The Stonewall Riots

Writer and communications specialist Max Mosher gives a quick and important rundown of the Stonewall Riots, which happened 53 years ago today.

Since the Stonewall Riots became legendary practically overnight, with the debris on Christopher Street barely swept away before accounts that played freely with fact and fiction entered history, let’s set some myths straight. 

The confrontation between the NYPD and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community that ignited in the early hours of June 28, 1969, was in no means the start of the gay rights movement. It wasn’t even the first time queer people fought back against police oppression: San Francisco’s Compton Cafeteria Riot occurred in 1966, and the riot at Cooper Do-nuts in LA, when drag queens and sex workers resisted arrest, happened way back in 1959. 

We do not know who threw the first brick, or if a thrown brick was really the first act of defiance. But we do know that Black trans women like Marsha P. Johnson courageously stood at the vanguard. And, although it pains me to say as a Judy Garland fan, there’s no evidence that grieving patrons were motivated by the singer’s funeral the day before, although who can say for certain what fed into the combustible mix of emotions that swirled in the heady summer air that night. 

What’s beyond dispute: the Stonewall Inn was a dump. Run by the mafia, as many gay bars were at the time, it had no fire exits or running water behind the bar – dirty glasses were rinsed off in buckets and immediately used again. It only stayed thanks to weekly payoffs to the cops. Police raids were frequent, with patrons deemed to be ‘cross-dressing’ receiving the brunt of harassment. 

Which is how it all started. At 1:20 am on June 28th, four plainclothes police officers entered the bar and announced a raid. But something was different this time. People refused to hand over their ID and go with police. Tensions were heightened when the officers began sexuall harassing lesbians present. Members of the community began congregating on the street and the crowd outside soon outnumbered those trapped within. After police started letting them exit the bar, patrons hung around outside, burelsguing for the growing crowd, egged on by shouts of “Gay Power!” The officers had not expected this. 

Violence broke out when the outnumbered police, trying to get control of the situation, began knocking people down. The crowd threw pennies at them, a witty reference to the pay-off tradition. Marsha P. Johnson was seen climbing up a lamppost and dropping heavy objects onto the hoods of police cars. Terrified, the police barricaded themselves in the bar as the crowd threw bottles, garbage cans and bricks, and even uprooted a parking meter to use as a battering ram on the door. 

Backup arrived and arrests continued, but a group of drag queens and trans folks formed an impromptu kick-line, a camp inversion of the phalanx of cops. They sang: “We are the Stonewall Girls/ We wear our hair in curls/ We don’t wear underwear/ We show our pubic hair!” 

The street was cleared by 4 am but witnesses said there was still electricity in the air. A lot of the protestors didn’t want the moment to end and returned the following night for a second night of riots. In contrast to earlier confrontations, Stonewall made the newspapers. The energy electrified the community, with activists founding groups with militant names like Gay Liberation Front. Queer people would now demand liberation, not request toleration. 

One year later, the Christopher Street Liberation Day assembly marked the world’s first Pride Parade, with corresponding marches in Los Angeles and Chicago. In the next few years, the number grew exponentially around the world. The Stonewall Riots proved to be the perfect unifying community moment and foundational origin story for a generation of LGBTQ2S+ folks who were ready to step out of the seedy shadows and never turn back.  

Max Mosher is a writer, communications specialist and the Old Hollywood Correspondent for The Town

Featured photo of trans woman Marsha P. Johnson.
Credit Diana Davies/New York Public Library

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Vintage-Inspired Gifts for the Writer

Vintage-inspired gifts for the writer on your holiday list!

1. Beautiful Inks:
Ferris Wheel Press

ABOUT: “Located where the rat-tat-tat of the printing press meets the nostalgia of the carnival, Ferris Wheel Press is a Canadian heritage stationary company that creates extraordinary products that will be treasured for generations. Our timeless designs and thoughtful storytelling connect the world through art, writing, beauty and craftsmanship. Our mission is to help the world fall in love with writing again.”

