Billed as “The Blue Streak of Vaudeville”, Rae (Rachel) Samuels (1887-1979), performed in front of her own deep blue backdrop with a lightening bolt across it. The brand intimates something about speed and sudden change — e.g., going from elegant evening gowns to blackface**, “rube” or Italian character costumes in a twinkling, and performing zippy character routines, including songs, for each one.
She started out as a local child performer in her native Ohio, and went on to join her sister and brother-in-law in a vaudeville act called “Musical Hearts” around 1905. Apparently her partners were not very good. A local manager suggested she go off on her own, so she did. In 1907 boxing promoter Marty Forkin became her agent (and soon thereafter her husband) and in short order made her one of big time vaudeville’s top-paid and most popular stars, which she remained until vaudeville’s demise in the early 1930s. By that time, the couple had a safety net: Forkin’s other major client, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson” whom Samuels had introduced to Forkin back in 1908. Bill’s Hollywood career and their own savings kept the couple solvent through a LONG retirement. Rae lived another 44 years after she stopped performing; she was 92 when she passed.
To learn more about vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
**Obligatory Disclaimer: It is the official position of this blog that Caucasians-in-Blackface is NEVER okay. It was bad then, and it’s bad now. We occasionally show images depicting the practice, or refer to it in our writing, because it is necessary to tell the story of American show business, which like the history of humanity, is a mix of good and bad.