The Catholic Who Invented Vaudeville

Tony Pastor, famous for his renditions of such street hits as "The Strawberry Blonde" and "Lulu, The Beautiful Hebrew Girl," opened a theater uptown on Union Square in New York City in 1885. The theater promised no "blue material"--that is, in a time when baseball was played with meanness and crudity before crowds of coarse inebriates, a public venue had been opened that was safe for the family. Tony Pastor was a devout Catholic, who dressed in an opera hat, wore a handlebar mustache, and started a comedic revolution with the invention of VAUDEVILLE. Soon after Pastor, men like Albee and Keith took Pastor's idea on the road, creating vaudeville circuits and seeding family fare throughout the nation.


Keith's wife, Mary Catherine, posted the following rules backstage for the vaudevillians to uphold: "You are hereby warned that your act must be free from all vulgarity and suggestiveness in words, action, and costume ... Such words as Liar, Slob, Son-of-a-Gun, Devil, Sucker, Damn and all other words unfit for the ears of ladies and children ... are prohibited under fine of instant discharge." It worked, and Vaudeville took the country by storm, even encouraged baseball to clean up its act. 

What's that? A clean act became a huge commercial and comedic success? People at one time sought an escape from the crude and crass? Yes! And who's to say it couldn't happen again with Catholics leading the way?

(From The Old Ball Game, p. 30)

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