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Bailey, Pearl (29 March 1918–17 August 1990), actress, singer, and entertainer, was born Pearl Mae Bailey in Newport News, Virginia, the daughter of the Reverend Joseph James Bailey and Ella Mae (maiden name unknown). Her brother Bill Bailey was at one time a well-known tap dancer....

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Baker, Josephine (03 June 1906–12 April 1975), dancer, singer, and civil rights activist, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Eddie Carson, a musician, and Carrie Macdonald. Her parents parted when Josephine was still an infant, and her mother married Arthur Martin, which has led to some confusion about her maiden name. Very little is known about her childhood, except that she was a witness to the East St. Louis riot in 1917. This event was often a feature of her talks in the 1950s and 1960s about racism and the fight for equality, which fostered the oft-repeated assertion that the family was resident in East St. Louis. Before the age of eighteen Josephine had been married twice, first to Willie Wells and then to William Baker, to whom she was married in Camden, New Jersey, in September 1921....

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Bayes, Nora (29 November 1880–19 March 1928), singer and comedienne, was born Theodora Goldberg in Joliet, Illinois, the daughter of Elias Goldberg, a merchant, and Rachel Miller. The product of local public schools, which she left to enter vaudeville, the young Dora Goldberg was largely self-taught musically. She had already made her debut at the Hopkins Theatre in Chicago and had become “Nora Bayes” when, at eighteen, she received her first acclaim at the Hyde and Behman vaudeville theater in Chicago, singing comic songs in dialect while impersonating Yiddish and Irish stereotypical characters then fashionable in vaudeville....

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Brice, Fanny (29 October 1891–29 May 1951), comedienne and singer, was born Fania Borach in New York City, the daughter of Charles Borach, a bartender, and Rose Stern. The third of four children, all born on New York’s Lower East Side, she was raised in a Newark, New Jersey, middle-class home complete with household servants and material comforts. Her parents separated in 1902, and Rose moved the family to St. Marks Place in Brooklyn, New York, where Fanny got the remnants of her formal education at public schools....

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Clooney, Rosemary (23 May 1928–29 June 2002), popular singer and actress, was born in Maysville, Kentucky, the daughter of Andrew Clooney, an occasional house painter, and Frances Guilfoyle Clooney, district sales manager for a chain of dress shops. Both parents were of Irish Catholic descent. Rosemary and her two younger siblings, Betty and Nick, grew up in a household that was unstable and often failed to provide basic necessities. Andrew Clooney, an alcoholic, was often unemployed; Frances Clooney, the more consistent breadwinner, traveled frequently for her job, leaving the children with their father or with relatives. In 1941, following her divorce from Andrew Clooney, Frances Clooney remarried and moved to California, taking her son with her; Rosemary and Betty were left behind to keep house for their father and to get by as best they could. Though Andrew Clooney found steady work at a defense plant, money was tight; the girls paid for school lunches with refunds from soda bottles they collected....

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Daniels, Bebe (14 January 1901–16 March 1971), entertainer, was born Phyllis Bebe Daniels in Dallas, Texas, the daughter of Danny Daniels (Melville Daniel MacMeal), the actor-manager of a traveling stock theater company, and Phyllis Griffin, his leading lady. From birth Daniels was called “Bebe,” which means baby in Spanish, reflecting her mother’s Spanish ancestry. Daniels first appeared onstage when she was only ten weeks old, and she performed in her first Shakespearean production at the age of four. After her father left the family around 1907–1908, Daniels’s mother took her to Los Angeles, California. She played child roles onstage until a new labor law was passed. In 1910 she made her silent film debut in ...

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Dietrich, Marlene (27 December 1901–06 May 1992), actress and singer, was born Maria Magdalena Dietrich in Berlin, Germany, the daughter of Louis Erich Otto Dietrich, a policeman, and Wilhelmina Elisabeth Josephine Felsing. Dietrich trained as a concert violinist at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin, but a hand injury at the age of twenty-one led her to shift her ambitions to acting. She adopted the surname Marlene for her stage name by combining syllables of her first two names....

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Evans, Dale (31 October 1912–07 February 2001), actor and singer-songwriter, actor and singer‐songwriter, was born Lucille Wood Smith in Uvalde, Texas, the daughter of Walter Hillman Smith, a cotton farmer and hardware dealer, and Bettie Sue Wood. At an early age her name was changed to Frances Octavia Smith. During her childhood the family moved to Osceola, Arkansas, where Frances attended local schools and enjoyed singing with church and social groups. She was bright, skipped several grades, and entered high school at the age of twelve. Two years later, to her parents' dismay, she eloped with her boyfriend, Thomas F. Fox, and gave birth to their son the following year. Soon afterward Fox deserted the family, leaving Frances to raise the child on her own; the couple divorced in 1929 when Frances was seventeen....

