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.