The Kid of Coney Island: Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements

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A generation before Walt Disney, Fred Thompson was the "boy-wonder" of American popular amusements. At the turn of the 20th century, Thompson's entrepreneurial drive made him into an entertainment mogul who helped to define the popular culture of his day.
In this lively biography, Woody Register tells Thompson's remarkable story and examines the transformation of commerce and entertainment as American society moved into an era of mass marketing and large-scale corporate enterprise. Getting his start as a promoter of carnival shows at world's fairs, Thompson was one of the principal developers of Coney Island, where he created the majestic Luna Park. Register traces Thompson's career as he built the mammoth Hippodrome Theater in Manhattan, where he mounted many productions noted for their spectacular--and spectacularly costly--staging effects. Register shows how Thompson's fantasies appealed to the growing legions of Americans who found themselves in a world that seemed increasingly "businesslike" and profit oriented. He illustrates how Thompson aggressively marketed to adult consumers a world of make-believe and childlike play, carefully crafting his own public image as "the boy who never grew up."
Colorful, well-written, and insightful, The Kid of Coney Island brings to life a kaleidoscopic era in New York history as well as one of its most striking characters.

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Review:

Fred Thompson (1873-1919) was a pioneering entrepreneur who encouraged Americans, especially American men, to have fun and stop feeling guilty about it. He designed and built Luna Park, which in 1903 transformed Coney Island from an area so tawdry it was known as "Sodom by the Sea" into a respectable venue for middle-class recreation. He created the Hippodrome, the world's largest theater when it opened in 1905, and filled it with lavish spectacles at affordable ticket prices. He moved on to become "the boy-wonder of Broadway producers," responsible for such popular hits as Brewster's Millions and Little Nemo. His financial acumen never equaled his showmanship (he lost control of both Luna Park and the Hippodrome to better businessmen), but he seems to have thoroughly enjoyed spending vast sums of money to make fantasy and luxury accessible to the masses. Woody Register, professor of American Studies at Sewanee, explores Thompson's life and career as a paradigm for the sea change in commercial culture that took place in the early years of the 20th century, when the Victorian emphasis on educational, elevating entertainment was challenged by a more hedonistic attitude that valued pleasure for its own sake. Gender theory and other currently trendy academic disciplines inform the author's point of view without detracting unduly from his well-written and well-paced narrative. Register could have eased up on the Peter Pan metaphors, but he convincingly links Thompson to present-day innovators who've made a bundle by refusing to grow up, such as director Steven Spielberg and the whiz kids who created the personal computer and Internet revolutions. This is a nice example of a scholarly work that reaches beyond its core audience to appeal to the general public. --Wendy Smith

About the Author:


Woody Register is Professor of American Studies at Sewanee, The University of the South. He lives in Sewanee, Tennessee.

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9781422350683: Kid of Coney Island: Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements

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9780195144932: The Kid of Coney Island: Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements

Oxford..., 2001
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Book Description Oxford University Press, United Kingdom, 2003. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English. Brand new Book. A generation before Walt Disney, Fred Thompson was the "boy-wonder" of American popular amusements. At the turn of the 20th century, Thompson's entrepreneurial drive made him into an entertainment mogul who helped to define the popular culture of his day. In this lively biography, Woody Register tells Thompson's remarkable story and examines the transformation of commerce and entertainment as American society moved into an era of mass marketing and large-scale corporate enterprise. Getting his start as a promoter of carnival shows at world's fairs, Thompson was one of the principal developers of Coney Island, where he created the majestic Luna Park. Register traces Thompson's career as he built the mammoth Hippodrome Theater in Manhattan, where he mounted many productions noted for their spectacular-and spectacularly costly-staging effects. Register shows how Thompson's fantasies appealed to the growing legions of Americans who found themselves in a world that seemed increasingly "businesslike" and profit oriented.He illustrates how Thompson aggressively marketed to adult consumers a world of make-believe and childlike play, carefully crafting his own public image as "the boy who never grew up." Colorful, well-written, and insightful, The Kid of Coney Island brings to life a kaleidoscopic era in New York history as well as one of its most striking characters. Seller Inventory # AAV9780195167320

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Book Description Oxford University Press, United Kingdom, 2003. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English. Brand new Book. A generation before Walt Disney, Fred Thompson was the "boy-wonder" of American popular amusements. At the turn of the 20th century, Thompson's entrepreneurial drive made him into an entertainment mogul who helped to define the popular culture of his day. In this lively biography, Woody Register tells Thompson's remarkable story and examines the transformation of commerce and entertainment as American society moved into an era of mass marketing and large-scale corporate enterprise. Getting his start as a promoter of carnival shows at world's fairs, Thompson was one of the principal developers of Coney Island, where he created the majestic Luna Park. Register traces Thompson's career as he built the mammoth Hippodrome Theater in Manhattan, where he mounted many productions noted for their spectacular-and spectacularly costly-staging effects. Register shows how Thompson's fantasies appealed to the growing legions of Americans who found themselves in a world that seemed increasingly "businesslike" and profit oriented.He illustrates how Thompson aggressively marketed to adult consumers a world of make-believe and childlike play, carefully crafting his own public image as "the boy who never grew up." Colorful, well-written, and insightful, The Kid of Coney Island brings to life a kaleidoscopic era in New York history as well as one of its most striking characters. Seller Inventory # AAV9780195167320

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