Skip to content
Betsy Golden Kellem

Betsy Golden Kellem

Betsy Golden Kellem is a scholar of the unusual. A historian and media attorney, she has written for The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Atlas Obscura, The Washington Post and Slate, and serves on the board of the Barnum Museum and the Circus Historical Society.

The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson)

Doctor Who, the Traveling Time Lord

Though they each arrive with an individual sense of humor and fashion, the fifteen Doctors reflect the political and social issues of their respective eras.
Actors on stage during a performance of A Midsummer Night 's Dream

Shakespeare and Fanfiction

Despite an enduring slice of audience that treats his work as precious and mythic, most Shakespeare fans have rarely met an adaptive concept they didn’t like.
Sheet music cover dated 1852

Christy’s Minstrels Go to Great Britain

Minstrel shows were an American invention, but they also found success in the United Kingdom, where audiences were negotiating their relationships with empire.
Gremlins, 1984

PG-13: Some Material May Be Inappropriate

The creation of the PG-13 rating in 1984 can be traced to a few key films: Poltergeist, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Gremlins.
Photographs from a review of Black America, in Illustrated American, 1895

Nate Salsbury’s Black America

The 1895 show purported to show a genuine Southern Black community and demonstrate Black cultural progress in America, from enslavement to citizenship.
La Befana by Bartolomeo Pinelli, 1821

A Visit from La Befana

In the Catholic tradition, Epiphany is the day the Three Kings first met Baby Jesus. But in Italy, it’s also the day La Befana shows up with a basket of gifts.
Glee Mandolin, 1900

The Nineteenth-Century Banjo

Derived from an instrument brought to America by enslaved Africans, the banjo experienced a surge of popularity during the New Woman movement of the late 1800s.
Bride of Frankenstein, 1935

Bride of Frankenstein

Drawn from the margins of Mary Shelley's 1818 novel, the cinematic Bride of Frankenstein is never just one thing, and she never goes away.
Loie Fuller

The Serpentine Career of Loïe Fuller

Rising from the ranks of touring comedies and Wild West shows, the American dancer dreamed of a future of light, movement, and metamorphosis.
Buffalo Bill's wild West and congress of rough riders of the world

The Triumphalism of American Wild West Shows

From the 1880s to the 1930s, hundreds of Wild West shows encouraged white audiences to view Native American culture as a rapidly vanishing curiosity.
An illustration from Winsor McCay's comic strip consisting of 5 panels, featuring a large moon and a little boy.

The Cutting-Edge Cartoons of Winsor McCay

A prolific, meticulous artist, McCay created characters and storyscapes that inspired generations of cartoonists and animators.
Photograph: Twins Michael and Mary Kerby fail to convey any enthusiasm upon winning a trophy in a Baby Show at Ruislip, Middlesex, May 1934

Darling or Degrading? Baby Shows in the Nineteenth Century

A stunningly popular form of entertainment, baby pageants promoted the cult of domesticity, showcased maternal pride, and opened a path to fame and wealth.
Annie Edson Taylor, 1902

American Daredevils

The nineteenth-century commitment to thrilling an audience embodied an emerging synergy of public performance, collective experience, and individual agency.
Mae West c. 1930

Mae West and Camp

A camp diva, a queer icon, and a model of feminism—the memorable Mae West left behind a complicated legacy, on and off the stage.
People outside the entrance to Luna Park on Coney Island, New York

Luna Park and the Amusement Park Boom

The fortunes of Coney Island have waxed and waned, but in the early twentieth century, its amusement parks became a major American export.
A large poster for the film Ebony Parade with a blue background and an off-white border. Across the blue background are red musical notes and stars outlined in white. At the top center in red lettering is "20 Great Stars". Printed in the center in small black type is "Astor Pictures presents" followed by "EBONY PARADE" in large yellow letters over a red background. Surrounding the title are color photographic portraits of the stars of the film. At the top left are the faces of Mantan Moreland, Dorothy Dandridge and Ruby Hill, followed by a full portrait of a seated Mabel Lee and in the bottom left corner is an image of the Mills Brothers gathered around two microphones. On the right side are the faces of Cab Calloway, Vanita Smythe, Francine Everett, and Count Basie. At the bottom right is a yellow box bordered in black with red text that reads "featuring / Cab Calloway * Count Basie / His Band His Band / Mills. Bros. * Vanita Smythe / Mantan Moreland * Mable Lee/ Ruby Hill * Francine Everett / Dorothy Dandridge * Pat Flowers / and / Day, Dawn, and Dusk * Jubilaries".

Mills Panoram and Soundies

In the 1940s, these short films set to music transgressed Hollywood’s racial mythology to create space for Black artists to experiment—and have fun.
Krao Farini, c. 1890

Finding Krao Farini

Public discourse on the bearded lady, a staple of circus sideshow, revealed the racial biases underpinning Darwinian theory.

How Muppets Add Meaning to a Mass Media Christmas

The Muppet Christmas Carol works hard to get people to engage with Charles Dickens, but its real success is becoming part of the holiday itself.
Three costumed girls, Pauline, Barbara and Dorothy Luck surrounding Halloween pumpkin, 1940

Halloween: A Mystic and Eerie Significance

Despite the prevalence of tricks and spooky spirits in earlier years, the American commercial holiday didn’t develop until the middle of the twentieth century.
Federal Theatre Project presents "The drunkard or the fallen saved" Originally produced by P.T. Barnum in his museum

Temperance Melodrama on the Nineteenth-Century Stage

Produced by the master entertainer P. T. Barnum, a melodrama about the dangers of alcohol was the first show to run for a hundred performances in New York City.
Miss Charmion, 1904

The “Trapeze Disrobing Act”

Strongwoman Charmion used Thomas Edison’s experiments with moving pictures to encourage women to embrace strength and physical activity.
Cosplayers dressed as characters from Sailor Moon pose during Day 4 of New York Comic Con 2021 at Jacob Javits Center on October 10, 2021 in New York City.

History, Cosplay, and Comic-Con

Donning costumes in imitation and celebration of fictional characters has a long history that crosses genres, genders, and international boundaries.
Scene from 'Mischievous Matt,' Bracebridge Hemyng (Jack Harkway's), new story in No. 487 Frank Leslie's Boys' and Girls' Weekly

Dime Novels and Story Papers for Kids

The rise of popular literature for children put a story, a role model, and a set of values in a young boy’s pocket.
From One-Third of a Nation

The Living Newspaper Speaks

Scripted from front-page news, the Federal Theatre Project’s Living Newspaper plays were part entertainment, part protest, and entirely educational.
Dance marathon, April 20, 1923

Dance Marathons

In the early twentieth century, dance marathons were an entire industry—and a surprisingly hazardous business.