PRICE RANGE: $-$$

SOCIAL IMPACT: Established in Toronto, Ontario in 2010, Ferris Wheel Press continues to make their products locally, despite the recent widespread success they have found after being invited to set up a display at Harrods, perhaps the most iconic luxury department store in the world. They also have a “sponsored artists” program that consists of top artists from around the globe, who are given special access to their inks to encourage their artistic creations. As they say, “it’s important that we walk the walk when it comes to inspiring the next generation of greatness by supporting artists around the world”.

WHAT WE LIKE: Their inks are beautiful, come a range of enchanting colours, and having just bought some I can say confidently they write like a dream. I love that there is a high-quality product like this made locally!

2. High Quality Writing Paper:
Wonder Pens

<img src="https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0458/9446/7737/products/L1007-2.jpg?v=1603792444&quot; alt="<center>Life – L Brand Writing Paper B5 – Ruled
Life – L Brand Writing Paper B5 – Ruled

ABOUT: “We’re a family-run shop located in Toronto, shipping across Canada and internationally. We carry fountain pens of all sorts, inks to match, pencils, stationery and notebooks and more. We have a lot of Japanese stationery supplies, including washi tape, Traveler’s Notebook and Classiky, as well as carry a range of Japanese fountain pens from Pilot, Sailor and Platinum. In this fast-paced and high-tech world, we are letter writers and journal writers, we take notes and make to-do lists by hand, and we are so thankful to have you along for the journey.”

PRICE RANGE: $-$$$

SOCIAL IMPACT: This lovely little local shop is family owned and operated, and they carry high-quality items for a range of budgets. In addition to paper like that above, they have pens, ink, accessories – everything a writer could need.

WHAT WE LIKE: Seriously, have you ever seen a prettier pack of paper? Those of you who enjoy writing with fountain pens know that a quality paper is necessary to properly hold the ink. To not smudge, or seep through. There are several different styles and weights of paper available here, but the packaging on this one immediately caught my eye – who would’ve thought paper could make such a perfect gift?

3. Quality Office Supplies:
Squibb’s Stationary Store

ABOUT: “Since May 5th, 1927, Squibb’s has been committed to offering our customers excellent quality, service and price. We are a 100% Canadian, privately owned and operated business. Our mission daily is to keep to the original values of our founder, Arthur T. Squibb and then his son Gordon, building on what was created 90 years ago.

The original Squibb’s.

Our strengths are: product knowledge, ability to custom order and fair pricing.  We are proud to say that we are the oldest bookstore in Toronto and one of the oldest stationery stores in the GTA. 

We strongly believe that old fashioned and personal customer service is a lost art and that our clients appreciate what we can do for them.

We stock the following:

  • Books for all ages & subjects
  • Textbooks & Educational Material – our specialty!
  • All grade levels – K to 12, ESL
  • Bible & religious/spiritual books
  • Unique and fun gift items
  • Office/School/Art Supplies
  • Our own ‘Squibb’s Organic Honey’
  • and much more!

And, if we don’t have it in stock, we would be most pleased to order it in for you! This includes university and college textbooks.”

PRICE RANGE: $-$$

SOCIAL IMPACT: You’ll be supporting a true piece of Toronto history, a small, family-run, specialty shop that consistently carries high-quality items. While they mostly stock new material, they have some old stock as well, so you can snatch-up some retro pieces for your office space.

WHAT WE LIKE: We lived in Weston for a few years and this store was just down the block. Unlike many new stores that go for a vintage “feel”, Squibb’s is clearly the real deal, in part because they are packed FULL of items. Every shelf is crammed full of all types of papers and pens and sealers and books, and while it may initially feel a little overwhelming, their staff know it like the back of their hand. You could put together a little writer’s gift basket (maybe throw in some of their honey to “sweeten” things a bit) and add a card about the history of the shop – I know that’s the kind of gift I’d love to receive!

4. An Old-School Typewriter:
Williams Design

Their stock is always changing, so give them a call or drop by to see what types they have in store.

ABOUT: “We have been collecting almost everything for years, and stockpiling cool furniture, lighting, pottery, art, and architectural salvage in our warehouse and barns.

Our little store is small, hence this website to show the scope of our inventory and to act as a resource for those on the hunt for a particular piece.  Speaking of that, if there is something that you are looking for, please let us know.  We may have it or know where to find it.

