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Abbey, Henry Eugene (27 June 1846–17 October 1896), theatrical and operatic manager and impresario, was born in Akron, Ohio, the son of Henry Stephen Abbey, a clockmaker and partner in a jewelry business, and Elizabeth Smith. After graduating with honors from Akron High School, where he showed a keen interest in music, Abbey worked in his father’s jewelry store until he launched his artistic management career in 1869 at the Sumner Opera House in Akron. In 1871 he became manager of the newly opened Akron Academy of Music, where he stayed for one season before moving to work first at John Ellsler’s Euclid Avenue Opera House in Cleveland and then as treasurer of the Ellsler Opera House in Pittsburgh. While still in Akron, Abbey and Ellsler managed the tours of the singing and dancing Worrell Sisters, ...

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Aronson, Rudolph (08 April 1856–04 February 1919), theatrical impresario and composer, was born in New York City to German immigrant parents (names and occupations unknown). When he was six, his music-loving parents arranged for him to have instruction on the piano. Recognizing in Aronson a definite musical precocity, his teacher, Leopold Meyer, persuaded Aronson’s parents to allow the child to be trained for a musical career and introduced Aronson to the violin and the theory of music. At age fourteen Aronson attended a concert featuring musical stars under the direction of ...

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Barnabee, Henry Clay (14 November 1833–16 December 1917), singer and actor, was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the son of Willis Barnabee and Mary (maiden name unknown). His father was a stagecoach driver who became an innkeeper. Willis Barnabee’s wife was cook, and his adolescent son Henry was odd-jobs man and at times bartender....

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Earl Carroll As a pilot during World War I, c. 1918. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-165-WW-432[P1524]).

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Carroll, Earl (16 September 1893–17 June 1948), theatrical producer and songwriter, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of James Carroll and Elizabeth Wills, hotelkeepers. At thirteen, Carroll became a program boy at a Pittsburgh theater. At seventeen, having graduated from Allegheny High School, he was assistant treasurer and box-office manager at another theater. He worked his passage around the world doing odd jobs, wrote for an English-language newspaper in the Orient, and, after visiting New York, became treasurer at Pittsburgh’s Nixon Theater....

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Charlot, André (26 July 1882–20 May 1956), theatrical impresario, was born Eugene André Maurice Charlot in Paris, France, the son of Maurice Charlot, a journalist and theatrical manager, and Sargine Battu. After failing his exams at Paris’s Lycée Condorcet, Charlot gave up his dream of being a composer like his prizewinning grandfather and undertook an apprenticeship in Paris in theater management and public relations. In 1912 he assumed the managership of London’s Alhambra Theatre, anglicizing French spectacular topical revue. In 1908 he married Florence Gladman, one-half of an English sister act; they had two children....

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Cole, Bob (01 July 1868–02 August 1911), actor, director, and composer, was born Robert Allen Cole, Jr., in Athens, Georgia, the son of Robert Allen Cole, Sr., a successful carpenter and political activist in the black community. Cole received musical training in Athens and finished elementary school after his family moved to Atlanta. He made his first stage appearance in Chicago, performing in Sam T. Jack’s ...

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De Angelis, Thomas Jefferson (30 November 1859–20 March 1933), actor and musical performer, was born in San Francisco, California, the son of John “Johnny” De Angelis and Susan Loudenschlager, stage performers. He was thus born to a theatrical heritage. His uncle, Thomas Rosa, taught him dancing and gymnastics, and his father gave him voice lessons. De Angelis also attended a few classes in public schools in both Philadelphia and New York, but his formal schooling was sparse....

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Divine (19 Oct. 1945–7 March 1988), film actor, stage performer, and singer, was born Harris Glenn Milstead in Baltimore, Maryland, to Harris Bernard Milstead and Frances Vukovich Milstead. Milstead was educated in the public schools in suburban Baltimore and graduated from Towson High School in ...

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Emmet, J. K. (13 March 1841–15 June 1891), actor and songwriter, was born Joseph Klein Emmet in St. Louis, Missouri. (His middle name is frequently spelled Kline.) Nothing is known of Emmet’s parents except that his father died young, leaving behind a son who had been able to find sporadic employment as a drummer with several St. Louis bands while unsuccessfully trying to become a photographer. On the elder Emmet’s death, Joseph became an apprentice to a sign painter who also made sets for local theaters. While working in the playhouses, the musically talented Emmet became fascinated with the stage and developed his own act with original songs and dances....

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Fox, Della May (13 October 1870–15 June 1913), comic opera star, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Andrew J. Fox, a leading St. Louis photographer, and Harriett Swett. Della made her first appearance on stage as the Midshipmite in a St. Louis production of ...

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Gilbert, Ruth Alice “Ronnie” (7 Sept. 1926–6 June 2015), folksinger, actor, and therapist, was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Sarah and Charles Gibson. Her mother was a dressmaker and her father was a factory worker; both parents were Jewish. Ronnie inherited her lifelong leftwing politics particularly from her Polish-born mother, who was long involved with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and who took her daughter to a ...

