Mademoiselle Gabrielle (1884-?) is one of the very few human oddities known to have performed in vaudeville (as opposed to circuses, sideshows, and dime museums, although she certainly performed in those types of venues as well). Born completely legless in Basel, Switzerland, she first exhibited herself at age 16 at the Paris Exposition of 1900. Her success there opened the door to America, where she performed at Dreamland Circus Sideshow in Coney Island, and Ringling Bros Barnum & Bailey, billed as the “Half Woman”. Beautiful of visage as well as of figure (assisted by the then ubiquitous corset), she accentuated these aspects, dressing in fine clothes and adornments. And this is what made vaudeville (theoretically more refined and polite) possible for someone like Gabrielle.
If you’re a vaudeville buff already then you can probably guess which theatre hired her. It was Hammerstein’s Victoria in 1912. Unfortunately, the date ended in acrimony when Gabrielle broke her contract.
To find out 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.
For more on silent and slapstick comedy please check out 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