The Kid of Coney Island

Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements


A generation before Walt Disney, Fred Thompson was the "boy-wonder" of American popular amusements. At the turn of the 20th century, Thompson's entrepreneurial drive made him into an entertainment mogul who helped to define the popular culture of his day.In this lively biography, Woody Register tells Thompson's remarkable story and examines the transformation of commerce and entertainment as American society moved into an era of mass marketing and large-scale corporate enterprise. Getting his start as a promoter of carnival shows at world's fairs, Thompson was one of the principal developers of Coney Island, where he created the majestic Luna Park. Register traces Thompson's career as he built the mammoth Hippodrome Theater in Manhattan, where he mounted many productions noted for their spectacular--and spectacularly costly--staging effects. Register shows how Thompson's fantasies appealed to the growing legions of Americans who found themselves in a world that seemed increasingly "businesslike" and profit oriented. He illustrates how Thompson aggressively marketed to adult consumers a world of make-believe and childlike play, carefully crafting his own public image as "the boy who never grew up."Colorful, well-written, and insightful, The Kid of Coney Island brings to life a kaleidoscopic era in New York history as well as one of its most striking characters.
  • Oxford University Press; October 2001
  • ISBN 9780195349283
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF or secure EPUB format
  • Title: The Kid of Coney Island
  • Author: Woody Register
  • Imprint: Oxford University Press

In The Press

"Fascinating....[A] lively and valuable contribution to the study of modern amusements, consumer culture, and popular entertainment."--Lewis A. Erenberg, Professor of History, Loyola University, The Journal of American History
"This wonderfully written, entertaining and unusually perceptive look at a forefather of 20th-century American leisure culture makes delightful reading out of serious scholarship....Ranging from the theoretical (the construction of white masculinity in popular literature and entertainments) to wonderful specifics (e.g. the alleged threat of teddy bears 'to all instincts of motherhood' in young girls), Register makes an important contribution to the literature of popular culture, consumerism and gender."--Publishers Weekly
"Register creates a vivid and captivating biography of amusement tycoon Frederic Thompson. Beautifully and artfully written, this book revives Thompson's extraordinary career and presents a powerful discourse on the grown-up child and the commercial culture of Peter Pan."--Library Journal
"A thorough and well-illustrated biography of the man who created the most amusing amusements in America."--New York
"Woody Register's The Kid of Coney Island is delightful, informative, conceptually innovative, exquisitely written, and intellectually exciting. Register has done a masterful job, producing one of the best books on consumer culture in America."--David Nasaw, author of The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst and Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements
"Woody Register eloquently uses Fred Thompson's meteoric career to show how 'the commercial culture of Peter Pan' made play and pleasure legitimate elements of 20th century masculinity....Fun was also a big business, and Register also explicates the careful planning, marketing strategy, and substantial capital investment in Thompson's enterprises that emerged from the same management methods and modern technology as America's industrial behemoths. Register's study is a fine contribution to the exciting new literature on business and culture, and should be read by students in American History, American studies, business history, and cultural studies."--Dr. Roger Horowitz, Associate Director of the Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society, Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, Delaware
"Fascinating....[A] lively and valuable contribution to the study of modern amusements, consumer culture, and popular entertainment."--Lewis A. Erenberg, Professor of History, Loyola University, The Journal of American History
"Vivid and compelling."--The New York Times

About The Author

Woody Register is Professor of American Studies at Sewanee, The University of the South. He lives in Sewanee, Tennessee.