From the 1890s until the 1920s, vaudeville was the dominant context for popular entertainment in the United States, and was synonymous with names such as Tony Pastor, B. F. Keith, Al Jolson, Nora Bayes, Bert Williams, William Morris, Eva Tanguay, Harry Houdini, E. F. Albee, Sarah Bernhardt, Sophie Tucker, the Great Sandow, James Corbett, and many others. By 1915 its reach extended across the globe, taking in every continent and performance tradition, and incorporating thousands of performers from every branch of show business. Its phenomenal success relied on a huge network of theaters, each one part of a circuit and administered from centralized booking offices, most of which were based in cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, London, and Paris. The introduction sets the scene for the chapters that follow, inviting the reader into the darkened theatre to explore this new art form and the people who made it possible.
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