Thursday, September 13, 2012

Andrew L. Erdman's "Queen of Vaudeville"

Andrew L. Erdman is the author of Blue Vaudeville: Sex, Morals, and the Mass Marketing of Entertainment, 1895–1915.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Queen of Vaudeville: The Story of Eva Tanguay, and reported the following:
I love page 99 of my book! I’m not trying to be immodest. Nor do I think it necessarily represents everything about the work as a whole. Or maybe it does…

Page 99 finds Eva Tanguay rising toward the pinnacle of her success, around the years 1907-08. She had traveled the rails as an itinerant player in her youth, playing the lead in Little Lord Fauntleroy and appearing in countless melodramas. By 1901, she was on Broadway, first in small parts but never small in her stage presence. She appeared in a series of vaudeville-like, loosely-cobbled musicals including The Chaperons and The Sambo Girl between 1901 and 1905. In the latter, she became famous for a song called “I Don’t Care.” It was a smash. She made it famous and it did the same for her. By 1906, she was a one-woman sensation on the vaudeville boards.

Because of her vivacity, energy, and libidinal power, Eva Tanguay was soon dubbed “The Cylconic Comedienne.” She was a force of nature. Page 99 looks at the cultivation of her persona as a gutsy, racy, rule-breaking, larger-than-life entertainer who set the mold for a line of nobly mischievous starlets, from Mae West down through Madonna. Eva sang other songs that marked her out as playfully uncivilized at times, including one with the lyrics, “I really think I’d rather be, An Animal in the zoo.”

Now, not many stars back in those seedling years of the twentieth century endorsed products. But, as page 99 tells us, the Scott L. Snyder tobacco company of Minneapolis held a contest to see who could supply the best reasons for smoking their five-cent “Eva Tanguay” cigar (whose pleasure-delivering, Freudian symbolism ought not be lost on the reader). Edgar Nash, a Tanguay smoker, of 1422 Vine Place in Minneapolis won out. Here were some of his reasons:
Because, after smoking 40 years, I think the Eva Tanguay the best nickel cigar I ever smoked.

Because it is not made by a trust.

Because it is a pleasure to smoke an Eva Tanguay at any time. But the real, deep, satisfying enjoyment is, after a hungry man had eaten a good hearty meal, to sit down with a clear consciences and an Eva Tanguay cigar. Then truly “it makes you happy.”
Ironically, Eva never touched tobacco.
Learn more about Queen of Vaudeville at Andrew L. Erdman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue