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spacer George M. Cohan spacer Marie Dressler spacer William Gillette and Betty Starbuck

spacer Chauve-Souris curtain spacer Cocoanut Grove silk dress

Broadway and modern caricature grew up together in the years before the First World War. By the mid-1920s, with a growing number of theaters and restaurants clustering around the recently renamed Times Square, New York's theater community was producing an average of 225 new plays each year. Caricature would find a home in the entertainment pages of the daily newspapers which guided the metropolitan audience through the wealth of nightly offerings. For it was here, at the intersection of an expanding media demanding fresh material and a vibrant world of entertainment brimming with colorful newcomers, that the celebrity industry was evolving.

Caricaturist Al Frueh could pinpoint better than anyone the quintessential characteristics of individual actors. Everyone commented on his astonishing ability to express a likeness with a perfectly placed line and an occasional burst of color. In the 1920s, as his work appeared in art exhibitions, the fashionable magazines, and a portfolio of linocuts, many tried to imitate his seemingly effortless abbreviations.

No one understood the desperate theatricality of the age better than the dapper, charming, Kansas City-born caricaturist Ralph Barton. A café society insider himself, Barton put the faces of its leading stars on silk fabric and an enormous theater curtain, spurring the caricature fad. His exotic stylizations inspired Vanity Fair and the New Yorker to endorse the trend.

1. George M. Cohan / Al Frueh
2. Marie Dressler / Al Frueh
3. William Gillette and Betty Starbuck / Ralph Barton
4. Chauve-Souris curtain / Ralph Barton
5. Cocoanut Grove silk dress / Ralph Barton

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