In 2015, Williams Design was named seventh of the Top 15 Salvage and Reclaimed Furniture Stores in Toronto by blogTo!

Launching soon, is our own line of handmade furniture.  We have been re-inventing, re-using and re-claiming lost pieces for years.  Now, we have decided to design our own modern pieces with the intention of using only antique lumber or fallen trees from our own forest.

We are happy to rent to film or television productions.  In the past we have rented set pieces to Orphan Black, 12 Monkeys, Rookie Blue, It, See, Heroes Reborn and many more! If there is something that you would like to rent, please contact us in advance so we can ensure that the item is available for pickup for your schedule.”

PRICE RANGE: $-$$$

SOCIAL IMPACT: Locally run shop that sells quality used-goods and salvage pieces, how sustainable is that? Some people really love the clicking of old keyboards or typewriters, and they can be a green gift as they don’t require the use of any energy (except that you generate yourself – typing on these is tiring business!)

WHAT WE LIKE: These local guys really know their stuff, and they are oh-so friendly. Go in when the owner’s there and you’ll find yourself chatting for hours, but regardless of you who see you’ll be able to get some good advice in finding whatever you’re looking for. They are one of my first stops when I need vintage school or office supplies, especially old desk chairs.

5. Classic Wax Seals:
Artisaire

If you don’t want to commit to making your own, you can buy pre-made adhesive wax seals, like these.

ABOUT: Based in Victoria, BC, this online shop carries everything you need to create those gorgeous, classic wax seals you can add on your letters or documents.

PRICE RANGE: $-$$

SOCIAL IMPACT: The products are handmade in their studio in Victoria, using materials sourced from North America. Even their melting spoon is handmade!

WHAT WE LIKE: I’ve been on a real wax seal kick lately, because we got talking about our company’s official seal as we are in the process of doing our charitable registration. So I’ve spent a LOT of time looking at stuff like this the past few weeks. There aren’t a lot of Canadian made wax sealing kits, so I recommend making this your first stop. If you’re buying for a letter-writer, what could be sweeter than their own seal to mark their correspondence? How very Victorian.

Have something you think should be on the list?
Let us know in the comments.


Vintage Inspired Gifts for the Foodie

Vintage-inspired gifts for the foodie in your life!

1. Vintage Sodas & Sweets:
Nostalgia & Co.

Some of the retro sodas available at Nostalgia and Co. His stock varies, so call ahead if you’re looking for something specific.

ABOUT: This Cambridge, Ontario shop is packed full of reproduction and retro inspired products. From 1950s diner booths to Elvis clocks, gag gifts, t-shirts – you name it. But what brings me out there every time I’m headed to KW is the wide selection of vintage sodas and candies. It’s near impossible to find this stuff in Canada, and the shipping and duties make bringing it in from the US costly, but Nostalgia & Co. has classics like Moxie, Frostie, Brownie and more right there in their cooler. Plus, they’ve got a wide selection of vintage candies. So, shopping for someone with a sweet tooth? Why not make a gift basket? Or fill that stocking up with something sweet?

PRICE RANGE: $ (for drinks and snacks) $-$$$ (other items)

SOCIAL IMPACT: This place has been around a long time, which is difficult to do when you sell novelties like this. I got my first ever record player from them for my 16th birthday (before vinyl became popular again and it was easy to find a new turntable, back then it was the only place we could find one that didn’t cost $500+), and I visit there whenever I’m in the area. They really know their product, and I’m always in favour of supporting local specialty stores.

WHAT WE LIKE: That they have such a wide range of “new vintage”. Being able to try a pop that was popular when my grandparents were the age I am now is something I really enjoy, and there’s no where else you can get this variety without going to the US.

2. Recipes from First Peoples and Settlers:
Out of Old Ontario Kitchens

49th Shelf is a website for Canadian literature that links to places to buy the work, including small, local shops.

ABOUT: “Out of Old Ontario Kitchens is a window into the past, exploring the stories of the First Peoples and settlers. It pays homage to all those who trapped and fished and hunted; to those who cleared the land and planted crops; and most importantly to all those women — our mothers and aunts, our grandmothers and great-grandmothers and great-great grandmothers — who got up and lit the fire; who toiled and stirred and cooked and baked and who kept families alive through long hard winters, through plagues and depressions, famines and wars. Work every bit as important as agriculture, commerce, mining, politics, and the development of infrastructure.

