Today is the birthday of British-American actress Kitty Gordon (Constance Blades, 1878-1974). A star of musical comedy, started out touring the British provinces in 1901. Her first Broadway production was Veronique (1904) , produced by Klaw and Erlanger. Five years later she moved to the states permanently. Among her notable shows were the Shubert revue La Belle Paree (1911) and the American premiere of Victor Herbert’s The Enchantress (1911-1912).
Her big vaudeville year appears to have been 1914, when she made a national tour of the Keith circuit, including the newly opened Palace. She seems to have been as prized for her looks as for her ability as a performer. In her book Vaudeville, Caroline Caffin notes “her luscious beauty and limpid voice and gowns of startling magnificence”. In her book The Palace, Marion Spitzer says she was “famous for her beautiful back” (a woman’s back was presumably a rare and exciting sight in public in the early 20th century, striking enough to rate a shout out).
Gordon did one last Broadway show, the Shubert revue A World of Pleasure (1915-1916) and then headed out to Hollywood to star in silent films for two years. Her last movie was Playthings of Passion (1919). Then it was back to vaudeville. In 1920, while performing a dramatic sketch at a Chicago vaudeville house, the prop gun she was using fire for real, shooting an acrobat who was standing in the wings. That’ll fix him for standing in the wings!
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.