Variety the Children’s Charity has been a pillar of the St. Louis community, helping local kids with physical and developmental disabilities, for more than 80 years. We cherish our relationships with corporations, organizations, and individuals that allow us to build on our rich history and continue to be an organization the community can count on to help local kids. Variety has evolved over the years, but the passion we have for kids remains the same.
1932 – St. Louis became the home of the Variety Club’s fourth “tent,” just four years after Variety was established as the entertainment industry’s charity in Pittsburgh, Pa. Tent #4 opened 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.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.
1933 -The club’s first big event was in December and featured film star James Hall at the Arcadia Ballroom. He is known for his role as a soldier in “Hell’s Angels” and as Colleen Moore’s leading man in “Smiling Irish Eyes”. Hall acted as master of ceremonies for twenty acts, and two bands who perform as a “variety” or vaudeville show.
1936- Variety hosted Midnight River Trips on the President Boat and other “after hours” events using the many theaters connected to Variety Club.
1940 – Variety the Children's Charity started the decade by honoring George Washington Carver with the 1940 Variety International Humanitarian Award. Variety was a pioneer during this time – awarding an African-American during a time of racial turmoil. George Washington Carver was a champion of improving racial relations, as well as working extensively to mentor children and fight poverty, among many other philanthropic endeavors. During the 1940’s the charity helped with the army emergency relief fund and aided Jewish refugee children. During a luncheon in 1942, a fake Hitler broke up a Variety luncheon including guests such as two generals from Fort Leonard Wood. Variety was all about putting on a good show.
1954 -Variety Club produced the Harvest Moon Festival and the Spring Festival. Both involved dancing and singing competitions, live orchestras and professional singers. The prize for the dance winners was $3,000 and attendance was over 10,000. Eddie Fisher performed at the Harvest Moon Festival held at the Fox Theater. 4,700 people attended, mostly female and mostly in bobby socks. His fiancée, actress Debbie Reynolds was in attendance and the performance grossed $35,000. Eddie Fisher donated his time and even paid for his hotel room, leading to a long history of donated performances.
1959 – The Variety Women organization was founded as a woman’s auxiliary, and has since raised more than $2.5 million for Variety’s children through its tribute fund, card party, fashion show, and other special events. The main recipiant of Variety was The South Side Day Care Nursery for moms who worked and needed a safe place for their kids to stay.
1962 – Variety’s Sunshine Coach program began when the late Leslie A. MacDonnell, chief barker (president) of the Variety Club of Great Britain, encountered a bedridden 8-year-old girl who had never been outside the hospital.
1965 – The Ambassador Theater premiered “My Fair Lady” and actor Wilfred Hyde-White attended. Over 2,000 guests attended.
1966 - Brought the first telethon, consisting of 20 hours at the Chase Park Plaza, and aired on KPLR 11. 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”.
1967-Variety also opened their own building; The Children’s Center in Normandy which treated children with psychiatric disorders.
1971 – Variety’s Man of the Year program began, with the Woman of the Year following in 1973. This honor recognizes men and women who have been significant figures in the St. Louis community.
1975 - Johnny Londoff became Chief Barker and remained in that position until 1994. The telethon became a large support of the Variety Club mission and the Sunshine Vans were given away annually
1982 – Mark Koritz took over as president of the Allocations Committee, and eventually expanded that committee from five people to more than 50 committed to designating funds to agencies in the St. Louis area that are in tune with Variety’s goal of serving children with physical and intellectual disabilities.
1982 - John Urbanowicz of National Supermarkets, Michael LaMonica of Anheuser Busch and Food Broker, James Eisenhart, started a new food industry campaign, Cash for Kids, a coupon supplement published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch the weekend of the telethon. In the following 17 years, Cash for Kids would raise almost $15 million.
1984 – Sammy Davis Jr. began his six-year run headlining the St. Louis Variety Club Telethon, attracting other stars like Liza Minelli, Billy Crystal and Angie Dickenson.
1985 – The St. Louis Society organized a St. Louis Variety Summer Camp providing campers with physical disabilities the opportunity to participate in various fitness activities. In 1999, art and music were added to the week-long camp. In 2004, Variety began managing the camp itself, and it has grown into a three-week program.
1989 – Liza Minelli performed “New York, New York” in her bathrobe, after a viewer pledged $10,000 on the condition that Liza sing that song.
1990 – Marsha Rae Ratcliff, Variety Club International vice president from London, England, designed a small gold heart pin to be sold to supporters to “wear your heart on your sleeve.” Today, the gold heart pin is an international symbol of Variety chapters worldwide, and is sold locally each year by Wehrenberg Theatres during the months of February and March to raise money for Variety.
1996 – The Bikes for Kids program was founded in September by Variety board member John Weber and Executive Director Jan Albus.
1999 – Night of the Rising Stars was created as the fundraising arm of Young Variety, a standing committee of Variety the Children’s Charity of St. Louis.
2000 – In October, the first auditions were held for the Variety Children’s Chorus.
2003 – Variety the Children’s Charity of St. Louis’ board of directors approved a new mission statement on Sept. 12. The organization narrowed its focus to serving children with the greatest needs – those with physical and intellectual disabilities.
2003 – The word “Club” was dropped from Variety’s name by the international organization.
2004 – Variety Week was established to raise awareness of Variety, and its fundraising events.
2004 – Mary Ann Lee gave Variety a generous gift in the form of a grant that enabled 400 children with disabilities to visit six St. Louis public attractions for a day of learning, socializing, and fun. These “St. Louis Through the Eyes of a Disabled Child” outings took place over the course of three years, and in 2006, Mrs. Lee extended the grant for four more years of outings.
2005 – Imo’s for Kids Day was launched, as Imo’s franchises generously donate 10 percent of all proceeds from one day during Variety Week.
2005 – The Dennis and Judith Jones Variety Wonderland Playground was completed in October in Forest Park, providing an inclusive play area for children with and without disabilities.
2006 – The annual Allocations Luncheon was expanded to the Champions for Children Summit, which included an Executive Education Forum for agency executives.
2009 – Variety Children’s Theatre was developed using a generous grant from Nancy and Ken Kranzberg. The inclusive musical theatre program produced “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” in its inaugural year.
2016 – St. Louis prepares to host its 50th Dinner with the Stars gala.