At his height, in 1916, Chicago Southsider Eugene Laurent toured the country with a company of six assistants, livestock and trunks filled with equipment weighing 1,500 pounds. But Eugene didn’t tour from city to city performing in legitimate and vaudeville theaters like his contemporaries Blackstone, Thurston and Dante. Instead, he entertained in the hinterlands for the Lyceum and Chautauqua circuits.
Chautauqua and Lyceum assemblies brought entertainment and culture to rural America. Not in a theater but under an enormous tent where a thousand folks would gather on a summers’ evening to see entertainers, preachers, speakers, and musicians.
My friend Gabe Fajuri’s book on Laurent’s career is a tale of life in the trenches of show business. Laurent and his company would perform an evening show in the steamy heat of the big top and once the show was done they packed up and headed not back to the hotel but to the train depot and wait for a train to take them to the next town.
I find Laurent’s dedication and professionalism in the absolute toughest of circumstances to be a real inspiration. Laurent kept up his robust performing pace, eventually performing in schools and movie theaters once Chautauquas became obsolete, until his death at 69 years old.
Fajuri, G. (2005). Laurant: man of many mysteries. Chicago, IL: Squash Pub.