The Vogue of the Vaudeville - B.F. Keith
Benjamin Franklin Keith (1846-1914) began his career in show business working variously as a "grifter" and barker with traveling circuses in the 1870's, and for dime museums in New York. He returned to his home state of Massachusetts and in 1883 established his own museum in Boston featuring "Baby Alice the Midget Wonder." His success in this endeavor allowed Keith to build the Bijou Theatre, the first in the vast empire he would go on to construct as the "father of American Vaudeville."1The Keith circuit would eventually become the largest most reputable vaudeville circuit of its day. In this article written by Keith in the early days of his theatrical empire in 1898 forNational Magazine, he details the origins of the continuous performance. The continuous perfectly suited the growing culture of abundance in the late nineteenth century, providing twelve hours of passive, vicarious in experience in the form of rotating variety acts for a spectacle hungry urban audience. "The Vogue of the Vaudeville" also touches on vaudeville's shift away from "lower" types of variety entertainment, its relation with "legitimate" theatre, and the incorporation of early motion pictures in the vaudeville show.

On Vaudeville - William Dean Howells
Respected novelist, journalist, and editor William Dean Howells (1837-1920), who reportedly attended vaudeville performances regularly,2wrote this piece in 1903 for his feature "The Editor's Easy Chair" inHarper's Monthly Magazine."On Vaudeville" takes the form of a remembered dialogue between Howells and a "friend" whose manuscript on the 'decline of vaudeville' had been rejected. The majority of their dialogue describes a wide variety of acts witnessed at a recent continuous performance and touches on issues of the elevation and decline of vaudeville. In the piece, Howells' "friend" draws an interesting parallel between vaudeville and journalism. The parallel shows a great deal of insight. InThe Incorporation of America,Trachtenberg discusses the "thrust toward the spectacular" shared by forms of mass entertainment and styles of journalism developing at the end of the nineteenth century.

Viewing and looking at representations, words and images, city people found themselves addressed more often as passive spectators than as active participants, consumers of images and sensations produced by others . . .3
Although Trachtenberg explicitly refers to newspapers and magazines, his words can be applied to the offerings of the vaudeville stage with equal force.

It is curious that Howells enjoyed vaudeville performances, this piece and his other writings on the subject show vaudeville in a positive light. Howells was an unrelenting champion of the realist movement in literature and often railed against what he considered "low" entertainments. This seeming contradiction can partly accounted for in vaudeville's evolution away from the vulgarities common to earlier forms of variety entertainment, and if we are able to read authorial voice into the words of his so-called "friend," Howells perceived the potential in vaudeville's fictions to more accurately reflect the human condition.

On Vaudeville - Hartley Davis
Hartley Davis (1866-1938), a respected career journalist, wrote for various New York daily papers and magazines before achieving the position of associate editor of theLiterary Digestand the eventual editorship ofMunsey's Magazine.4This piece, written in 1905 forEverybody's Magazineprovides an account of the evolution of vaudeville out of earlier forms of variety entertainment to the vast heights to which it had risen as the most popular form of mass entertainment in the early twentieth century. Davis' account centers on the efforts of B.F. Keith as an arbiter of public taste and visionary business man, creating the vast corporate empire of theatres that became an institution. "In Vaudeville" presents an interesting perspective on the vaudeville's place in an increasingly rigid cultural hierarchy. According to historian Lawrence Levine, American "public culture" did not fragment into inflexible categories of "high and lowbrow" until the latter half of the nineteenth century,5exactly the period that gave rise to vaudeville. Interestingly, Davis' article implies the origins and success of vaudeville can be attributed to the attempts of men like B.F. Keith to bridge the widening gap between high and low entertainment.
Twenty Years of Vaudeville - Edward Albee
Edward F. Albee, like his future partner, B.F. Keith, began his show business career with the circus. He quit touring with Barnum and joined with Keith in operating a museum show in Boston. Their partnership evolved from there to the construction of two theatres in Boston to a control over a virtual monopoly. At the time of Keith's death, Albee had risen to the position of dictatorship as the general manager of the Keith Circuit. Further galvanizing his control, he went on to head the United Booking Office and by 1923 he supposedly "governed the entertainment of approximately 4,000,000 people."6This article (or more properly these two articles condensed into one) written in the early 1920's, at the peak of Albee's power and the height of vaudeville's popularity, serves as testimony to the uncompromising success of Keith and Albee's efforts toward the incorporation of diverse entertainment. Albee writes of vaudeville as an "institution" and refers to it as the most nationally representative form of theatre, citing vaudeville's essentially democratic, cosmopolitan, and urban qualities. Albee also hints at the high level of corporate control and efficiency he exercised as head of the Keith Circuit when he discusses the absolute uniformity of quality and of performances in the various theatres across the country.