Kate Elinor: The Human Billiken


Kate Elinor (ca. 1875-1924) started out in the 1890s in a comical two act with her sister May, who fed her jokes. Joe Laurie Jr. described this act as being similar to the Russell Brothers. By this I think he means they portrayed a couple of comical maids; this seems to have been their role in the 1903 Broadway show Mrs. Delaney of Newport.

Along the way they picked up composer/ accompanist Sam Williams, who performed with the sisters for four years, before Kate dumped May and married and partnered with Sam, forming Elinor and Williams in 1909. Carolyn Gaffin writes glowingly about her absurd faces, gestures and mannersisms in her 1914 book Vaudeville, from which the caricature above is taken. Gaffin says she was billed as “the Human Billiken”, a sprite-like figure who swept the country in the early 20th century. Elinor and Williams were a big time act; among their last dates were the New York Palace and the Los Angeles Orpheum before she suddenly died of a mysterious disease. Elinor is also notable for having been one of the cast members of the hit show Naughty Marietta in 1910. Williams kept working, passing away in 1961.

To find out more about the variety arts past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable 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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