Doraldina (Dora Saunders, 1888-1936) began her working life as manicurist in a San Francisco Hotel, then went to New York and Spain to study dance. She became known for popularizing the hula, and Hawaiian culture in general, and has been described as “the first performer to be billed as an exotic dancer”.

Sometimes billed as “Madame Doraldina” or “Mlle. Doraldina”, she was working big time vaudeville and prominent nightclubs, cabarets and cafes by the nineteen-teens. In 1916 she played the Palace, billed as “Doraldina, the World’s Most Versatile Dancer”; she returned in late 1917. In 1917, she had her own venue, “The Montmartre Club”, which was backed by the Shuberts. She appeared in four Broadway shows: The Road to Mandalay (1916), Step This Way (1916) The Red Dawn (1919), and Frivolities of 1920. In 1920 a pamphlet was published called “Doraldina, As She Is to Those Who Know Her,” and in the early flapper days her likeness was to be found in  many fashion magazines. 

She is known to have appeared in three silent films: The Nauhlaka (1918) co-starring Warner Oland; The Woman Untamed (1920), in which she played a beautiful castaway worshipped as a Goddess by native cannibals; and Passion Fruit (1921), in which she portrayed the sultry daughter of a South Sea plantation owner. The second of these films apparently still survives, I saw a reference to it having been screened at a film festival about 20 years ago.

After this she seems to have concentrated on her cosmetics company (Doraldina Inc), which she’d founded in 1915. They produced a line called Allura, among others, and one of their specialties was leg make-up, especially useful for dancers and other stage-folk.

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


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