Variety is described as “The Heart of Show Business” because it was started by a group of theatre owners and showmen in Pittsburgh, USA.
Initially the group would get together after performances to play cards at a social gathering they called the "Variety Club". One night in 1928 they heard whimpering from the empty Sheriden Theatre and when they investigated the source of the noise, they discovered an abandoned baby. The baby’s mother had pinned a note to the child's clothing which read:
"Please take care of my baby. Her name is Catherine. I can no longer take care of her. I have eight others. My husband is out of work. She was born on Thanksgiving Day. I have always heard of the goodness of showbusiness people and pray to God that you will look after her. Signed, a heartbroken mother."
A police search to find the mother failed, but the theatre owners' hearts had already melted. They took the baby in and named her Catherine Variety Sheridan. They set about raising money to buy items needed for her care and were so successful that they decided to widen their view to offer assistance to local orphanages. Their philosophy was that they would not give money – only goods and services. This ideal remains pivotal to the ethos of Variety today. Variety spread throughout the entertainment industry and today there are 80 branches worldwide.
Catherine’s story became an inspiration to help children everywhere and since those early beginnings, Variety has become an international organisation, operating in 14 countries and raising over $2 billion to help children in need throughout the world. The original ideals are maintained by a strict charter, which dictates how money is raised and distributed. The Charity has kept its theatrical tradition alive by the use of quaint terminology where branches are called Tents and Chairmen are Chief Barkers.
Lord Louis Mountbatten brought Variety to Australia in 1975 with Paul Hogan as the first Chief Barker (Chairman). Today it is represented in all states and territories, reaching tens of thousands of special children each year.
And what of Catherine Variety Sheridan? When Catherine was 5 years old she was fostered out to a carefully selected loving family. Over 300 Pittsburgh families applied to adopt Catherine, whose name was changed to Joan to protect her identity and ensure as normal a life as possible. Joan had a happy life and served the United States in both Korea and Vietnam as a registered nurse and spent much of her life helping disadvantaged children. She remained anonymous until 1980 when, at the request of Variety International, she attended the Variety Convention in Los Angeles with her husband and three children. She died in 1994 but her story will always be a constant reminder of the wonderful things that can be achieved when people care.
Variety has its roots in the entertainment industry but its core is the community. People from all walks of life, throughout the state, can contribute and experience the joy of helping children in need.