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From the Bowery to Broadway: Lew Fields and the Roots of American Popular Theater
     

From the Bowery to Broadway: Lew Fields and the Roots of American Popular Theater

by Armond Fields, L. Marc Fields
 

Before Ziegfield launched his Follies, before the Shubert brothers built their empire, Lew Fields' productions were the toast of Broadway. For the "smart set" in silk hats and evening gowns in the luxury box seats, and the shopkeepers and clerks in the gallery, an evening at the Weber & Fields Music Hall was the hottest ticket in town. The five year old

Overview

Before Ziegfield launched his Follies, before the Shubert brothers built their empire, Lew Fields' productions were the toast of Broadway. For the "smart set" in silk hats and evening gowns in the luxury box seats, and the shopkeepers and clerks in the gallery, an evening at the Weber & Fields Music Hall was the hottest ticket in town. The five year old named Moses Schoenfeld who crossed the Atlantic in steerage with his family in 1872 had grown up to become an innovative genius who helped raise the Broadway musical to the pinnacle of show business. Fields' influence was extraordinary: his raucous "Mike and Meyer" knockabout comedy routines with his partner Joe Weber were the prototype for generations of acts to follow, from Abbott and Costello to Gleason and Carney, and the legacy of the dazzling satirical revues performed nightly at the Music Hall lives on in the irreverent topical humor of Saturday Night Live. "He was more than a gifted comedian," the late Helen Hayes wrote in the foreword to From the Bowery to Broadway. "For over a decade, he was Broadway's most inventive, extravagant, and prolific musical producer." Miss Hayes was but one of Fields' many stage "discoveries," along with such major talents as Vernon and Irene Castle, Busby Berkely, Frederic March, Richard Rodgers, and Lorenz Hart.
Offering a panoramic view of the early history of Broadway and the American popular theater through the career of this consummate showman, Armond and L. Marc Fields draw on a wealth of new research to bring to life the teeming streets of the Bowery, the grueling vaudeville tours, and dozens of hilarious comedy routines and big budget "Fieldsian" production numbers. In the half-century between his stage debut—a bumbling youngster in a Bowery amateur show—and his farewell appearance on the opening night bill at Radio City Music Hall, Fields was involved in almost every form of popular entertainment, from the dime museum, circus, the minstrel show and vaudeville to some of the first revues and "book musicals," as well as recording, silent films, and talkies. The man who, in his own words, lived to "give the public what it wants" emerges as a surprisingly complex and contradictory figure: a beloved and much-copied comedian who yearned all his life for recognition as a great dramatic actor; an inveterate risk-taker and compulsive gambler who made and lost several fortunes; and a producer who did more than anyone to legitimize the popular stage, but nonetheless used all his influence to try to prevent his talented offspring from pursuing their stagestruck ambitions.
Here are the triumphs and disasters of a singular life in show biz, from Fields' first professional appearances with Weber as an unlikely but popular "Irish pair," to his skirmishes with both the Syndicate's theater monopoly and critics who openly resented the stunning successes of a Jewish "East Side ragamuffin," to his spectacular solo career as one of the most innovative producers ever to light up Broadway (his scores of credits include five of the early Rodgers and Hart shows). Brimming with intimate anecdotes and historical insight, this vastly entertaining biography will be savored by anyone who has ever felt the lure of the Great White Way.

Editorial Reviews

Mary Frances Wilkens
Today's young theatergoers might not recognize the name Lew Fields. But anyone who wants to learn all there is to know about the growth of American popular theater should get to know him--and these two authors (Lew Fields' great- and great-great-nephews) are the ones to make the introductions. Like many other Oxford books, this is massive in size and coverage. The Fields family offers a biographical and theatrical history--with a foreword by the late Helen Hayes--that traces the life of Lew Fields simultaneously with the life of American theater, literally "from the Bowery to Broadway." You have only to look at the impressive appendixes to realize that, without Fields' onstage and behind-the-scenes contributions, American theater--dramas, comedies, musicals--might be something totally unlike the entertainment we know today. Look for the illustrations to add just the right touch to this effective work. A must for any American popular culture or American theater collection.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195053814
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
10/28/1993
Pages:
608
Product dimensions:
7.38(w) x 10.25(h) x 1.92(d)

Meet the Author

About the Authors:
Armond Fields, author of two previous biographies, is the great-nephew of Lew Fields, and the father of his co-author. L. Marc Fields is a screenwriter and a teacher in the Graduate Film Program at New York University.

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