The Peerless Annabelle

The Peerless Annabelle (1878-1961) performed under two separate professional names: Annabelle Moore (the surname of her stepfather, who was also her agent and manager), and Annabelle Whitford (the surname of her mother, who raised her as a single mom in her youth). Born and raised in Chicago, Annabelle danced at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and in vaudeville when she was still a teenager. Her act was so popular that her repertoire of Loïe Fuller style numbers, with names like The Sun Dance, The Butterfly Dance, The Serpentine Dance, The Tambourine Dance, and The Flag Dance, were captured by the Edison Company in some of their very first films, 1894-97. These were the days when movies were just two or three minutes long, and primarily viewed in Kinetoscope arcades. She is billed as Annabelle Moore in these.

In 1897 she was embroiled in a scandal when she was asked by some powerful men to perform at a stag party with no tights on. She refused, the police were informed, and they raided the party, arresting another girl, Ashea Wabe, known as one of the era’s many Little Egypts. The incident was known as the “Seeley Dinner” or the “Seeley Bachelor Party Orgy”, named after the guest of honor, Herbert Seeley, grandson of P.T. Barnum.

In 1900, she broke into Broadway using the name Annabelle Whitford. Over the next dozen years she appeared in the shows The Sprightly Romance of Marsac (1900), The Sleeping Beauty and the Beast (1901-02), A Venetian Romance (1904), The Belle of Mayfair (1906-07), The Ziegfeld Follies of 1908 and 1909 (in which she famously did a Gibson Girl number), The Happiest Night of His Life (1911), and The Charity Girl (1912).

Perhaps the most famous show she was in however was the 1903 Chicago production of Mr. Bluebeard starring Eddie Foy. She was performing in that show as Stella, Queen of the Fairies, when the tragic Iroquois Theatre Fire broke out. Nearly a decade later she would marry one of the surgeons who had treated burn victims of the fire, Edward James Buchan. She returned to Chicago and retired from show business.

To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on early film please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.