Ina Claire: Impressionist at 17

Today is the birthday of stage and screen actress Ina Claire (nee Fagan, 1893-1988). The Washington D.C. native got her start in vaudeville as an impressionist at age 17 before breaking into Broadway in 1911 in The Quaker Girl. She was popular enough to be a featured performer in the Ziegfeld Follies in the mid-teens, and was a major star of stage comedies by the likes of S.N. Behrman, George Kelly and Somerset Maugham through the end of the 1930s (her last stage role was The Confidential Clerk in 1954). Her film career was less stellar, although she did get some prominent roles, notably in The Royal Family of Broadway (1930–she played the Ethel Barrymore character), and Ninotchka (1939). She was married three times, once to the actor John Gilbert.

To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.

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