With over a hundred historically sourced recipes as well as scores of old photographs, early artworks, botanical prints, and illustrations, Out of Old Ontario Kitchens is both a visual and virtual feast. If you want to know what life was really like in early Ontario, come to the table with us. Food stories are, after all, the real stories of our lives.” Get a copy for a special someone and encourage them to add to their own list of family recipes.

PRICE RANGE: $

SOCIAL IMPACT: Lindy Mechefske is a Kingston-based writer and food columnist for Canada’s oldest newspaper, the Kingston-Whig Standard. You can support a female Canadian author, learn more about our history (from a range of backgrounds), and if you find a local shop using 49th Shelf, support a local business as well!

WHAT WE LIKE: Admittedly, I haven’t read this yet, but the reviews look great and I like the concept – I’ll update after we get a copy!

3. A 50s Diner Experience:
Fran’s

Fran's menu from 1950
A 1940s menu from their early days.

ABOUT: “It all began in 1918 when Francis Deck and his brother opened Deco refreshments in Buffalo New York. Deco quickly grew to more than 50 locations when Francis decided it was time to expand. In 1940, Francis “Fran” Deck, along with his wife Ellen Jane move to Toronto and open a modest 10-seat diner at Yonge and St. Clair.” – check out their history page for the full story. A date to Fran’s is fun and affordable, and great to pair with something like an old movie at the Revue.

PRICE RANGE: $

SOCIAL IMPACT: While Fran’s now has several locations, each one still really feels like a ‘mom & pop shoppe’. They serve big portions for low prices which I know is especially appreciated by the college and university students that frequent the diner all times of the day and night. Still family owned and operated, they have a long history in the city that I think was well-earned, and that we should help continue.

WHAT WE LIKE: Their “Big Breakfast” and their milkshakes. The fact that you can easily split a meal and still have plenty of food. The big, comfy booths and the fact that you can get a milkshake at 2am.

4. A Cute Retro Apron:
Black Market Vintage

ABOUT: Does your foodie like to cook? Keep them clean with a fun vintage apron. The one here is from Black Market but you can find them at most vintage shops (check Kensington Market or along Queen St.) as well as on Etsy. There’s tons of styles and colours to choose from so with a little looking you’re sure to find something that suits your someone.

PRICE: $-? (there is a huge range of prices when it comes to vintage, and of course period, style, quality and a whole host of other things affect pricing. IMHO? Don’t spend more than $40 on an apron, and that’s for one that is mint and stylish. Everyone used to have them, they aren’t hard to find, and if I were looking for myself I’d be checking the $20-30 range).

SOCIAL IMPACT: Reusing old textiles is always important, and aprons are great because they can be used until they are literally falling apart (at which point they make great rags!). Buy from a local vintage shop, ideally one you can walk or bus to, and you’ve got a green gift.

WHAT WE LIKE: Housewives of the 50s and 60s didn’t just wear aprons to keep clean, they had fancy lace ones for when guests arrived. Yes, we can analyze the sexist undertones of that, but personally, putting on a cute apron makes me more likely to clean, and anything that does that is good in my books. Plus, aprons are good for people young and old, any gender – easy gift for someone you know likes to cook, but that you know nothing else about. Hello secret Santa!

5. A Retro Inspired Slowcooker:
Swan

Retro Series Range Slow Cooker SF17021BN, BLUE, hi-res image number NaN
Swan makes a bunch of retro looking appliance, similar to SMEG, but MUCH cheaper.

ABOUT: Swan makes high-end cookware at affordable prices in a range of retro colours and styles. The benefit of a crockpot is you can dump in the ingredients in the morning and come home to a hot cooked meal.

PRICE: $-$$

SOCIAL IMPACT: Not much to new appliances or shopping at the Bay, but if a crockpot helps you eat out less it’s good for you, the environment, and your pocket book.

WHAT WE LIKE: It’s cute and practical. Some appliances I would happily buy used, but old crockpots and toasters I would avoid. Today’s power-cords are safer and the appliances use less energy.

