Snake Oil, Hustlers and Hambones: The American Medicine Show

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Overview

Long before television and radio commercials beckoned to potential buyers, the medicine show provided free entertainment and promised cures for everything from corns to cancer. Combining elements of the circus, theater, vaudeville, and good old-fashioned entrepreneurship, the showmen of the American medicine show sold tonics, ointments, pills, extracts and a host of other "wonder-cures," guaranteed to "cure what ails you." While the cures were seldom miraculous, the medicine show was an important part of American culture and of performance history. Harry Houdini, Buster Keaton, and P.T. Barnum all took a turn upon the medicine show stage.

This study of the medicine show phenomenon surveys nineteenth century popular entertainment and provides insight into the ways in which show business, advertising, and medicine manufacture developed in concert. The colorful world of the medicine show, with its Wild West shows, pie-eating contests, clowns, and menageries, is fully explored. Photographs of performers and of the fascinating handbills and posters used to promote the medicine show are included.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice
Delightful, comprehensive, and well-documented.
C&RL News
Well illustrated and documented, as well as entertaining.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786422289
  • Publisher: McFarland & Company, Incorporated Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/10/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 206
  • Product dimensions: 10.00 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 0.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Ann Anderson is a freelance writer, teacher, actor and director. Her articles and essays have appeared in Stage Directions, Prevention and Health, among many other publications. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

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