I've been doing some research on 1928, the year the poem The Wild Party was written, and the year we're setting New Line Theatre's production of The Wild Party, to help our actors and designers. Here's some of what I found out...
In 1928, the average cost of a house is $2,500, a car costs $300, gas is 21 cents a gallon, and a loaf of bread costs 5 cents.
At least 1,565 people die in 1928 from drinking bad bootleg liquor, hundreds are blinded, and many are murdered in the bootlegger wars. Federal agents arrest more than 75,000 people a year for violating Prohibition.
1928 marks the first appearance of CBS, Peter Pan peanut butter, Rice Krispies, adhesive tape, shredded wheat, Philco radios, Mickey Mouse, penicillin, the Oscars, and Double Bubble bubblegum, and the book Lady Chatterly’s Lover is banned in the US and UK.
Calvin Coolidge is President, but later this year, Herbert Hoover will beat Al Smith in the Presidential election. Hoover campaigns on “rugged individualism” (hmmm... that sounds familiar...) and will take us right into the Depression (by doing many of the things Republicans are advocating today)…
Walt Disney opens Steamboat Willie, the first cartoon with sound. Charlie Chaplin says publicly, “Moving pictures need sound as much as Beethoven symphonies need lyrics.”
In 1928, vaudeville (where several of these characters work) is at the height of its popularity, and an estimated 2 million people daily attend performances given at the approximately 1000 vaudeville theatres in the U.S. The Palace Theater in New York City is the leading theatre on the vaudeville circuit, and to appear there is the aspiration of every vaudeville performer. The star performers, or "headliners," included the singers Nora Bayes and Eva Tanguay, the comedians Eddie Cantor and W. C. Fields, and the comedy duo of Weber and Fields. Not only American but also foreign performers appear in American vaudeville houses, including the Scottish singer-comedian Sir Harry Lauder, the French singer Yvette Guilbert and the French actor Sarah Bernhardt.
Popular Songs include “You’re the Cream in My Coffee,” “Button Up Your Overcoat,” “Makin’ Whoopee,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “Short’nin’ Bread,” “Stout-Hearted Men”
Popular musicians include Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, and Rudy Vallee.
On Broadway, audiences were seeing Strange Interlude by Eugene O’Neill (which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama), The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and still running, the popular Abie’s Irish Rose (which St. Louis' own Act Inc. will be producing this summer). Forty-three new musicals open on Broadway in 1928, including Oh Kay!, Rosalie, The Three Musketeers, Greenwich Village Follies, Present Arms, Blackbirds of 1928, George White’s Scandals, Earl Carroll’s Vanities, The New Moon, Hold Everything, Animal Crackers, Treasure Girl, Whoopee, and others. Still running from the previous season are Rio Rita, Hit the Deck!, Good News, A Connecticut Yankee, Artists and Models, Funny Face, and Show Boat.
What a wild time to live in America (particularly in a big city)! It's just a year before the Great Depression. Vaudeville is at its peak. Television has been invented but most people won't see it for decades yet. As one of the books I'm reading put it, this was a time when our country was finally throwing off the social and sexual conventions of the Victorian Age and America was becoming truly Modern for the first time.
Long Live the Musical!