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

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9780195053814: From the Bowery to Broadway: Lew Fields and the Roots of American Popular Theatre

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.

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About 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.

Review:

"Lew Fields' career touched the greatest stars of the era and the book chronicles the growth of theater entertainment from dime museum and minstrel shows to operpattas, book musicals as well as radio broadcasts....The atmosphere, drawn by the authors of the lower east side, the burlesque and
vaudeville circuits and the backstage view of the period is fascinating."--The Journal

"Lew Fields was a seminal figure in the history of modern Broadway entertainment. His 50-year career as performer and producer did much to bring American theater entertainment from the rowdy, earthy, ethnic downtown to the upscale, uptown art form that it is today. This biography/history fills
a gap in recent studies of American theater by detailing that transition. Well researched and written, lavish in detail, and honest in its assessments, this book explores how Fields and his colleagues created a uniquely American art form that capitalized upon its popular roots and gave it a
sustaining creative energy."--Library Journal

"The story of the formative years of American popular entertainment"--Forward

"Vibrant, richly detailed....Never loses narrative momentum as it swings deftly from panoramic long shots to intimate closeups, intercutting backstage and onstage scenes, exploring the tensions between Lew's creative problems and the hustling he had to do to get the work produced, between his
private and public lives....Unimpeachable academic competence and rigor....Like the popular forms it chronicles, this is theatre history that is both edifying and fun."--American Theatre

"An absorbing chronicle of American popular entertainment. Aside from the vaudeville and burlesque years of the team of Weber and Fields, the book also reminds us of Fields' role as producer for some of the 1920s great musicals by Rodgers and Hart....Outstanding."--State Directions

"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...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'....Look for the illustrations to add just the right
touch to this effective work. A must for any American popular culture of American theater collection."--Booklist

"An informative biography-cum-social history....This carefully researched volume contains a treasure trove of material about the evolution of the American theater, both artistically and financially, over more than half a century."--Kirkus Reviews

"As the American theater stumbles toward the final days of the twentieth century, Armond and L. Marc Fields have vividly brought to life Broadway at the golden and optimistic start of the century...As close relatives of Lew Fields, the authors have blended scrupulous theater research with
privileged personal insights into the lvies of their subjects. WIth a foreword by Helen Hayes, whose nearly century-long career was started by Lew Fields himself, this is a window to our past through which every theater lover must peer. This is a book to cherish and champion."--Miles Kreuger,
President, The Institute of the American Musical

"That great woman of the American theater, Helen Hayes, reports in the foreword to this fascinating book that she learned a great deal from Lew Fields, of the famous Broadway and vaudeville comedy team Weber and Fields.
The rest of us might profitably feel the same. Anyone even casually interested in the history of American comedy, vaudeville and the musical theater will be fascinated by this fact-packed account."--Steve Allen

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