Vaudeville Days

Kathryn Beals (with Don Langley) / 2007

(no printer listed)

Alternately absorbing and infuriating to read, this is a year (1927-28) in the life of a young dancer.

While taking classes at a local San Francisco studio, a performing company just happens to come
through town short one dancer and she just happens to old enough and good enough to fill in.
When offered the chance to continue touring with the unit, her father just happens to be
working out-of-town and her mother too amazed to do more than wave from the front porch.

Years later she would tease her mom by saying, What WERE you thinking?!!" but her mother would always
calmly reply, "You always looked as if you knew what was what, so I assumed that you did."

A wise parent, for that year -- evidently documented here by all the letters she wrote home along the way,
was to be the highlight of her life. Although she would later marry and have children, a relentless disease
would take first her ability to dance and then to walk. Half her life would be spent in a wheelchair.

But on these pages she is the ultimate flapper, telling us about her day-to-day store purchases, adventures
in traveling cross-country, and playing in theatres big, small, or just plain awful.

And here is where the "infuriating" part comes in for a historian -- she often doesn't bother to name the theatre.
She might come into a large city and tell you what hotel she stayed in, but not where she performed. This will drive
you crazy, especially if she goes to some length to describe the stage, dressing rooms, etc, etc. I finally realized
that she had given an itinerary to her mother so mail could be directed to her backstage, so she was assuming the
family already knew where she was at that particular time. I, however, am still guessing.

But that is a minor price to pay when you're allowed to share all the highs and lows of a young girl's first road trip.
As they cross the Mason-Dixon Line she suddenly notices the trains have cars for "Colored Only" and is taken aback,
although one of her comments about a tour of a U.S. Mint in Washington, DC was one of surprise to find there were
fully "as many Negro workers as White."

The fads and fashions, the slang and the outlook on life... it is on all the pages of this book, along with a telling
note she never realized she was sounding for herself: All the way across the country she would go to see the movies.
At first they were all silent, then she saw The Jazz Singer and tells her family how remarkable it was to hear
Al Jolson talking and singing so naturally -- not knowing that his voice was the Swan Song for the vaudeville of her performing days.

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