Got something you think should be on our list?
Let us know in the comments.

Toronto’s Top 10 Lost Vaudeville Theatres

In planning for Vaudeville Revue we’ve learned a lot about Toronto’s former Vaudeville theatres that have disappeared over the years. Whether they were converted into something for a new use or demolished altogether, the are very few Vaudeville palaces still standing in our city today.

Here’s a look at some of the greats that have been lost over the past century.

1. Shea’s Hippodrome

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Shea’s Hippodrome – 440 Bay St., Toronto

When Shea’s Hippodrome opened in 1914 it was Vaudeville theatre in Canada was was quickly deemed one of the top 4 in North America. Sadly, this colossal beauty had a short life;  the Hippodrome was demolished in 1957. For an interesting story about its very unique and very expensive Wurlitzer Organ, check this out.


2. The Standard (The Strand, The Victory, Victory Burlesque)

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The Standard – Corner of Spadina & Dundas, Toronto

The Standard opened in 1921 as a Yiddish theatre and remained a centre of Toronto’s Jewish community until it was converted to a cinema in 1934 and renamed The Strand. In 1941 it was rebranded again, this time as The Victory, part of the Twentieth Century Theatre chain. In 1961 it became the Victory Burlesque, one of only 3 burlesque houses in the city. While the building still remains, the theatre closed its doors permanently in 1975.

3. Shea’s Victoria

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Shea’s Victoria – 83 Victoria St., Toronto

 

The Shea Brothers opened their second theatre, Shea’s Victoria, on the corner of Richmond and Victoria in 1910. This 1800 seat theatre included a projector so that films could be screened in addition to live theatre performances.

4. The Uptown

uptown
The Uptown Theatre – Corner of Yonge & Bloor

Loew’s Uptown Theatre opened in 1920, a 3000 seat sister theatre to The Pantages (currently the Ed Mirvish Theatre). This one as well was created for both cinema and Vaudeville. In 2001, new regulations required the theatre to become wheelchair accessible, something that would have cost about $700 000. Despite community outcries, the theatre was demolished in 2003. Sadly, the ill-advised removal of a structural beam lead to its accidental collapse and resulted in the death of a 27 year old man.

5. The Belsize (Regent, Crest)

belsize
The Belsize – 551 Mount Pleasant Road, Toronto

The Belsize Theatre opened in 1927, another venue for theatre and film. Unlike many on this list, The Belsize didn’t turn from live theatre to film, but the other way around. In the 1950s the only theatre of note showing live theatre was The Royal Alexandra (who showed primarily American shows and tours) and many felt that a place was needed to showcase Canadian theatre. In 1953 the venue ceased showing films and was renovated and reopened as The Crest, a live theatre venue. In 1971 films began showing again and in 1988 it was again renovated and reopened, this time as The Regent, a movie theatre that still stands today.

6. The Runneymede

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The Runnymede – 2225 Bloor St. West, Toronto

The Runnymede Theatre opened in 1927 as an “atmospheric Vaudeville”house, the first of its kind in Toronto. The venue was meant to make you feel as though you were transported to somewhere magical and exotic; the ceiling was painted blue and bulbs were lit up like stars, silver and blue lights were projected to give the feeling of clouds. By 1999, the theatre was no longer profitable, even as a 2-screen cinema. The building was purchased by a Chapters Bookstore, and in the conversion they kept and maintained much of the interior. Today, it is the location of a Shoppers Drug Mart, and while it still features much of the original trim and interior facade, there’s something very sad looking about its current appearance.

7. Capitol Theatre

capitol
The Capitol Theatre – 2492 Yonge St., Toronto

The Capitol opened in 1918 and showed Vaudeville acts and silent films. By 1933, the theatre was converted to show only films. The theatre closed its doors in 1998 and remained empty for several years, before finally being purchased, undergoing major renovations and reopening as The Capitol Event Theatre. While the seats were removed and a bar installed, much of the original ornate interior remains, much like it does at the Runnymede.

