See an Exotic Turkish Dance!
Turkish Dance, Ella Lola
Thomas A. Edison, Inc., 1898
Duration: 0:29 at 26 fps.
The film features Ella Lola, a popular performer on the vaudeville stage, performing her rendition of a "belly dance." This type of performance was not uncommon and points to vaudeville's roots in earlier forms of burlesque. Ms. Lola's routine, although bordering on risqué, far from violates any accepted standards of decency. Presentations of dance, or other 'dumb' acts, generally opened or closed performances to give audiences time to filter in and out of the theatre.
Watch a Wake Turned Wild!
A Wake in Hell's Kitchen
American Mutoscope & Biograph Company, 1900?
Duration: 0:29 at 16 fps.
Set in a New York tenement, this sketch features three ostensibly Irish characters gathered for a wake. The supposedly deceased man rises from his coffin to drink beer and pandemonium ensues. Note the urban setting and ethnic stereotypes that propel the humor.
Witness a Ballroom Tragedy
A Ballroom Tragedy
American Mutoscope & Biograph Company, 1905
Duration: 0:50 at 16 fps.
This brief one-act set at a dance features a quarreling couple. Driven by jealousy after being set aside for an attractive rival, the woman commits murder. Short one act plays either borrowed and condensed from 'legitimate' drama, or original compositions written specifically for vaudeville made up a integral part of any show.
Observe Amazing Animals!
Animal act with a baboon, dog, kitten, and donkey
Commonwealth Pictures, 1919?
Hans A. Spanuth, Producer
Duration: 1:28 at 16 fps.
The film features an acrobatic, well-dressed, fiddling baboon, a rope-jumping dog, an ornery donkey and their trainers. Animal acts appeared frequently on the vaudeville stage, most likely drawing on the growing popularity of the circus.

Alan Trachtenberg writes of the "American fascination with the machine" in both "its Promethean" and "demonic aspect" during the Gilded Age. The men and women involved in the business of vaudeville shared the national obsession with technology. In his short retrospective, Twenty Years of Vaudeville, impresario E. F.Albee attributed part of the success of the Keith theatres to the attention paid to "scientific efficiency" during construction. Theatre owners took advantage of the benefits of mechanization, installing electric lights and other modern amenities as quickly as possible. The Machine's demonic aspect reared its ugly head in the form of motion picture technology. Initially theatre managers expressed hope at the potential of motion pictures and incorporated early films into their shows as they had with panoramas, stereopticons, and kinetiscopes in years past. As technology improved and the American public's taste for movies grew, Bigtime vaudeville faced greater competition and by the 1920's few theatres could afford to present bills of straight vaudeville. However, in the infancy of the moving pictures, vaudeville was still king and early film makers used vaudeville performers and routines as the subjects of countless short films.

The films presented here come out of that context. Although generally filmed in studios, not on the actual stage, nonetheless these films provide a crucial look at the nature of a variety of vaudeville turns.

The films on this page were chosen to convey the general order of a vaudeville performance, beginning & ending with 'dumb' acts and maintaining a healthy variety in between.All films come from the Library of Congress' American Memory site on the American Variety Stage and are presented in Quick Time format for manageability


See Foxy Grandpa Cut Loose on the Banjo!
The Boys Think They Have One on Foxy Grandpa, but He Fools Them
American Mutoscope & Biograph Company, 1902
Duration: 1:08 at 16 fps.
This sketch features Joseph Hart as Foxy Grandpa, a popular cartoon character created by Carl Schultz. In the film, two boys, "Chub" and "Bunt," hand Foxy Grandpa a banjo, obviously hoping for amusement as his expense. To their surprise, Foxy Grandpa proves to a masterful banjo player and excellent dancer, as well. Foxy Grandpa is one example of the often surprisingly clever rube characters that were a staple of vaudeville comedy.

Watch a Miller and a Chimney Sweep!
The Chimney Sweep and the Miller
American Mutoscope & Biograph Company, 1902
Duration: 0:31 at 17 fps.
The film shows a popular vaudeville routine in which a chimney sweep and a miller battle it out sending soot and flour flying. An excellent example of a type of broad, visual comedy typical to the vaudeville stage.

Witness a Frontier Flirtation!
A Frontier Flirtation
American Mutoscope & Biograph Company, 1903
Duration: 0:48 at 16fps.
The film features a Western cowboy straight out of a penny dreadful as he attempts to approach a veiled woman. The woman fools the cowboy with a hideous mask and saves her affections for "a dapper Eastern youth." Western characters and themes appeared frequently in various sketches, reflecting vaudeville's affinity with Wild West shows and an increasingly urban nation's obsession with a mythologized West.

Observe 3 Agile Acrobats!
Three Acrobats
Thomas A. Edison Inc., 1899
Duration: 0:34 at 22 fps.
The film shows an acrobat act in which acrobatic clowns, or 'tumblers' combine gymnastics with comic violence. Like presentations of dance, instrumental music, and other 'dumb' acts, acrobats usually began or ended a vaudeville show, allowing for audience movement.