Della Fox: A Girl with a Curl

Theatrical soubrette Della Fox (1870-1913) was born this day.

She was the daughter of noted St. Louis theatrical photographer A.J. Fox. Her amateur theatrical debut was in a production of H.M.S. Pinafore at age 7. Six years later she was cast in her first professional production, as the lead in Editha’s Burglar an adaptation of a Frances Hodgson Burnett story by Augustus Thomas. A soprano, for a number of years she toured regionally in shows like Fra Diavalo, The Bohemian Girl, The Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance. 

In 1889 she came to New York to sing at Niblo’s Garden. The following year she was hired to be in DeWolf Hopper’s company, and she acted opposite him in several productions: Castles in the Air (1890), Wang (1891-92), Panjandrum (1893), and The Lady or the Tiger (1894). I havent’t yet uncovered any critics of the day referring to them as “DeWolf and de Fox” but if I were around then you can rest assured I would have.

She appeared with Lillian Russell in The Wedding Day (1897). In 1898 she started her own company and starred in The Little Host. The title of that play give some idea of her physical stature; she was a very short, stoutish woman with a lot of energy. Her hairstyle was known as “the Della Fox Curl”, and much imitated across the country. So popular was she that Fay Templeton dedicated a song to her.

Around the turn of the century, suffering from stress, as well s drug and alcohol abuse, Fox had a nervous breakdown that derailed the momentum of her career. After a rest, she appeared in The Rogers Brothers in Central Park, and then married a diamond merchant named Jacob David Levy.  Most of her work in the 20th century consisted of vaudeville performances, along with two additional Broadway shows: The West Point Cadet (1904) and Rosedale (1913). Both of these experiences seem to have led to relapses and hospitalizations. The latter occasion was the end for her. She died in an institution in 1913, only 42 years old.

Fox’s neice Marion Thompson was also a Broadway performer and became a Ziegfeld girl.

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