Henry L. Brunk and Brunk's Comedians: Tent repertoire empire of the Southwest



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Texas Tech University


The purpose of this study is to examine Brunk's Comedians, the most successful tent theatre organization of the Southwestern United States. The Br\ink shows, operated by seven brothers and an uncle, provided popular entertainment for the heartlands of America through the first half of the twentieth century, leaving a lasting impression on regional inhabitants. Ken Ciirtis, noted for his portrayal of Festus on television's "Gunsmoke," said that, "Brunk's Comedians were a great and delightful influence on my childhood—throughout my whole life for that matter."

The experiences of the Brunk organization were generally common to all tent shows in the region and paralleled national trends in the canvas theatre industry. After the first Brunk company was put on the road in 1916, the organization expanded rapidly. By the 1920s and the arrival of the heyday of the industry, six troupes bore the Brimk banner. Although the Depression of the 1930s started the decline of the tent show and forced some of the family's units from the road, five companies of Brunk's Comedians toured the nation's interior as late as 1938. World War II closed all the remaining Briink shows; however, one unit, under the direction of the yo\mgest family member, Henry, ventured back on the road after the war. The sole survivor closed his show in 1958 as the tent show neared extinction.



Theater -- United States, Tent shows, Brunk family, Brunk, Henry L.