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Vaudeville MelodiesPopular Musicians and Mass Entertainment in American Culture, 1870-1929$
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Nicholas Gebhardt

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226448558

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226448725.001.0001

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Nothing Succeeds Like Success

Nothing Succeeds Like Success

(p.114) Chapter Nine Nothing Succeeds Like Success
Vaudeville Melodies

Nicholas Gebhardt

University of Chicago Press

The myth of success was predominantly a late nineteenth-century phenomenon, although it was clearly related to earlier Puritan mythologies about the work ethic and the virtuous life, as well as the powerful themes of self-sufficiency that characterized texts such as Benjamin Franklin’s influential Autobiography and J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur’s Letters to a Young Farmer. As many critics have demonstrated, this success literature was initially a variant of the frontier myth, drawing on well-known themes of individual self-transformation in a wide-open society, and the New World promise of unlimited opportunity that was considered the birthright of all Americans. After the 1820s, however, it was also a story about the possibility for worldly success within the new environment of the industrial city. Individuals succeeded by triumphing over the corrupting institutions and social conditions of urban life, transforming both themselves and the city in the process. This explains the appeal of the most influential and enduring expression of the success myth, which appeared in the series of best-selling dime novels by Horatio Alger. This chapter focuses on how narratives and images of success in vaudeville were an integral part of the broader mythology of modernization that was redefining in American culture.

Keywords:   myth of success, popular success, frontier myth, George M. Cohan, Judy Garland

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