When Live Entertainment Was It Thursday, May 21 2020 

Even with limitations due to COVID-19, we have a range of sources of entertainment to choose from. But imagine the world in the late 1800s and early turn of the twentieth century. Television, radio, and of course, the internet, were yet to be invented. Live entertainment was the only option.

Vaudeville was a fun venue that began in the late 1800s in France and became popular in the United States and Canada soon after. Chicago opened its first official vaudeville theater at the West Side Museum in 1882. More theaters seating as many as 2,000 patrons soon followed. Musicians, singers, dancers, comedians, magicians, ventriloquists, strongmen, impersonators, acrobats, clowns, jugglers, and actors shared the stage for a variety extravaganza.

Irish immigrants took the brunt of crude derogatory jokes for years but then turned the table by becoming the majority of entertainers. My grandfather, Jack Doyle, born in Ireland in 1897, was one of those on stage. Grandpa was fascinating to me, even at a young age. He was funny and gentle. My fondest memory is of him lifting me onto the counter and watching him bake.

According to blurred, undated newspaper clippings, Jack Doyle was a “well-known” Chicago vaudevillian and comedian before and after his military service. Articles state that he was injured in France in 1917 and spent time in military hospitals. The only dated article was of my grandfather in the J.W. Norman Circus in 1925.

Low-priced tickets to cinema movies and the Great Depression led to the extinction of vaudeville by the 1930s. Some of the actors found work in silent movies and then talkies, but most scattered into circuses and traveling shows.

Ironically, before vaudeville ended, my grandfather studied and became a member of the Illinois Association of Physio-Therapists. An undated letter of invitation was sent out announcing that his office on Lawrence Avenue in Chicago was open to treat “sprains, lumbago, sciatica, nervousness, neuritis, neuralgia, poor circulation, rheumatism, dyspepsia, constipation, reducing, and rebuilding through the use of Swedish massage, ultra violet ray, and infrared ray. Grandpa was forced to close his practice when patients were unable to pay during the Depression but continued to be called Doctor Doyle.

Unfortunately, Grandpa passed away when I was only six years-old. It was enough time to leave a memorable mark on me but not longer enough to ask all the questions I’ve had ever since.


Want to see the tiny mustard seed? Check out my post, “Small but Mighty Mustard Seed” as well as “Choosing a Memory Care Home Sight-Unseen” on my other blog, Mary K Doyle Books.

Grandpa Was a Clown Thursday, May 16 2013 

John J Doyle

“I have a weak back.”

“How long have you had it?”

“About a week back.”

I was only six when my grandfather, John “Jack” Doyle, passed away, but I still smile when I remember his face and little comedy bits like this one that he would say.

Grandpa was a vaudevillian in his younger years. According to a handful of undated, poorly photocopied news clips, he was a “well-known” Chicago comedian from vaudeville and traveling shows before and after his military service. Some of the little articles are about upcoming shows and others are updates on his condition after being injured in France during World War I.

Vaudeville was a specific type of entertainment in the United States and Canada from the late 1880s until the early 1930s. It was a variety-type show that featured multiple different acts on one bill. Musicians, dancers, comedians, acrobats, jugglers, and magicians offered an evening of family amusement. It was a time when live entertainment was still king until motion pictures took over that role.

The first official vaudeville theater in Chicago opened at the West Side Museum in 1882. The Clark Street Museum, Olympic Theater, and the Chicago Opera House soon followed. Some of the largest Chicago theaters seated 2,000 such as Academy of Music, the Haymarket, McVickers, and the Majestic, which was later renamed the Shubert.

I can imagine the patrons attending these shows out for a night of fun, dressed in their finery. Men would be dashing in hats and coats while woman were particularly sassy in shorter dresses and flirty hair accessories in the 1920s style.

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A few years ago I dressed in a flapper dress for Halloween, and I have to tell you, it was so much fun. There is something about that dress that attracted men and women alike and felt festive while wearing it. It also made me feel a little closer to my grandpa, imagining how it would be to have attended one of his shows.

©2013, Mary K. Doyle

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