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Dead medium: Radio Killed the Vaudeville Star
From: ggg@well.com (Gary Gach)

Source(s): *Gracie: A Love Story* by George Burns, GK Hall & Co 1989 (out of print in paper, the book is still available in audiocassette)

(((bruces remarks: "Vaudeville" is dead but probably not a "medium," whereas radio is not only a living medium but showing a great deal of experimental vitality. If there's a "dead media" aspect to the compelling narrative that follows, it's the eerie practice of a theater full of vaudeville patrons sitting patiently in their seats to watch a radio.

(((And who better to relate this chronicle of technological change than veteran American entertainer George Burns, star of vaudeville, radio, movies, and television.)))

:From George Burns' memoirs:

"The only problem was that just as we were becoming stars, vaudeville was dying. No one could pin the rap on us, though. Everybody believes it was the movies that killed vaudeville. That's not true. Movies, vaudeville, burlesque, the local stock companies == all survived together.

"Then radio came in. For the first time people didn't have to leave their homes to be entertained. The performers came into their house. Gracie and I knew that vaudeville was finished when theaters began advertising that their shows would be halted for fifteen minutes so that the audience could listen to 'Amos & Andy.' And when the 'Amos & Andy' program came on, the vaudeville would stop, they would bring a radio onstage, and the audience would sit there watching radio.

"It's impossible to explain the impact that radio had on the world to anyone who didn't live through that time. Before radio, people had to wait for the newspaper to learn what was happening in the world. Before radio, the only way to see a performer was to see a performer. And maybe most important, before radio there was no such thing as a commercial.

"Radio made everybody who owned one a theater manager. They could listen to whatever they wanted to. For a lot of performers, the beginning of radio meant the end of their careers. A lot of acts couldn't make the transition. Powers' Elephants, mimes, acrobats, seals, strippers, what could they do on the radio? What was the announcer going to say, the mime is now pretending to be trapped in a box? The seal caught the fish? You should see this girl without her fan? Gracie and I had the perfect act for radio == we talked."

Gary G. Gach (ggg@well.com)