Adele Ritchie, Principal Competitor to Lillian Russell


Today is the birthday of Adele Ritchie (1874-1930). Ritchie was a contemporary and peer of Lillian Russell; her name is often paired with hers, although usually in a “Coke and Pepsi” sort of way, i.e., they were rival brands, as opposed to friends or collaborators. But there was some overlap in their lives. Ritchie performed in vaudeville with Don Giovanni Perugini (Russell’s husband); conversely, Ritchie’s first husband was Joseph W. Herbert, who performed with Russell.

Ritchie had a wealthy Philadelphia background, and was trained as a singer while at the Villa Maria Academy. In the early 1890s she began appearing in musical comedies and operettas in New York; she was one of the top Broadway attractions through 1913. At the same time she appeared in early vaudeville at such venues as Koster and Bial’s Music Hall and the summer resort at Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn (where she sang with John Philip Sousa’s band).

Her retirement from Broadway coincides with her marriage to her second husband Charles Nelson Bell, who was sued for bigamy (Ritchie publicly slapped a process server, resulting in scandal). Her third marriage was to stage and screen actor Guy Bates Post in 1916. The couple separated in 1926 with a final divorce in 1929.

Ritchie’s last years were spent as director of a community theatre in Laguna Beach, California. Her life ended in tragedy when, in the wake of her firing as director of the theatre company, she quarreled with her friend Doris Miller, who had been invited to a social event to which Ritchie had been barred. Ritchie murdered Miller with a revolver, and then turned the gun against herself.

To learn more about vaudevilleconsult 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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