Today is the birthday of Marguerite Sylva (Marguerite Smith, 1875-1957).
Sylva was born in Brussels to a father of English parentage; her father was the Royal Court Physician. She and sister were both classically trained musicians. Her sister Edith “Nadia” Sylva was a concert violinist. Marguerite studied piano and voice. W.S. Gilbert gave them their stage names; Gilbert had wanted Marguerite to appear in The Grand Dukes. Instead she opted to appear in the title role in Carmen at Drury Lane (a role with which she was to be thereafter associated); and then went to New York with Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree to appear in The Seats of the Mighty. From the turn of the century through the 1930s she was to be an American star of opera, musical theatre and big time vaudeville.
In the early 1940s she played small roles in Hollywood movies, notably the Val Lewton thrillers The Leopard Man (1943) and The Seventh Victim (1943), the classic To Have and Have Not (1944) and a few others. Her remaining years were spent as a voice teacher.
For more on vaudeville history, including great opera singers who sang there like Marguerite Sylva, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.