NORMA TERRIS: THE ORIGINAL MAGNOLIA
Today is the birthday of Norma Terris (Norma Allison, 1904-1989).
Originally from Kansas, Terris started out in vaudeville performing singing celebrity impressions, an act that sounds not unlike that of Elsie Janis. I see it claimed in various places that she was featured in the Ziegfeld Follies, however my own Follies resources (bills for each year) and IBDB don’t reflect that. She may have been a replacement, or toured with the show. However, she was definitely featured doing her impersonation specialty in two Shubert revues A Night in Paris (1926) and A Night in Spain (1927). This lead to her best known theatrical credit: she was the original Magnolia and Kim in the first productions of Show Boat (1927-1929 and 1932). She was tried in two Hollywood features, Married in Hollywood (1929) and Cameo Kirby (1930), but apparently she did not click in pictures; when films were made of Show Boat in 1929 and 1936, she was passed over.
She starred in a couple more short-lived Broadway shows (her last was in 1938), then sang for ten seasons with the Municipal Opera Company in St. Louis. After this she retired to Connecticut with her husband. Ironically, it is her activity during this “retirement” for which she may be best known today, for she became heavily involved, both as a singer and a benefactor, with the Goodspeed Opera Company, which named one of its theatre buildings in her honor.
For more on vaudeville history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.