Today is the birthday of the influential 20th century actress Laurette Taylor (Loretta Helen Cooney, 1883-1946). By rights, she rates inclusion in my “Hall of Hams” series, which I must constantly point out is about great actors, not bad ones. But a vaudeville connection always takes precedence here, and she has one, so we include her in the Stars of Vaudeville series, along with the likes of Bernhardt, the Barrymores and many many others.
Cooney married her first husband Charles Taylor in 1901, hence her professional name. Her Broadway career launched in 1909 and took off immediately; she divorced her husband the following year. She starred in 30 Broadway productions, her heyday lasting all the way to the end of the ’20s. She was associated with many hit plays. Alias Jimmy Valentine (1910) ran six months. Peg o’ My Heart (1912), written by her second husband J. Hartley Manning, ran for a year and a half, then was revived again in 1921 and made into a 1922 film starring Taylor as well.
Taylor appeared in vaudeville at the Palace twice. In 1913, she appeared in a minor role supporting Sarah Bernhardt in a one-act play. And she returned to the Valhalla of Vaudeville to headline an old-timer’s bill in 1925, apparently causing many headaches for the management with her demands.
Taylor worked far less through the 1930s, often blamed on her alcoholism and her crazy temperament (which her friend Noel Coward sent up in his play Hay Fever). Today she is best known for her spectacular comeback as the Mother in the original production of The Glass Menagerie (1944-46).
To learn more about vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.