St Louis has a rich, long history with live vaudeville and movie theaters. Our past harkens back down the Grand White Way of Midtown with thousand tiny white lights beckoning you to enter a theater to see a live variety show or movie stars on the silver screen. Included in the show business of our city was a nonprofit, set up by theater folks to benefit the community and especially children who needed services that were not affordable.
St. Louis’s Variety Club was started in 1932 (they were called Tents then and we were Tent #4) with an impressive board including board president, Harold “Chic” Evans who was the manager of Loew’s State Theater; vice president, George Tyson, from Central Theater Company; secretary, John Baker, manager of Missouri Theater; and treasurer, Alvin A Wolff, attorney. These men along with Fred Wehrenberg, Nat Steinberg, Louis Ansell, Paul Beisman, Charles Goldman, and Homer Harman comprised the first board. Together these men represented eleven local theaters.
Before television and computers, the world was seen at a theater, entertainment cost a dime, and gathering in a single place was our social and entertainment scene St Louis’ Variety Club took on children and all their needs, as their cause from the beginning; in the 1930’s they helped underprivileged children with camps working in conjunction with the Juvenile Court.
1966 brought the first telethon, it starred Michael Landon from Bonanza. This first telethon raised $176,319. By the end of the 1960’s Pat Boone was hosting and the campaign was called, “Crusade for Forgotten Children”.
During the next six years, contributions to Variety Club grew, and Dinner with the Stars became the social event of the winter seasons. In the early years talent included Carol Lawrence, Monty Hall, Ray Bolger, Pat Boone, Gordon McRae and many other stars.
In 1984, the telethon hit the big time with the appearance of Sammy Davis Jr., and the many stars he brought with him. The telethon was named the Sammy Davis Jr. Variety Telethon in his honor.
In 1996 implemented the Bikes for Kids campaign. It began as a new outreach program providing children the opportunity to receive new bikes, helmets, and locks. The first year, Variety gave away 100 bikes. As of 2012 Variety the Children’s Charity of St. Louis has given away 3,000 bikes.
Variety presented to St. Louis a $2 million gift for it’s first inclusive public playground in 2005. This historic gift was officially named the Dennis and Judith Jones Variety Wonderland and is located by the Visitor Center.
Variety Children’s Chorus began in 2000 Children’s Theatre grew out of Variety Chorus in 2009, and consists of children with all abilities, equity actors, performing in a classical musical theatre production each year. In 2013 Variety Children’s Theatre produced “Peter Pan” to a packed house. Five performances were held with a total of 6,299 tickets sold. There are three groups of Variety children with disabilities that this project hopes to impact: those that are on stage; those teens that are interning with the designers and directors; and those children with disabilities that are attending. We had 30 Variety Kids involved with the show.
Charity Navigator gave Variety the Children’s Charity of St. Louis the highest rating of 4 stars in 2013. Variety has also earned Guide Star’s Gold Rating, and the 20 Standards for the BBB Wise Giving Alliance that donors can reference to check the mission, legitimacy, impact, reputation, finances, programs, transparency and governance of charities.
In 2013, Variety International awarded St Louis Variety with the highest award, the Gold Heart. The criteria for the Gold Heart Award included: programs, innovation, financial stability and growth. St. Louis competed against 40 chapters in 11 countries. Today, Variety the Children’s Charity of St. Louis has raised over $92 million since 1932 and helped over 1.2 million local children with disabilities reach their potential.
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