West Coast Vaudeville – The Orpheum Circuit

Dear Friends,
Our guest contributor this month is Kat Rettke. A social worker and magic enthusiast who lives in Las Vegas, Kat also acts as the Magic & Mystery School Executive Assistant. This month she shares a scholarly insight into an interesting bit of magic history.

Question: What did Harry Houdini, Jack Benny, and Charlie Chaplin have in common?  

Answer: All three performed on the Orpheum vaudeville circuit!  

Vaudeville was a type of live performance popular from the late 1800s until the 1920s, featuring variety, comedy, and musical acts. Comedians like Buster Keaton and Jack Benny began their careers in vaudeville. Acrobats and comic jugglers like W.C. Fields were popular. Best of all, it featured many of the best-known magicians performing at that time. The style of vaudeville was unique because it consisted of a fast-paced variety show made up of unrelated performances. Developed with a goal of appealing to a wide audience, most vaudeville was intended to be family-friendly.

There were different vaudeville performing circuits throughout the United States and Canada. The largest circuit operating in the Western United States was the Orpheum Circuit. This circuit was a chain founded in 1886, and operated until 1927, when it merged into the Keith-Albee-Orpheum corporation, ultimately becoming part of the Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO).
The Orpheum circuit was more prestigious than lesser known and smaller circuits performing in the same areas. This circuit had a reputation for high quality performances in beautiful theaters. Orpheum performers were paid better than average salaries. Behind the scenes, booking offices of the Orpheum stayed busy, with performers auditioning, and talent agents trying to sell the acts they represented. Popular films of the 20s and 30s (like Singin’ in the Rain) have scenes with performers going from office to office auditioning, as well as recreations of some of the kinds of performances that were popular on the vaudeville circuit.

One theater which was part of the Orpheum circuit was the Palace Theatre in Los Angeles. This theater was originally known as The Orpheum Theatre. Opened in 1911, the theater’s name was changed in 1926. This theater is the oldest remaining original Orpheum theatre in the United States, and is still in operation today. The inside and outside of the Palace Theatre can only be described as extravagant and beautiful, with wonderful acoustics.
If you live in Los Angeles, or if you are able to travel there, I suggest adding this theater to your bucket list of places to see. Picture yourself standing on the stage of this historic theater, knowing that you are standing on the same stage where Harry Houdini once performed. Other performers who once stood on this same stage include Will Rogers, W.C. Fields, and the Marx Brothers. Popular recent films from The Artist to The Prestige have filmed scenes at The Palace.

Do you want to learn more about preservation efforts for the historic theaters in Los Angeles? Check out the Los Angeles Conservancy, a not-for-profit organization focused on preserving historic places. You can learn more at https://www.laconservancy.org/.


Carina. (2021, April 14). An Annotated History of Vaudeville Theater. 

Discover Hollywood Magazine. (2012, Fall).  Last Page: RKO Pictures, A Titan is Born. 

Encyclopedia.com. (2018, May 17). Vaudeville.

Genii Magazine Magicpedia (n.d.) Vaudeville. 

Los Angeles Conservancy. (n.d.) Palace Theatre. 

“Muses of Vaudeville” (Palace Theater, Los Angeles (n.d.) In Publicartinla.  Retrieved April 16, 
2022, from http://www.publicartinla.com/Downtown/Broadway/palace_theater.html

Orpheum Circuit (n.d.) In Wikipedia.  Retrieved July 28, 2021, from 

PBS. (1999, October 8). About Vaudeville.   

Vaudeville (n.d.) In Wikipedia.  Retrieved July 28, 2021, from 

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