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A Sawdust Heart: My Vaudeville Life in Medicine and Tent Showsby Henry Wood
Synopses & Reviews
In the early twentieth century, before radio and motion pictures became widespread, rural Americans had few options for entertainment. While vaudeville theaters were prominent and popular in the cities, they were scarce in rural and small-town America, which was hungry for both diversion and news from the rest of the world. It was here that the traveling show thrived.
Leaving his hometown of Viroqua, Wisconsin, to travel with a medicine show, twelve-year-old Henry Wood became hooked on show business. He joined a traveling theater troupe, and leading lady Clarabelle Fendell helped the boy become “Jack,” a gentleman and vaudeville performer, so transformed that he was barely recognized by his own mother when he returned home.
Wood spent the years 1910–1941 in traveling medicine and tent shows that featured a variety of vaudeville acts, from skits to full-length dramatic plays. Whether recalling his experiences skydiving from hot-air balloons, serving in the air force, or being accosted by angry theatergoers unable to distinguish him from the villains he portrayed on stage, Wood’s story paints a lively and vivid picture.
While most books on this period of American theater history focus on major names in vaudeville and the entertainment industry, A Sawdust Heart shows what it was like for the real show-business workers and the performers who never made it big but eked out a living doing what they loved on minor stages across America.
Introduced by Wood’s grandson-in-law Michael Fedo with a concise history of these traveling shows, A Sawdust Heart is an amusing read for anyone interested in early-twentieth-century rural America.
About the Author
\Henry Wood spent more than thirty years as a performer and director in old-time medicine shows and touring vaudeville troupes in the Midwest. Michael Fedo is the author of several books, including The Lynchings in Duluth, The Man from Lake Wobegon, and the novel Indians in the Arborvitae.
Table of Contents
Introduction / Michael Fedo — Preface — A Viroqua, Wisconsin, boyhood — Big doings in Budd — Leaving home again — On stage with the leading lady — Success, acclaim, and disappointment — The star returns home — Bindle stiffs, Tobies, and the musical saw — Skydiving, the Great War, and a comeback — The rewards for fine villainy — Leaving Brooks for the millionaire Swedes — Downtime and a rebound — The WLS Barn Dance and beyond.
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