When Manhattan's Palace Theater (most famed two-a-day house in the U.S.) started to show pictures in 1932, U. S. vaudeville was through. Last week, vaudeville got its first full-length biography, by Feature Writer Douglas Gilbert of the New York World-Telegram. His book, American Vaudeville, Its Life and Times though sometimes more of a catalogue than a history, gives a detailed account of the variety show from its rough beer-hall days through its great era when Italian Singer Tony Pastor purified it, to its death. It is a must book for rememberers of such vaudeville chains as the Keith-Albee, Orpheum, Sylvester Z. Poli, Alexander Pantages, Gus Sun, Sullivan & Considine, Fred Mozart, Kohl & Castle, Mike Shea. Sample items from the past of a passing art form:
> The word "vaudeville" comes from the French Van de Virethe valley of Normandy's Vire River, where "sprightly songs and ballads were sung."
> Tony Pastor, born in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, made his singing debut in 1842, aged 6, at meetings of the Hand-in-Hand Temperance Society. One of the most popular themes of his, and others', early vaudeville songs was the plight of Labor.
> In an early tank act a man named Blatz, apparently completely submerged, ate a banana, played the trombone, pretended to go to sleep while reading a newspaper. Veterans declare the submergence was real.
> Captain McCrosson, in full Zouave uniform, was noted for spinning a bayoneted rifle like a drum major's baton, finally whirling it, bayonet down, on his outstretched palm.
> "Dr." Landis played Hamlet with a comic Dutch gravedigger who recited in dialect and unearthed tin cans and beer bottles along with Yorick's skull.
> Magician Ching Ling Foo had a trick, never duplicated, in which with two flicks of his robe he produced: 1) a container, garbage-can size, filled with milk; 2) a metal tub containing a dozen live ducks.
> A man named Sparrow, attired in a linoleum dress suit, submitted himself to a barrage of swill including rotten melons, goldfish, eggs.
> Comedian Hap Ward fondly remarked on one fine quality of his partner Harry Vokeshe always saved his drinking until before the show.
> Among his performing cats a trainer named Tetchow once had a tom who streaked up a rope hanging from the proscenium arch, got into a parachute basket, floated down to the stage.
> There was one challenge that famed Escapist Harry Houdini would never accept: he would never allow his thumbs to be tied behind his back by a Gloucester fisherman.
*Whittlesey House ($3.50).