disposition toward the discipline of the house, his tendencies with regard to vulgarity, and a dozen other things. They are something like secret service reports, for they even consider the behavior of performers off the stage.

Unlike any other vaudeville circuit in the country, the Orpheum theatres pay railroad fares. Distances are so great that performers must lose at least two weeks in journeying to and from the Pacific coast, and in order to get the best acts, this concession is necessary. Some acts are booked two years in advance; others are booked only a few days before they open, illness or other causes compelling sudden changes.

So great is the demand for really good acts that salaries are steadily advancing. There seems to be no limit to the price managers are willing to pay. Of late years the former vaudeville performers who have gone on the "legitimate" stage as stars have frequently returned, at least for a part of a season, and many distinguished "two-dollar stars," as vaudeville managers designate those from the "legitimate" stage, have been drawn into vaudeville. These, including the two or three people who assist them in a one-act sketch, may receive at first from $1,000 to $1,500 a week, because they will attract many who have not been in the habit of going to vaudeville theatres. Managers have learned that the established vaudeville performers almost always please more than the distinguished high-priced star, and the casual visitor who sees them usually becomes a regular patron. If the "two-dollar" star remains in vaudeville, his salary is likely to drop nearly half unless he makes an exceptional success.

The great demand in vaudeville is for low comedy with plenty of action. Broad sweeping effects without too much detail are wanted. The artistic "legitimate" actor wastes too much time in working up to his points, but the skilled vaudevillist strikes them with a single blow and scores. A successful vaudeville sketch concentrates in one act as many laughs and as much action as are usually distributed over a three-act comedy.

There are players who have been identified with vaudeville for years, growing gray in it, in fact, whose popularity is unbounded. The loyalty of their following is not to be lightly measured. They change their sketches every four or five years, but the people are inclined to prefer the old ones. Mr. and Mrs. William Robyn have been playing "The Long Strike" for eight years and are still appearing in it. They spent $1,500 in getting up a new act, only to find that the patrons of vaudeville preferred the old one, which is really not nearly so good.

The "black face" act of McIntyre and Heath comes as near to being a standard as anything in amusements can be. Some thirty years ago they began playing "The Georgia Minstrels," for about $50 a week; they are still playing the sketch most of the time, but their salary has advanced to $500 a week, and they can work fifty-two weeks in the year if they choose. Very earnestly they have tried to introduce new sketches, but the public demands "The Georgia Minstrels." There isn't an act on the vaudeville stage so familiar as that of McIntyre and Heath, and none that is in greater demand.

It is remarkable how quick patrons of vaudeville are to recognize an act that comes near to truth. Several years ago Eva Williams and Jack Tucker came forth with a sketch of East Side life in New York, called "Skinny's Finish." It was very crude, yet very real and very human, and the slender little woman displayed a power of real pathos as well as of humor. The pair made a great success in it. Lately Moore and Littlefield satirized the vaudeville stage in a sketch called "Change Your Act," which is howlingly funny. It would require pages to give merely an idea of the really good acts in vaudeville. There must be between two and three hundred "headliners," as the most successful are called. The term comes from the custom of printing in larger type at the head of the advertising bills the names of certain performers who are believed to attract people to the theatre. The salaries of the "headliners" range from $300 to $1,500 a week. In all, there must be upward of twelve hundred recognized vaudeville acts playing in the United States.

The monologists are always an important factor of a bill. Managers say "the woods are full of them," but only about a dozen are in the first class. The greatest of them all, John W. Kelly, "the rolling-mill man," who was one of the truest and finest humorists that ever lived, passed away before vaudeville reached its present popularity. The old minstrel men, like George Wilson, of "Waltz me again" fame, Lew Sully, George Wood, and Press Eldridge, hold their own with the newer comers, like George Fuller Golden, who commands the highest salary of all, and who now plays in England the greater part of the time. James Thornton, when the spirits permit, can always provoke gales of laughter with his deep sepulchral voice rolling out arrant nonsense, and people like to hear him sing his own songs, familiar the land over, although he has no voice at all. James Morton is another real comedian with an unctuous personality, who has originality as well.

The first and most necessary attribute of a monologist is "nerve." It takes a lot of it to face an audience. It isn't what he says or what he sings that makes a monologist a success, but the way in which he does it. Few of them are original, but that doesn't matter much. It usually takes from five to ten years for a monologist to build up a reputation and, once established, his place is secure. Some of them possess marvellous skill in overcoming the hostility of an audience. Thornton, for instance, is prepared for any emergency that can arise, and his mind seems to work automatically in making capital of it. It is their personality, which is their chief stock in trade, that differentiates these laugh makers from other players-and personality is not easy to describe.

If a monologist can play various instruments, as does Charles Falk-whose humor, by the way, seems as spontaneous, as effervescent as it did twenty years ago-his work is far easier. There is nothing that pleases more than a musical act with plenty of low comedy in it. As a rule musical teams are made up of a really good musician, not infrequently a leader of an orchestra, in partnership with a comedian-a "musical moke" he used to be called in the days when minstrels were so popular.

One of the most thoroughly established acts in vaudeville is that of the Russell Brothers, who have played "The Irish Servant Girls," in various settings for years, and who are irresistibly funny with their gorgeously exaggerated foolery. The most delicately refined intelligence is frequently not proof against their manner of delivery.

Those acts in which the performers neither speak nor sing are known as "dumb acts." The performers include musical clowns, who are anything but dumb, jugglers, acrobats, performing animals, and ever so many others. The greatest acrobats come from Europe, where their performances are held in higher esteem than in this country, and some of the things they do are past describing. There are families of acrobats who have been famous for generations, and most of them die comfortably rich.

The women who work in vaudeville alone are comparatively few, for the "serious-chronic," as she came to be called, has passed on. But there are novelties. There is Augusta Glose, who calls herself a "pianologist," and who is the daughter of a successful piano teacher. Hers is a dainty, humorous parlor performance, in which unusual technical skill and clever imitations are interwoven. Lillian Shaw, Marie Norman, and two or three others, are among the few who have the courage and ability to succeed as monologists. Heloise Titcomb, an American girl, who can hardly speak English, and who out-Frenches the Parisians among whom she was reared, is among the successful ones.

The colored brother on the vaudeville stage really deserves a chapter by himself, for his success has been extraordinary. Williams and Walker, best of them all, are now established stars; but Cole and Johnson, who have written more popular melodies than any other writers of words and music in this country; Johnson and Dean, who have made something of a sensation in Europe; Irving Jones, Ernest Hogen, and ever so many more, are as firmly established as any of the vaudeville performers.