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Golden, John (27 June 1874–17 June 1955), theatrical producer, songwriter, and playwright, was born in New York City, the son of Joel Golden, a teacher and proprietor of a summer hotel, and Amelia Tyreler. Raised in Wauseon, Ohio, he went to New York at age fourteen to pursue a career as an actor. For seven years he struggled, accepting odd jobs and selling comic verses, the latter written after the manner of W. S. Gilbert, to the weekly humor magazines ...

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Hall, Pauline (26 February 1860–29 December 1919), singer and actress, was born Pauline Fredericka Schmidgall (or Schmitgall) in Cincinnati, Ohio. Little is known of her parents other than that her father was an apothecary and her mother was a keeper of an actors’ boardinghouse. Pauline’s humble background was significant to her career primarily because the actors living in her childhood home caused her to be stagestruck at an early age. She was young when she committed herself to the “profession,” as she called it, performing at age fifteen in a ballet presented by R. E. J. Miles at Robinson’s Opera House in Cincinnati, “where she stepped out of the chorus to sing a small part” and “then chose the stage name of Hall” (Clippings File). She then went to the Grand Opera House until Miles, still her manager, put his “America Racing Association and Hippodrome” on the road, and Hall was featured in the street tableaus and drove a chariot in races at the indoor entertainments....

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Held, Anna (18 March 1865?–13 August 1918), actress and singer, was born in Warsaw, Poland (although she often claimed to have been born in Paris, France), the daughter of Maurice Held and Yvonne Pierre. Her true birthdate is a matter of considerable conjecture. Most sources give 1873 or 1877 as the year, but more recent research has provided evidence that Held was actually born in 1865. Her father was a glovemaker, but after he became seriously ill the family moved from Warsaw to Paris and opened a restaurant. Held worked in the restaurant, as did her siblings, and she also worked in Parisian shops sewing buttonholes, making curled ostrich feathers, and constructing fur caps. She occasionally sang in her father’s restaurant and was clearly drawn to the stage at an early age. She made her debut in a café concert in 1889, impressing her audience by singing in Spanish, French, German, and Polish. After her father’s death, Held moved with her mother to London where she sought chorus work and made her legitimate theater debut at London’s Princess Theatre in 1889. She also performed in London’s Yiddish Theatre. She slowly moved up to featured roles both in England and on the Continent, where she performed in the elegant El Dorado and La Scala cabarets in Paris. While starring in other top-notch European cabarets in Germany, Amsterdam, Hungary, and Scandinavia, Held also performed in the palaces of royalty and the mansions of the rich. Her celebrity was such that at this time she was the model for two Toulouse-Lautrec lithographs. Also at about this time, Held secretly wed a fifty-year-old South American named Maximo Carrera in 1894. They were separated after a short time....

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Hewlett, James S. (fl. 1821–1831), actor and singer, , is said to have been born on Long Island, New York, presumably toward the end of the eighteenth century. His parents are unknown, and nothing is known about his childhood. As a young man he worked as steward on passenger ships, and he is said to have been an avid playgoer. In 1820 New York City had a black population of about 11,000, out of a total of about 125,000. The one theater in town, the Park, admitted African Americans to only a section of one of the balconies. When ...

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De Wolf Hopper Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90305).

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Hopper, DeWolf (30 March 1858–23 September 1935), actor and singer, was born William D’Wolf Hopper in New York City, the son of John Hopper, a lawyer, and Rosalie D’Wolf. The family lived on East Third Street right off the Bowery and later moved to West Forty-third Street. His paternal grandfather, John Tatum Hopper, was a Quaker and a conductor of the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who was disciplined by the Quaker Meeting for his participation in the Civil War. Hopper was six when his father died, leaving him and his mother comfortably well off. He studied at J. H. Morse’s School. Early on he showed a propensity for the theatrical. As a school boy he mastered the “Senator Dilworthy” monologue, and when he was fifteen he played in a Sunday school production of ...

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Canada Lee Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1941. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 687 P&P).

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Lee, Canada (03 May 1907–09 May 1952), actor, theater producer, bandleader, and boxer, was born Leonard Lionel Cornelius Canegata in New York City, the son of James Cornelius Canegata, a clerk, and Lydia Whaley. Lee’s father came from a wealthy and politically prominent family in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, whose ancestors had adopted a Danish surname. Lee’s grandfather owned a fleet of merchant ships; the family also raced horses. James Canegata shipped out as a cabin boy at eighteen, settled in Manhattan, married, and worked for National Fuel and Gas for thirty-one years. Lee grew up in the San Juan Hill section of Manhattan’s West Sixties and attended P.S. 5 in Harlem. An indifferent student, he devoted more energy to fisticuffs than to schoolwork. Lee studied violin from age seven with composer J. Rosamund Johnson, and at age eleven he was favorably reviewed at a student concert in Aeolian Hall; his parents hoped he would become a concert violinist....