Yvette Rugel: The Little Prima Donna


Today is the birthday of Yvette Rugel (1896-1975). A native of Philadelphia, she got her start as an actress, as a supernumerary at the Chestnut Street Theatre. At some point she received operatic training and went into vaudeville, often billed as “the Little Prima Donna”, “the Miniature Prima Donna” or even “The Distinguished Prima Donna”, although her repertoire appears mainly to have been of a popular nature.

“Rarely in vaudeville is it our privilege to hear a vocalist of the attainments of Yvette Rugel”, wrote a critic for the Seattle Post-Intellegencer in 1927, “She is a soprano of quite unusual gifts and charms whose art is of the caliber seldom heard outside the concert hall or opera house.”

The earliest reference to her I find is on the cover of the 1913 sheet music for “The Trail of a Lonesome Pine”, which may be related to a Vitagraph Film of the same name released the same year. She appeared in The Passing Show of 1917 and married fellow cast member Johnny Dooley (a member of the famous Dooley family, brother of Ray Dooley) the same year. In 1919 she appeared at the Palace and in George White’s Scandals. She was to appear at the Palace again in 1922, 1927, 1928 and 1929 — on the last two occasions as the headliner. She also made a handful of recordings in the late teens and early twenties, and her face graces many a piece of sheet music of the time. In 1926 she was in Earl Carroll’s Vanities. In 1928 and 1929 she made a small number of talking (singing) shorts for Movietone, Vitaphone and MGM, and then she abruptly disappears from big time show business.

With nothing to base my assumption on aside from logic, I imagine she was hit hard by the Depression and the necessity of raising her two children John and Mary. She had separated from Dooley in 1922 and he passed away in 1928 in any case. Around 1939 I find references to Mary Dooley trying to break in as a singer, with Yvette apparently trying to help her out and even taking the stage herself.

Here from 1918 is her record “Granny (You’re My Mammy’s Mammy”)

To find out more about vaudeville 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.


For more on silent and slapstick comedy please see 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



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