History of Variety

It was in October 1927 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania USA, that eleven close friends formed The Variety Club -  “Variety” because they came from all branches of showbusiness: from circus and ‘icecapades’ to cinema and theatre.

The club had no ambition other than simple fellowship.

But a single event, almost a year later, would become the springboard for the global organisation that Variety is today.

Old Sunshine Coach

Abandoned on a cinema seat

On Christmas Eve in 1928, as the Sheridan Square Movie Theatre was about to close, a month old baby was found abandoned.

A note pinned to the baby girl’s dress read: 

“Please take care of my baby. Her name is Catherine. I can no longer take care of her. I have eight others. I have always heard of the generosity of people in showbusiness and I pray to God that you will look after her. 

It was signed “A heartbroken mother.”

All efforts by the police failed to find the mother, despite publicity from the local media.

From one child to an international charity

The Variety Club members took the decision to oversee the baby’s upbringing and education. In recognition of this, they named her Catherine Variety Sheridan.

The story of baby Catherine was picked up by newspapers all across America. Other showbusiness people volunteered their help. They too wanted to join a ‘Club’ that had done such a wonderful thing as adopting an abandoned baby.

Clothes and toys flooded in for baby Catherine; far too many for one small child. So Variety Club sought out needy children they could give them to.

From this unexpected beginning has grown one of the greatest children’s charities, helping sick, disabled and disadvantaged children in many countries around the world.

Showbiz traditions run deep in Variety. Because the first Annual Dinner and Ball in Pittsburgh in 1928 was staged in a Big Top, the branches have always been referred to as ‘Tents’ and the members are called ‘Barkers.’

More than half a billion dollars

The membership has raised more than $500,000,000 since it started.

Variety in the UK

Variety was started in the UK in 1949 with a dinner at The Savoy attended by film moguls, agents and celebrities, all eager to freely donate their time and talent to help raise funds for children.

Since then, more than £270 million has been raised by Variety in the UK; funding 5,600+ Sunshine Coaches, almost the same number of wheelchairs, thousands of grants to individual children and life-saving support for children’s hospitals, hospices and youth clubs.

And each year, tens of thousands of children are taken on Great Days Out.

Every single day we’re improving more young lives. 

We do it with practical, tangible help. Help that makes a real and immediate difference.

It’s what our founders did for Catherine. Early publicity for her story included the title “A Little Child Shall Lead Them”. Indeed she has.