Here's a great list of vaudeville slang I found. They misspelled vaudeville in the title of the page, so it's probably just takenfrom somewhere else. Still, I love a peek into the vocabulary of any specific art form. A lot of these terms are in common usage now, but some are just a great look into the life of a working performer.
Here are a few:
Three-sheeting - Hanging around the theatre making it known that you are a performer in order to try and impress others. Grandstanding. Named after the 44" x 84" posters that were used in the lobby of the Vaudeville theatre to promote the show
Playing to the haircuts - Last on the bill. In other words, playing to the backs of the audience as they left the theatre.
The Gerry Society - The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Named for founder Elbridge T. Gerry. Originally founded to prevent the exploitation of child labour, the society was a thorn in the side of vaudevillians. The society declared performers must be over 16 to work in vaudeville. Buster Keaton, Fred Astaire, Rose Marie and Milton Berle were only a few of the child performers who ran into trouble with the Gerry Society.
Also, I had hear the term "working blue" before, but I never knew where it came from...
Blue - Crude jokes or other material using graphic sexual or toilet references or profanity. The term comes from the days when Keith-Albee insisted that performers stick to strict standards of propriety and would send blue envelopes with cuts to performers. You obeyed them or quit. And if you quit, you got a black mark against your name in the head office and you didn't work on the circuit anymore.
Take the time to learn the slang used by people in the same artistic field you want to be in. It makes it easier to talk to other people interested in the same thing and helps you be taken seriously.
Learning the names for mistakes helps you avoid them.
Writers are lucky. They can describe photos and use them for reference without breaking copyright law. In fact, I've used flickr many times to add detail to descriptions I'm writing of both characters and locations. (With the geo-tagging feature, you can even find out what your old neighborhood looks like without going home.)
Visual artists have a rougher time of it. Copying a photograph too closely does break copyright law unless you get permission. However, Morgue File is a collection of donated pictures you can use for commercial projects and not have to worry about the long arm of the law. The only limitation is that they ask that you not sell prints of the photographs or represent them as your own work.
Here's a great resource if you are writing or drawing anything from the beginning of photography through the 1940s. Shorpy's is donated copyright free images from the dawn of photography. Not only is an amazingly inspirational thing to add to your RSS feed, but there is also lively discussion of the images. If you have some to add to the pool, they're always looking for new stuff.
Recently, they have added a blog for old comics. It's brand new, so there isn't as much content, but I had a really good time poking around. Nothing like finding out what was funny in 1910. Apparently, according to this comic, it was racial stereotypes and doting, over-concerned parents who spoil their babies.
Also, I've blogged this site before, but their content, scans of copyright free beautiful books, is amazing - Bibliodyssey. They just posted a group of pre-printed envelopes from the Civil War that are worth a look.
Over at Today's Inspiration, a blog that features illustration from the 40's and 50's, they have been having a great discussion about how difficult it is to draw cute kids. There are some great examples featured, but they also posted pages from an old art instruction book. Who knew cute was difficult?
Arflovers has posted a really fascinating historical document. It's a cartooning book for kids called How to Draw 'Em, published in 1941. The idea is to teach budding cartoonists to draw the major figures of WWII. As Arflovers points out, the instructions are a good mix of anti-Nazism and practical cartooning advice. Tojo's caricature is more about an unpleasant racist representation of all of the "oriental races" than even an attempt to replicate his look.
Things like this are an interesting, and sometimes painful, glimpse into art, humor and propaganda during times of war.
Operation Phoenix Records has posted a huge archive of original punk zines online for free! You can download entire issues of Maximum Rock and Roll, Flipside, Suburban Voice and HeartattaCk in pdf format. If they don't have the zine from your city yet, don't worry, they're working on it.
Not only do these magazines have obvious historical value, but the style and layout have been appropriated many times and it's nice to go back to the angry, messy and difficult to read originals. No large company could ever match the offensive cheapness of the originals.
As a teenager I bought some of these at Monkey's Retreat in Columbus, Ohio. They fascinated me and, I have to admit, scared me a little bit. Looking at them now, I just see the the cut and xerox, all text done with a typewriter and DIY simplicity. But, at the time, they seemed like they came from a tremendously cool alternate universe where the magazines looked like they were written and designed by people in an insane asylum.
A King obsessed with giants so deeply that he had an entire regiment of them in his army? I saw a brief reference to King Frederick William's obsession with giants in a book I was reading about circus sideshows and immediately had to track down more information. How could I not have heard of the Prussian ruler who had an entire regiment of giants? It sounds like a fairy tale, but it's true.
There are plenty of references available on the web, but the most complete I found was this one. Frederick it seems collected giants to be in his special giant regiment, the Potsdam Grenadiers. He would send agents to other countries searching for giants and offer them great sums of money to come and join his unit, if they refused he would often order them kidnapped.
His obsession made him the laughing stock of most of the royal houses of Europe. His judgment was so clouded in this area that he would bring his nation to the brink of war while attempting to kidnap a seven foot tall man from another country. In fact, other countries could easily gain his favor by presenting him with a gift of giants. The poor giants were paid well, but there were many attempts at desertion and suicide as they were separated from their homes and families.
To get around the trouble caused by his illegal giant activities, Frederick hit upon another idea. Instead of capturing them, he would breed them. He then started forcing the tallest men in his kingdom to couple with the tallest women to produce giant babies. Of course the effects were not immediate, but in a couple of generations there was a much larger proportion of giants in the city of Potsdam, especially very tall women.
In his deluded way, Frederick loved his hundreds of giants. He spent hours drilling them into one of finest precision military units in the world. They were dressed in expensive and detailed military uniforms topped off with tall red caps. He could paint their faces from memory and often did. In times of deep depression, he would have them march, preceded by their huge bear mascot, through his room to cheer himself up. It is said he treated them as a boy might treat his toy soldiers, and at five foot five, he was proportionally a child in their presence. Draw your own psychological conclusions.
Omnipelagos is an unusual search engine that lets you find "six degrees of separation" type connections between any two terms you enter. It's a great way to find out all kinds of random trivia.
For writers, it could be used either for brainstorming or finding a way to work together seemingly unrelated topics. For comedians, it's a source of instant material.
Here's an example of the output, how is creativity related to squirrels?
- [Creativity in psychology & cognitive science / Neurobiology of creativity] frontal lobe, and they are able to modulate neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine in their frontal lobe.
- chemicals that are used to relay, amplify and modulate electrical signals between a neuron and another cell.
- [Diet and feeding behavior] Squirrels are often the cause of electricity outages. The animals will enter transformers or capacitors looking for food
Fiction Menu is a site that lets you search for books and movies by plot details. The methodology is very unscientific, so it's highly unlikely that you'll be able to find a book you half remember reading as a child. Really, it lets you search other people's descriptions of recommended books and vote their description up and down. The descriptions vary in quality. Here's the description for Crime and Punishment:
A poor student kills an old woman, money-lender. But money is not the only stimulus. The murder is grounded on the student's theory of morality.
Wow. Not much to go on.
Still, it's a great idea. If the site takes off it could become incredibly useful.