Fritzi Scheff (b. Fredericka Scheff Yarger on this day in 1879) was a prima donna in every sense of the word. A second generation grand opera singer from Vienna, a tour to the U.S. exposed her to the profitable world of light operetta and musical comedy, where she became a star in the early years of the twentieth century. Fun fact: in 1905, she starred in the Broadway production of Victor Herbert’s Mlle. Modiste featuring an obscure chorus boy named Mack Sennett!
When the Palace opened in 1913, she was among the class acts that Martin Beck brought there, and she continued to work the lucrative big time as long as the opportunities existed — through the 1920s, and a few years later in a revival at Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe. Having played the great halls of Europe and having come to the U.S. initially at the behest of the Metropolitan Opera, she was known in the business for being correspondingly demanding and haughty in the lowly precincts of vaudeville. For her last quarter century she didn’t have it to kick around any more. She passed away in 1954.
To learn more about the history of vaudeville, including classy dames like Fritzi Scheff, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.