Lillian Herlein: Turned Heads as a “Turk” in the Teens

Lillian Herlein (1895-1971) was only a teenager when she lucked into the flashy part of Zoradie in the Lew FieldsVictor Herbert show The Rose of Algeria (1909). Her turn was show-stopping enough that it secured her lucrative additional work (such as the 1910 endorsement for Fatima Turkish Cigarettes, depicted above), and work as a big time vaudeville headliner at such important venues as the New York Palace, the Hippodrome, the Fifth Avenue Theatre and the Brighton Beach Music Hall. In his book Blue Vaudeville, Andrew Erdman mentions Herlein as someone whose penchant for scanty costume (as opposed to talent, necessarily) won her lots of attention. Her second Broadway show was The Never Homes (1911). Later she was in the shows A Hungarian Rhapsody and Sweeties at the Orpheum in Brooklyn in 1919.

In 1922 she had a supporting role in the silent film Solomon in Society, one of her few screen appearances. In 1933 came the Broadway show Man Bites Dog. She had a bit part as a landlady in the 1938 Bob Hope movie Thanks for the Memory, and appeared in a pageant at the 1939 World’s Fair. After vaudeville died (circa 1932) Herlein appears to have worked mostly in radio. This is probably where she met Gertrude Berg, who cast her in her one TV part, on The Goldbergs (1956). According to her New York Times obit she also performed in music halls and cabarets in Europe.

Herlein’s husband Charles G. Strakosch, was a company manager on Broadway in the ’40s and ’50s.

To find out more about the history of vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.