Bird Millman: Sprite of the High Wire


Today is the birthday of high-wire artiste Bird Millman (Jennadean Engleman, 1890-1940). Born in Colorado, she started out with her parents in small circus an act called the Millman Trio. By 1904, the family was playing Big Time vaudeville at such venues at Keith’s Union Square and Hammerstein’s Victoria. In time the act became built solely around Bird as the star, and other performers were hired in support. She was internationally famous, playing dates from the Palace in New York to the Wintergarten in Berlin. She was often praised for her grace, and words like “elf”, “fairy” and “sprite” were often used to describe her. In 1913 she became one of the stars of the Barnum and Bailey circus (which later merged with Ringling Bros).

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Off season she would play vaudeville and Broadway revues like Ziegfeld’s Follies and Frolics, and John Murray Anderson’s Greenwich Village Follies. Unfortunately she and her third husband lost their entire fortunes in the stock market crash in 1929. He husband (Joseph Francis O’Day) died shortly after that, and Millman retired to Colorado where she died ten years later.

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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