2,000 and pun: Pre-H'wood news, Variety-style

In the recently departed 20th century, Variety scrupulously reported on key showbiz events. Recently, archaeologists discovered Variety stories from the earlier centuries of the last two millenniums.

GUILD-ED CAGE

ROME 75 A.D. — A walkout by union workers threatened to halt shows at the newly built Colosseum, but the perfs proceeded with a few adjustments. Citing low wages, Banners & Trumpets Guild Local 2 refused to work the halftime extravaganza at last weekend’s Christians-vs.-lions death-o-rama. However, mucho last-minute scrambling by Colosseum management led to an 11th-hour switcheroo, with union leaders subbing for the Christians. The crowd ate it up, as did the lions.

HEIR SEEKS ‘REX’ COIN

ATHENS, 327 A.D. — Melvin Sophocles has sued the producers of the current all-star revival of “Oedipus Rex,” demanding royalties for perfs of the meller written by his ancestor. Producers of the show say they’re sympathetic, but are unable to pay Melvin anything because the play, after 700 years, still hasn’t turned a profit.

ITALO LEGIT SHUTTERED

ROME, 506 A.D. — Caving in to public pressure, Emperor Justinian on Tuesday closed all theaters, proclaiming the legit offerings “are just a lewd excuse for hootchie -kootchie dancing and smutty jokes.” Justinian’s press secretary Livius predicted that, with legit shuttered, fans can expect a boom in jugglers, street performers and mimes. Asked for comment on his statement, the mimes were speechless.

MONKS IN FUNK OVER Y1K

FLORENCE, 999 A.D. — As showbiz preps for the new millennium, monks are seized by a fear of a Y1K virus, with predictions of bugs that will wreak havoc with parchment and quills. There is even speculation that the panic may affect the Jan. 1 opening of the First Millennium Dome, but execs downplay the fear, saying “The public is 100% behind our erection.”

POP PUPPETS GET PLEB POWER

OLD DELHI, 1111 A.D. — Young auds are flocking to Shadow Theater, an Indian phenom that’s recently begun sweeping through Asia, in which familiar tales are projected onto a screen via the use of shadow puppets. Onlookers say the newfound success is largely due to one production, “There’s Something About Punjab,” in which the puppeteers have slyly inserted naughty finger gestures into each projected perf.

POLO GOES SOLO

GENOA, 1273 A.D. — Hot off his trip to the Orient, Marco Polo has made his most important discovery: Name branding. Spurred by public fascination with his spices and silks, the celeb explorer has lent his name to a line of merchandising. Planned for next year are Polo shirts, Polo cologne and a restaurant tabbed the Polo Lounge. Still in development is a game to be played in swimming pools.

BOFFO DESPITE BUBOES

MILAN, 1348 A.D. — In his annual address to theater owners, Giacomo Valenti put a positive spin on downbeat numbers for the past year. Box office dropped 29%, while donations to strolling players dipped 26%. However, Valenti affirmed that these figures “attest to the continued strength of the entire industry,” since the Black Plague has reduced the population by 34%, “So we’re ahead!”

RE-FASHIONING ‘PASSION’

HAMBURG, 1423 A.D. — Declaring, “It’s a role I was born to play!” Jacob the Bearded will get a record 15 pfuffals a week for playing Jesus in “Passion Play.” (His deal was brokered by Simon the Shoemaker of Ye Olde Elite Talente Agency.) Meanwhile, Anonymous has been brought in for some fast rewrites: after extensive focus-group studies, the producers declared the Crucifixion scene “too downbeat,” and are hoping for a more crowd-pleasing finale.

MUMMERS FIND ‘NONNY’ BONNIE

LONDON, 1501 A.D. — “Hey Nonny-No” took song of the year honors at the 15th annual Mummers Awards, beating out front-runner “Dilly-Down-Day.” At the kudos — which honor jugglers, minstrels and clowns — two Special Pioneer Awards were handed out to The Amazing Andrew and to Stupefying Gannymede, who last year came up with the sensational new acts of sword-swallowing and bear-wrestling, respectively. The awards were accepted by their widows.

S.A.G. STATS IN STASIS

LONDON, 1614 A.D. — The Stage Actors Guilde has unveiled its annual employment stats and, once again, women and minorities have made no strides. In the latest numbers, unveiled at a press confab Wednesday, Guilde execs said the Elizabethan stage in the past year has employed the following percentages: Asians, 0%; blacks, 0%; and women, 0%.

GOV’T TARGETS SHOWBIZ

DENVER, 1884 A.D. — Opening arguments began Monday in the trial of Lucas McBurke, who shot dead three people after watching the evening performance of “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.” McBurke’s lawyers are citing “diminished capacity,” and showbizzers are keeping a wary eye on the trial as local politicos are crying for a crackdown in showbiz violence.

SPICE OF LIFE

NEW YORK, 1905 — First it was cave-writing, then papyrus, then parchment, then the printing press. In the latest revolution to writing and publishing, Variety is founded. All civilization is irrevocably changed.

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