Winona Winter (1888-1940) was the daughter of pre-eminent minstrel** man and songwriter Banks Winter, and born and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. She was only six when she made her theatrical debut in The Little Tycoon (1896) in Detroit.
Winter made her vaudeville debut as a soubrette and ventriloquist in 1906. She was fortunate to introduce the public to Harry von Tilzer’s song “Wait Until the Sun Shines, Nellie” that year, making a smash hit out of it. She went on to do several Broadway shows: The Little Cherub (1906), He Came from Milwaukee (1910), and Julian Eltinge’s hit show The Fascinating Widow (1911). From here she returned to vaudeville, billing herself as “The Cheer Up Girl”, frequently appearing on bills with Will Rogers. She also appeared in the 1914 film The Man from Mexico with John Barrymore. In 1922 she joined Sir Harry Lauder’s famous vaudeville tour.
In 1925, Winter married sports columnist Norman Sper (who later became noted for directing sports documentaries for television) and had their child Norman Jr. In 1928 she returned to vaudeville with an act she called Broadway-o-grams, consisting of celebrity impressions and character sketches. Unfortunately, vaudeville would not be around much longer and neither would Winter. She was taken away from performing by health problems, including ulcers and a rheumatic heart. The latter condition killed her in 1940.
To learn more history 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.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
**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.