8. Academy Theatre

academy
The Academy – 1286 Bloor St. W, Toronto

The Academy opened in 1914, a smaller venue than most on the list with only 410 seats. It’s not known when exactly the theatre stopped showing Vaudeville acts, or when it stopped operating as a cinema, but it is likely to have occurred sometime after the 1960s. The venue still stands, though has not operated as a theatre in years.

9. Variety (Arcadian) Theatre

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The Arcadian (formerly Variety) Theatre – 8-10 Queen St. East

I have significantly less information on this theatre, but it housed in a building built in the late 1880s, and was likely built before the 1920s. In the late 1920s its name was changed to The Arcadian, and it seems that by the 30s it was a cinema and no longer live venue. The theatre closed in 1954 and for some time had a retail show that used the old sign. However, it has since been demolished.

10. Madison Theatre (The Midtown, The Capri, The Eden, Bloor Cinema, Hot Docs Cinema)

madison
The Madison Theatre – 506 Bloor St. W, Toronto

The Madison has had more renos and new names than most on this list. It originally opened in 1913, an early Picture Palace that also featured Vaudeville acts. In 1940 it was demolished and rebuilt as The Midtown, a cinema; all that remained of the original building were the two side walls. Movie attendance declined in the second half of the 20th century, and in the 1960s it was under the new management of the Famous Players chain and renamed the Capri. In 1973 it was again re-branded, this time as The Eden, and the theatre switched from playing mostly double-bills to a heavily censored “adult”films. Come 1979, Famous Players closed The Eden and re-opened it as The Bloor Cinema, now offering first-run, family-friendly entertainment. Soon the theatre introduced memberships and classic theatre runs, and eventually became a part of the Festival Theatre circuit. In the late 2000s the theatre had a bit of an uncertain future (read more here), but eventually it was bought, renovated, and re-opened as what it stands as today; The Hot Docs Cinema.

Think we missed some important former Vaudeville theatres? Tweet us your suggestions; @BygoneTheatre #VaudevilleRevue

Want to learn more about Toronto’s theatre history? Check out this amazing blog, where I sourced a lot of our material; Historic Toronto.

We may not have a Vaudeville house to perform in, but we’ll have historic acts on our stage and artifacts and more history like this in our lobby; join us for Vaudeville Revue, June 22-24th, Alumnae Theatre. Tickets on sale now.

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Vaudeville Revue – June 22-24, 2016

Retro Christmas Countdown – Xmas in the 20th Century

While Christmas dates back hundreds of years before, it was the start of the 20th century that saw the turn towards the lavish and very commercial holiday that we all know today. Here’s a very brief history of Christmas traditions from the last century.

1900s

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The first Christmas card was created in 1843 by John Horsley, and by the turn of the century the Victorian’s love of sentimental greetings had made this a popular tradition.

The Victorian styles of decorating carried into the start of the 20th century, with gilded nuts, candles and paper ornaments adorning trees.

This decade also saw the creation of what was to become one of the most popular children’s toys of the century; the Teddy Bear. Named after President Roosevelt, the charming story of the origin of this toy and its name can be read here.

1910s

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As Christmas rapidly became a highly commercialized holiday, more and more companies used it as a means of selling their products, and the image of Santa Claus began to morph into the one we are familiar with today. It was in the 1910s that Santa’s now unmistakable look, with red suit and pants trimmed in white fur, matching cap and long white beard, began to become the norm.

While a legend has grown that claims Coca Cola invented the modern-day image of Santa, that is not quite the case. Prior to the famous Coca Cola Santa (who was created in 1931), the jolly elf had been portrayed as anything from tall and lanky to a munchkin-sized man. Norman Rockwell had painted a Santa who is strikingly similar to the 30s Coke version all the way back in 1911, however it wasn’t until Coke began regularly producing consistent looking Christmas ads that the current version of St. Nick really began to stick.

For an interesting pictorial history of Santa, check out this link.

1920s

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By the 1920s the upper class had traded-in their candles for electric Christmas lights, and trees were as lavish and daring as the fashions of the decades.

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With the rising popularity of the wireless (radio), the 1920s also saw the first Christmas radio broadcast when, in 1922, Arthur Burrow presented “The Truth About Father Christmas”.

