Got A Whole Lottie Love: On Lottie Gilson and Lottie Collins

The late 19th century, the days of saloons and variety theatres and very early vaudeville, seemed to have no end of feisty, bawdy female singers named “Lottie”. It can result in a Lottie confusion. (sorry). Anyway, here’s the skinny on a couple of these Minnies. I mean Lotties.

Lottie Gilson (real name Lydia Deagon) was born sometime in 1862 in Basel, Switzerland. (There is typical confusion on this point. I’ve also seen Pennsylvania and England given, but Frank Cullen’s meticulously researched Vaudeville Old and New says Switzerland and I’ll go with him. (Besides, it seems likely that the guy who said England mixed her up with Lottie Collins, whom we’ll get to in a minute).At any rate, her origins are shrouded in a good deal of mystery. It is unknown when or where she made her stage debut. The first contemporary account of her performing is from 1884, at the Bowery’s Old National Theatre, and she was thereafter a regular there and the other top New York theatres of the day: Tony Pastor’s, Henry Miner’s, and Hyde & Behmans. She was quickly established as the top soubrette of her era, with a personality so compelling her stage name, given to her by a critic, was “The Little Magnet”. She was equally adept at tear-jerkers and bawdy comical songs, the most famous of which was “The Sunshine of Paradise Alley”. She is also reputed to be the originator of the stunt of having a boy come out of the balcony singing along with one of her songs, which became a popular gimmick in vaudeville.  She died in 1912 at the comparatively young age of 50.

Lottie Collins was a star of the British Music Hall, born sometime in 1866. She is best known to posterity for popularizing the song “Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay”. While every school child knows this song to this day, what most of them probably don’t know is that it originated in a St. Louis whorehouse. Lottie first went onstage with her sisters at age 10, going solo in around 1886. She came on first American tour at around the time, billing herself as a premier “skirt dancer’ — a euphemism for can-can dancing. So energetic was her dancing, that when she died in 1910 at age 44 some thought that it was the overexertion that had done it. (Note: Lottie’s daughter Jose, was also a major star of the variety and musical theatre stages.

And stay tuned in November for our third 19th century “Lottie”: Lotta Crabtree!

To find out more about variety artists like Lottie Collins and Lottie Gilson and the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


  1. Robert…I am also related to Lottie (Lydia). Her mother Sophie is my great great grandmother. She is also the mother of William (Henry’s brother). William is the father of James Lawrence Degan. The son to James Lawrence is Terry Degan and Terry is my Father.


  2. Concerning Lottie Gilson. Her surname was Degen, not Deagon. Her brother Henry C. Degan (he was the only member of the family to spell his surname as Degan..all other siblings spelled the name as Degen) is my great grandfather. The New York Times news strory (14 June 1912) of Lottie Gilson’s burial mentions that Henry Degan, her brother, was in attendance at the burilal. Her father Heinrich Degen (born Switzerland) and mother Sophie Wildenstrein (born Kandern, Baden) were married in 1862 and emmigrated to the US sometime between 1862 and 1866. The family first lived in New York City and then lived in Canton, Ohio for a while (the family is listed as residents of Canton, Ohio, in the 1870 US Census) before moving to New York City sometime between 1870 and 1873.

    Lottie Gilson married Broadway star Joseph Kline Emmet Jr. in 1900 and he divorced her in 1908 after an alleged affair wiith one William Hart. This is probably William S. Hart, the Hollywood film star, as he was a Broadway actor of some renown in the late 1890s and early 1900s.


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