We have been able to discover only a little about Madame Rosina Casselli, who sang, did eccentric dances, and, above all, presented an entire troupe of trained chihuahuas. Ancestry.com gives France as the birthplace of Rosina V. Casselli (1869-1936). Not only do those years seem to fit, but a Rosina V. Casselli also contributed to a book entitled The Complete Chihuahua, so the odds are pretty good that we’ve got our gal.
Casselli seems to have gotten her start in English music hall around the turn of the last century; the latest (possible) mention I find of her is at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915, from whence the photo above derives. There are ads and reviews describing her performances in London, New York, San Francisco, and ports in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
In 1908 she placed an ad in Variety claiming to have been the original inventor of tiny motorized cars for use in animal acts, an idea she claims to have gotten in 1901, and which other vaudevillians were plainly copying.
Wrote a reviewer of her 1909 show in New Zealand: “Her troupe of midget chihuahua dogs, natives of Mexico, were beautiful animals which appeared to have the intelligence of human beings. They were driven on stage in a pretty motor-car by a smart little canine, which acted the chauffeur to perfection. Upon arrival, the troupe sprang to the ground, and the driver gave utterance to a joyous little bark, and steered his car off again.
“The midgets then to set to work. Their feats included seemingly impossible performances on horizontal bars, perpendicular rods, the trapeze, and other apparatus. Dogs sprang from bar to bar cleverly, just as a human gymnast might do, did wonders on the trapeze, hanging singly and in couples, turned somersaults, and exhibited innumerable showy tricks, some of them designed with a spice of humour which the quadrupeds seemed to appreciate.
“At the conclusion of the turn, the motor-car arrived, the chauffeur barked, and they sprang on board. A diverting altercation took place between a pair of beauties for one of the seats. Shortly afterwards, an explosion was heard, and presently, walking on its hind legs, came a solitary chihuahua. He was followed by the car, drawn by one of the other dogs, the accident causing a most amusing scene.”
To find out more about vaudeville 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.