1930s

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Rockefeller Centre, 1931

In the midst of the Great Depression few had money to spend on food and clothing, let alone Christmas gifts and decorations. Still, the tradition of putting up a tree hung on, with many families owning decorations they had purchased in the more prosperous 1920s. Homemade ornaments also adorned the tree, made out of things like the foil paper saved from cigarette packs. As previously mentioned, Coca Cola started to advertise with their own version of Santa, and upbeat Christmas songs were enjoyed on the radio. Advertisements still bombarded shoppers with ideas for the perfect Christmas gift, only their tactics had changed; a focus on the practical and sometimes financing options were promoted.

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The popular character Rudolph, everyone’s favourite red-nosed reindeer, was created in 1939 by Montgomery Ward. Although it wasn’t until a decade later when Gene Autry released the song that we’ve all learned as kids.

rudolph

1940s

The 1940s saw the Second World War, and with that came rations and a reminder that the war effort should be supported above all else. Sales in non-necessities like Christmas lights dropped dramatically as many companies changed their focus to assist in the war effort. War bonds were promoted as a perfect gift for any family member or friend, and Santa himself switched his classic red & white outfit to don army duds and support the cause.

With many families missing fathers, brothers and sons overseas, Christmas could have been a bittersweet time. However, back home the masses were reminded to keep their spirits up while fighting the good fight, so many Christmas celebrations resumed some of the splendour they had seen before the Depression.

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1950s

The post-war boom made the Christmas of the 1950s one of the biggest and gaudiest yet. The Baby Boom meant there were lots of families with youngsters, and so the toy market was buzzing. Wide-spread prosperity meant most were lucky enough to be able to afford Christmas celebrations, and women’s magazines, eager to encourage them to return to the home, now that the war was over, pushed for the ideal Christmas season, full of elaborate recipes and decor.

Television was also becoming popular and with it came a host of Christmas specials. Stars like Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby recorded Christmas songs and popular shows like I Love Lucy recorded special Christmas episodes.

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1960s

By the 1960s, the fads of the 50s were firmly cemented; every toy imaginable was available on the market and they were advertised directly to children in between the cartoons they watched on tv. The Christmas shows we still see today – Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Frosty the Snowman – first appeared on the airwaves and decorations were more colourful and outlandish than ever before.

There was significant variety now as well. Christmas trees could be anything from your traditional green pine, to the popular aluminum trees that came in silver, aqua and even pink! And don’t forget the fake snow! The concept of “Kitschmas” was truly born in the 1960s.

What’s your favourite Christmas decade? Tweet your replies to @BygoneTheatre #RetroXmas 

-E.

Knock ‘Em Dead! – The Vaudeville Origins of Theatre Slang

Chances are, if you’re not a vintage theatre lover like we are, you don’t know too much about Vaudeville. You’ve likely heard the term thrown around and maybe have a vague image of some old-timey song and dance, cheesy jokes and bad acts being pulled offstage with a hook. You likely know more about Vaudeville from Looney Toons than from the real thing. While Vaudeville may be (sadly) dead, its influence is still alive and well with thanks to the many theatre slang terms the style coined. How many of them do you recognize?

Bugs Bunny gets "the hook".
Bugs Bunny gets “the hook”

Corny Material
Unsophisticated, simple, sentimental, cheesy; all of these describe what many people thought of the humour that came from the small-town country performers in the circuit. Originally the phrase was “stuck in the corn” but as with most slang, it was shortened, becoming the “corny” phrase we know today.

Fozzie Bear's pun-riddled comedy is the epitome of "corny".
Fozzie Bear’s pun-riddled comedy is the epitome of “corny”.

Tough Act to Follow
You want the number before you to warm the audience up, but if they get too hot, chances are you’ll get the cold shoulder. Waiting in the wings would’ve been nerve-wracking for any performer, and if you see a great act just before yours, you know you’ll have a tough time getting the applause you crave.

“Knock ‘Em Dead”, “Lay Them in the Aisles”, “Slay Them”

A little gruesome, sure, but hey kid, that’s showbiz. The theatre world is full of hyperbole which is likely why performers talk about “blowing audiences away” or “knocking them dead” with their stupendous performances. While the exact reasoning behind these rather violent terms isn’t clear, it’s likely due to the fact that in a high-stakes world like theatre, you need an extreme reaction to guarantee you live to play another day. A number that has them laughing so hard they fall into the aisles, or one that gives them a near spiritual experience, knocking them flat, is exactly what any performer would dream of.