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Faye, Alice (05 May 1915–09 May 1998), singing actress, was born Alice Jeanne Leppert in New York to Charley Leppert, a policeman, and his wife Alice Moffat Leppert. Educated in New York schools and lying about her age, she began her professional career in 1928 as a dancer for the Chester Hale Troupe and the night-club entrepreneur Nils Thor Granlund. Faye (who legally changed her name in 1935) was a chorine in the eleventh ...

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Holman, Libby (23 May 1906–18 June 1971), actress and singer, was born Elizabeth Holtzman in Cincinnati, Ohio, the daughter of well-to-do lawyer Alfred Holtzman and Rachel Workum. After receiving a B.A. from the University of Cincinnati, Holman made her stage debut in a touring production of the drama ...

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Monroe, Marilyn (01 June 1926–05 August 1962), film actress and sex symbol, was born Norma Jeane Mortensen (and was also known as Norma Jeane Baker in her youth) in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of Gladys Monroe Baker Mortensen, a film cutter, who was unmarried when she gave birth to Monroe (her father has never been positively identified). Gladys Mortensen was an avid movie fan, but Monroe spent very little time with her often unstable mother. Within two weeks of her birth, Monroe was placed in the first of what would be a succession of foster homes, guardianships, and orphanages. This experience convinced her that she was a “mistake,” a person easily abandoned. Given an insecure childhood that included the trauma of sexual molestation and an early marriage (to James Dougherty in 1942; they were divorced in 1946) arranged in part to prevent her return to an orphanage, it is a testament to Monroe’s tenacity, personal strength, and resilience that she managed to achieve the heights in her career that she did....

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Pearl, Minnie (25 October 1912–04 March 1996), entertainer, was born Sarah Ophelia Colley in Centerville, Tennessee, to Thomas K. Colley, a lumberman, and Fannie Tate House Colley, a pianist and prominent suffragist. The youngest of five daughters, she grew up in a prosperous household, and her flair for dramatics and music, evident at an early age, was encouraged by the family. She sang and gave dramatic readings in public during her childhood, and by her teens she had decided to become a stage actress. She planned to attend a women's college in the East and then go on to drama school, but during her senior year in high school the stock market crash of 1929 occurred and her father was unable to pay for such an expensive education. Instead, she enrolled in the fall of 1930 at Ward-Belmont College, an exclusive girls' finishing school in Nashville that had an outstanding drama department. Although she felt initially out of place among her far more elegant classmates, she perfected her acting skills there, entertaining at campus events and becoming one of the school's most popular students....

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Russell, Lillian (04 December 1861–06 June 1922), entertainer, actress, and singer, was born Helen Louise Leonard in Clinton, Iowa, to a well-to-do family. Her father, Charles E. Leonard, was the publisher of the local newspaper, the Clinton Herald, and her mother, Cynthia Howland Van Name, was an early and ardent feminist. Her family moved to Chicago in 1865, and she attended local schools, completing her formal education at the Park Institute, a finishing school. However, as she later recalled, her most significant education occurred at home: “Our family was a musical one. We sang and danced and played, and all my sisters had exceptionally fine voices, which were carefully trained.” Her parents subsequently divorced after separating in 1877, and, with her mother and sisters, she moved to New York City. Within a short time, she secured a chorus part in Edward E. Rice’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s ...

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Tanguay, Eva (01 August 1878–11 January 1947), entertainer, was born in Marbleton, Quebec, Canada, the daughter of Octave Tanguay, a physician, and Adele Pajeau. Around 1884 the Tanguays moved to Holyoke, Massachusetts, where Eva attended public school and her father’s health broke under the strain of a huge work load and financial pressure. After his death in 1886, Eva won first prize at an amateur contest at Parsons’ Hall in Holyoke; she made her professional acting debut in ...

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Waters, Ethel (31 October 1896–01 September 1977), blues singer and actress, was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Louisa Tar Anderson and John Wesley Waters. Her birth resulted from the rape of her mother. Young Ethel was raised in poor neighborhoods in and around Philadelphia by her mother and grandmother, who worked as a laundress. Members of her family were amateur singers, and at the age of five, using the name Baby Star, Waters sang in public at a children’s performance in a Philadelphia church....