Date: Fri, 29 May 1998 08:44:21 EDT
From: "Barry A. Popik"
Subject: Big/Small Time; Ad Lib; Hokum; Showstopper; Apache Dance; Flop; Turkey


Two people have been quoted today as saying the Phil Hartman death was a
"great tragedy."
HAMLET is a great tragedy. This "great" confusion has often led to the
stupid "the Great Depression was not-so-great."


I decided to check VARIETY again for "big time" and "small time." Both
pre-date "Jolo's" vaudeville reviews in the paper. I did this subject years
ago and have the papers somewhere.
"Small time" shows up first, with "big time" following later (like a
"one-piece bathing suit" or a "day baseball game"). This is from VARIETY, 27
February 1909, pg. 17, cols. 2-3:

In the reviews in this Department hereafter, the opinion expressed as to
the class or possibility of an act will relate strictly to the house and grade
of vaudeville the act reviewed is then appearing in. "Smaller time" will not
hereafter be employed in the sense it formerly has been, before the
introduction of the "combination, " "popular" or "10-20" (cents) vaudeville.

In an April 3, 1909, pg. 5 cartoon, "An Artist" asks "Which one of you
gentlemen can give me the right time?" One agent has "Morris Time" and the
other has "United Time." On August 7, 1909, pg. 35, VARIETY stated that its
motto was "All the News All the Time."
"Big-time" is in June 5, 1909, pg. 7, col. 3, and "big-small time" is in
August 14, 1909, pg. 8, col. 1. RHHDAS has "big time" in VARIETY from August
1910. "Small-time" (with hyphen) is in July 3, 1909, pg. 4, col. 1, and
"small time" (without hyphen) is in the same issue, pg. 5, col. 4. "Small
time" is also in May 15, 1909, pg. 12, col. 3, but even earlier is "small
house,:" February 27, 1909, pg. 4, col. 2.


The OED has 1919 and the RHHDAS has 1925. VARIETY, June 5, 1909, pg. 15,
col. 4:

Such parts of the Amsterdam serial show as are not filled with girls and
music are taken up with the exploitation of what is known as "comedy bits" or
"ad lib. business," an institution capable of unlimited abuse. For instance,
when something has to be done with a painful pause between two incidents that
have a more or less pertinent bearing on the piece or two numbers, one of the
comedians ambles forth and "cuts up" for no earthly reason except the apparent
one that the stage cannot be left unoccupied.


The RHHDAS has 1908, but this fine explanation is from VARIETY, May 8,
1909, pg. 9, col. 2:

May 3rd.
Last week my partner, Jim Wible, and I had a friendly argument over a
word that is used theatrically when speaking of material that is sold.
I say the word is "hocum." He says it is "oakum," basing his claim on
the fact that he has on different occasions read in VARIETY the word "oakum,"
used by critics in their reviews.
I myself have read the same in VARIETY, but I think the critics are wrong
the same as Mr. Wible. I have heard old timers for years back speak of stuff,
and comedians as being "hocum," also "hoecake." (RHHDAS no entry) I would
like your opinion through your columns; also would like the opinion of
artists who have been in the business a few years, if the word is "hocum" or
_Bert Somers_,
(Of Somers and Wible)
("Oakum" is the correct term. It may be pronounced and may have been
spelled by some as "ocum." The nearest approach to "hocum" (there is no word
of that spelling) may have been suggested through "hocus" or "hocus-pocus,"
referring to sleight-of-hand or juggling. In the past centuries men of
mystery in foreign lands were wont to bill their entertainment under that
descriptive caption. Oakum can denote a very coarse rope, twine, flax or
hemp, and a mixture long left alone would be called "oakum." Its most
generally accepted definition is the refuse of a cordage factory.--Ed


William Safire's assistant discussed "show-stopper" on this list about a
year ago; OED had 1926 for "stopping the show."
VARIETY, July 17, 1909, pg. 17, col. 2, has "they 'stopped the show,'
receiving five encores and taking twice as many bows."


This is not in the RHHDAS. In VARIETY, January 9, 1909, pg. 16, col. 3,
is "there is no 'big name' to draw at the American this week."


OED has 1914 for "Apache Dance." It's in VARIETY, January 9, 1909, pg.
16, col. 2, as the title for an act.


This was discussed here in AMERICAN SPEECH and COMMENTS ON ETYMOLOGY. A
wonderful cartoon, with "the artist" getting the "slap stick" from various
interests, is in VARIETY, February 6, 1909. pg. 5. The Artist wears a cap
that says "THE PATSY." "No matter which way the wind blows I'm always the
patsy," the Artist declares.


This is from VARIETY, pg. 10, col. 4:

There's no more "knocking them off the seats, "killing 'em dead," "riot,"
"knockout" or "the biggest hit ever." They are saying nowadays: "Well, I had
to make a speech, that's how I went." The "speech" is supposed to cover


RHHDAS has VARIETY 1919 for a show "flop." I found "flop" a lot in 1909.
The February 27, 1909 VARIETY, pg. 18, col. 2: "These two featured sketches
'flopping' gave the Lincoln Square bill this week the credit for being about
the worst show seen in New York this season, at a first class house."


"Turkey" was a burleque show, and I suppose by this relation a bad show.
VARIETY, February 20, 1909, pg. 8, col. 4: "He was formerly the manager of a
regular Wheel organization, but since leaving the circuit, has been
'turkeying' about." July 24, 1909, pg. 1, col. 3: "A 'TURKEY' STRANDS.
Toledo, July 22. It's not so hard stranding in the summer as when the snow is
flickering about. So one doesn't hear laments arising from Bowling Green, O.,
although a 'turkey' show of 25 people has just flopped over in that town.
There were fourteen girls with the company." February 13, 1909, pg. 16, col.
3: "An out-and-out 'turkey' organization, it deserves a prominent place in
thie season's burlesque aviary."