Contents and Arrangement Expanded View

Collection Overview

Creator:
Vardaman, 1877-
Collector:
Princeton University. Library. Special Collections
Title:
Vardaman Collection
Repository:
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/6d56zw64w
Dates:
1881-1927
Size:
8 boxes and 4 linear feet
Storage Note:
ReCAP (rcpxm): Box 1-8
Language:
English

Abstract

Mansel V. Boyle (1877-1945) was a popular vaudeville performer best known by the stage name Vardaman. Active on the vaudeville circuit from 1901 through 1925, Vardaman was billed as a female impersonator, often appearing on programs as "Vardaman, the Gay Deceiver" or "Vardaman, the Auburn-haired Beauty." The collection consists of papers of Vardaman, including personal and business correspondence, appointment books, route sheets, contracts, scripts, photographic materials, clippings, and playbills, as well as photographs and printed materials documenting other vaudeville, minstrel, and burlesque performers active from the 1880s through the 1920s.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Description:

This collection consists of personal, business, and family correspondence, appointment books, documents, photographs, scripts, sheet music, playbills, theater souvenir books, clippings, and other materials created by or related to vaudeville performer Vardaman (1877-1945). Materials are both professional and personal in nature, though the majority have to do with Vardaman's vaudeville career.

Vardaman's correspondence with theater managers, fellow entertainers, and admirers, route sheets and artist's contracts, and appointment books all provide insights into his travels within the United States and internationally from 1903 to 1925. There are also annotated scripts, sheet music, and lyrics sheets used by Vardaman during his performances. Photographic materials include studio portraits of Vardaman in costume and photogravure printing blocks used to print advertisements for his performances, as well as more informal snapshots, such as photographs of Vardaman with family and friends, travel photographs, and associated negatives. There is also a significant group of photographs of other vaudeville, minstrel, and burlesque performers active from the 1880s through the 1920s, including other acts who toured as female or male impersonators. Most of these prints are inscribed to Vardaman from the entertainers pictured, many of whom he likely met on the road.

Printed materials in the collection also document Vardaman's professional career, as well as the late 19th and early 20th century vaudeville community more broadly. There are clippings with reviews and announcements about Vardaman's performances, including a scrapbook, as well as playbills both for Vardaman's appearances and those of other entertainers who appeared at the same theaters. There are also some theater souvenir books, including materials related to Julian Eltinge (1881-1941), and programs from other theatrical performances.

The majority of the collection appears to consist of Vardaman's own papers, though a small amount of family papers and printed materials may have been added by later custodians of the collection before it arrived at the library.

Arrangement:

Arranged by material type.

Collection Creator Biography:

Vardaman, 1877-

Mansel Vardaman Boyle (1877-1945) was a popular vaudeville performer known by the stage name Vardaman. Active on the vaudeville circuit from 1901 through 1925, Vardaman was billed as a female impersonator, often appearing on programs as "Vardaman, the Gay Deceiver" or "Vardaman, the Auburn-haired Beauty" and sometimes as "LaVarde" or "La Vardy." He performed extensively in the American West, and later, across the country and internationally, eventually becoming one of the best-known female impersonators of the period.

Vardaman was born in 1877 in Santa Cruz, California. His parents were Arthur E. Boyle and Mary A. Kennedy Boyle (d. 1905), both the children of Irish immigrants, and his siblings included A. Eugene Boyle (d. 1913) and Mary J. Manley. His family moved to Butte, Montana, in the mid 1890s, where his father and brother worked as miners at Belle Mine, while Vardaman worked as a clerk, stenographer, and bartender while beginning to perform in local theatrical productions with the Overland Minstrels, a local amateur theater group. The Boyle family moved to Alameda, California, in 1903. Around this time, Vardaman began touring around the country, with frequent performances in California, Montana, and other Western states, eventually expanding to cover the Midwest and East Coast vaudeville routes. He performed in a variety of vaudeville acts, including with a burlesque group named the Champagne Belles. At the height of his popularity, Vardaman went on a tour of the world, sailing from Honolulu in 1913. He performed to favorable reviews in Australia, South Africa, and England, while visiting many other places. From 1922 to 1925, Vardaman performed predominantly in the Los Angeles area.

By the late 1920s, Vardaman had ceased performing but maintained relationships in the theater community. In the 1930s, he lived in the household of Louis Sunlin, a theater owner in Flint, Michigan. He later returned to Los Angeles, living with Milford L. Bailey in the mid 1930s and later with silent film star J. Warren Kerrigan (1879-1947) from at least 1936 to 1938. He died on May 28, 1945.

Note:

The term "female impersonator" appears throughout this finding aid to describe Vardaman and related entertainers who advertised their performances using this term during their lifetimes. Female and male impersonation was a genre of theatrical performance in which the entertainer performed a gender aside from the one they were assigned at birth, and was at the height of its popularity on vaudeville circuits in the United States from the turn of the century through the 1920s. While many performers active as female and male impersonators were likely part of what we would now refer to as LGBTQIA+ communities, others were straight and cisgender. While some performances in this genre challenged gender norms and had similiarities to drag culture, others perpetuated sexist, transphobic, homophobic, and racist stereotypes at a time when transgressive gender and sexuality practices were heavily policed in the United States.

Collection History

Acquisition:

Purchased as a collection from William Reese Company in September 1982 .

Archival Appraisal Information:

No material was separated from the collection during 2018 reprocessing.

Processing Information:

This collection was originally processed and the finding aid written in 2002.

The collection was reprocessed and the finding aid was revised by Kelly Bolding in May-June 2018. During reprocessing, nitrate negatives were physically isolated from other photographic materials and are stored in off-site cold storage facilities.

The term "female impersonator" appears throughout this finding aid to describe Vardaman and related entertainers who advertised their performances using this term during their lifetimes. The collection description was updated by Kelly Bolding in 2021 to add additional contextual information about the usage of this term and its history.

Sources consulted during revisions made to this finding aid include:

Casey, Kathleen B. The Prettiest Girl On Stage Is a Man: Race and Gender Benders In American Vaudeville. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2015.

Kibler, M. Alison. Rank Ladies : Gender and Cultural Hierarchy in American Vaudeville. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

Ullman, Sharon R. "'The Twentieth Century Way': Female Impersonation and Sexual Practice in Turn-of-the-Century America." Journal of the History of Sexuality 5, no. 4 (1995): 573-600.

Access & Use

Access Restrictions:

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions for Reproduction and Use:

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to RBSC Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Credit this material:

Vardaman Collection; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/6d56zw64w
Location:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184