The famed Art Nouveau dancer Loïe Fuller, one of the most famous women of the fin de siècle and early 20th century, had toiled in very different vineyards during her first couple of decades as a theatrical performer. Born in Illinois on this day in 1862, she was a child prodigy whose theatrical career (as was common at the time) included a little bit of everything: acting in Shakespeare and melodrama (often in boy roles), banjo playing, and occasional dancing. As she grew, she began writing her own plays and performing in old school burlesque comedy companies. In the late 80s, she acted for several seasons with Nat C. Goodwin.
It wasn’t until 1891 that she debuted her Serpentine Dance at the Casino Theatre, inaugurating the combination of fabric and colored lights that was to be the mainstay of her work (and her fame) for the rest of her life. In time she would build whole companies do dance her works, inspired by elements from nature: fire…butterflies…the sea. After a tour of American vaudeville, she moved to Paris and the Folies Bergère where she was hailed as one of the great artists of the age, even as she was presented alongside blackface** comics, clowns and a troupe of Educated Cats. In ’96 she returned to the U.S. for an engagement at Koster and Bial’s. Her permanent artistic home was now Paris, though, where she continued to work until her passing in 1928.
To find out more about the history of 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.