Hoofer
Hoofer is the term for a professional dancer, often a tap dancer, whose dance style is close to the floor, emphasizing foot movement over arm or upper body. The term originates from the Vaudeville performers who would pound their feet on the ground prior to coming onstage in order to give the band the proper tempo. This sound, much like a horse pounding it’s hoof, gave rise to the term “hoofers”.

Bill "Bojangles" Robinson was one of the greatest hoofers of his time.
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was one of the greatest hoofers of his time.

Blue Comedy
While Vaudeville’s roots were based in low-brow art forms and could get pretty risque, at the turn of the century there was a big push for “polite Vaudeville”, creating a cleaner version that was suitable for women and families. Many theatres took this very seriously and issued warnings to performers who crossed a line. Vaudevillian Sophie Tucker recalls the dreaded blue envelopes that would deliver the news;

“Between the (Monday) matinee and the night show the blue envelopes began to appear in the performers mailboxes backstage . . . Inside would be a curt order to cut out a blue line of a song, or piece of business. Sometimes there was a suggestion of something you could substitute for the material the manager ordered out . . . There was no arguing about the orders in the blue envelopes. They were final. You obeyed them or quit. And if you quit, you got a black mark against your name in the head office and you didn’t work on the Keith Circuit anymore. During my early years on the Keith Circuit, I took my orders from my blue envelope and – no matter what I said or did backstage (and it was plenty) – when I went on for the Monday night show, I was careful to keep within bounds.”

Hence the term, blue comedy.

Give ‘Em The Hook
I found this one hard to believe. Despite having grown up very familiar with the hook trope, the concept of someone actually using a crook to pull a person offstage seems far-fetched. However, there is some evidence to suggest that the phrase and its tradition originates from 1903, at Harry Miner’s Bowery Theatre. Check out some people arguing over the origins here.

Break a Leg

I know everyone and their mother has a theory about where the origins of this line really come from, but the one I tend to go with is one of the simplest, and I think that generally means it’s most likely closest to the truth. Theatre managers would book more acts than they could fit into a show, since audience response would dictate whether or not a bit got to run to completion (we all remember the old Loonie Toons where someone gets pulled off stage with a hook). There was no pay for those who were overbooked and waiting in the wings; you crossed your fingers, hoped the number before you would bomb and that you would break a leg, ie. go past the “legs” (part of the curtains) and get to perform onstage, thereby getting paid. In a business where everyone just wants their shot in the limelights and to make a buck, I’ve gotta believe that’s the right origin.

Red Carpet
This one has a few different origin stories, ranging from Agamemnon walking on a carpet fit for the God’s, to the 20th Century Limited train company rolling it out for its distinguished passengers. But I’ve found a couple sources that link it to Vaudeville, so we’re going to include it in this list. Apparently, headliners and bigger acts often had expensive costumes, and working 8+ shows a week meant they were difficult to keep clean, so a red carpet would be laid down backstage along the path the stars would walk; it was easy to spot if this was clean or not, and so they knew that their costumes were being protected. A little far-fetched? Maybe.

Alley-Oop
A term for a gymnastics routine, often one that involves launching performers into the air. Many of these circus acts were by European performers, and it is likely that the phrase came from the French word “allez” meaning “go” and a vocalization like “hup” to cue when to jump.

The Ziegfeld Follies show off a spectacular acrobatic routine.
The Ziegfeld Follies show off a spectacular acrobatic routine.

In The Limelight
While the phrase today simply means “the centre of attention” this phrase has a very simple origin. A Limelight is better known as a Drummond or Calcium Light and was a popular stage light in the days of Vaudeville. A cylinder of quicklime is heated by an oxyhydrogen flame, creating an intense illumination. Electric lights have long since replaced these, but the term lingers on.

Think we’ve missed any? Tweet them to us at @BygoneTheatre #Vaudeville, and keep posted for more information on Bygone Theatre’s Vaudeville Revue, coming June 2016!

-E.