Queenie Vassar: From the Halls to Hollywood

Am I wrong in thinking that “Queenie Vassar” is one of the best stage names I have ever heard? Born Cecilia McMahon in in Glasgow in 1870, she began singing in music halls when she was still a child. In 1884, vaudeville impresario Tony Pastor brought her to to the States as one of the many British acts to perform on his variety stage. She was a staple at Tony Pastor’s vaudeville house for many years.

In 1887, when she was 17, Vasar married Harry Kernell of the Kernell Brothers. When the comedian died in 1893 she remarried and took to the Broadway stage, where she was a major musical comedy star for the next two decades, beginning with The Passing Show (1894) and ending with The Girl From Utah (1914-1915). In 1902 she married her third husband, actor Joseph Cawthorn, himself a major stage star, to whom she remained hitched until his passing in 1949.

At the age of 70, Vassar emerged from retirement to appear in three motion pictures: Primrose Path (1940) with Ginger Rogers, Joel McCrea and Marjorie Rambeau; Lady in a Jam (1942) with Irene Dunne; and None But the Lonely Heart (1944) with Cary Grant, Ethel Barrymore and Barry Fitzgerald. Of the three performances, her turn as an old bawd in Primrose Path is largest and most memorable.

To learn more about vaudeville, please read my book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous