Eugenie McEvoy: The French Annie Oakley — and Much More!

A brief take on an interesting, multi-faceted figure of the 20th century, Eugenie McEvoy (Eugene Wehrle, 1879-1975). McEvoy had her finger in so many pies during her life that our main point of interest isn’t even the thing she is most famous for.

She is probably most widely known today as a minor 20th century painter. Her first husband was the equally minor painter George Ames Aldrich (1872-1941). Aldrich made trips to France to paint landscapes, and there he met and married Eugenie Wehrle circa 1905. There is much uncertainty about her early years but she claimed to have been born in New York, and was most certainly raised in France. Though she separated from Aldrich around 1921, painting remained the most consistent passion of her life from her 20s through the end of her life. It is known that she took some formal instruction at the Art Institute of Chicago in the late teens. Most of her work was shown annually at local galleries in Woodstock, New York, and occasionally in other nearby Hudson Valley towns like Albany and Poughkeepsie. Her best known painting was shown at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City in 1928 at the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists. The painting was originally known as Lenox 2300, but was later retitled Taxi! Taxi!:

I don’t know if you can make it out in this small image, but there is a reflection of a couple making out in the back seat on the window behind the driver’s back. That was a clever touch. While her paintings were most often praised at the skill level, they seldom were this inspired as to subject.

At any rate, as we say, her career as a visual artist was not our main lure. This is: in 1919, just after the close of the First World War, she went into vaudeville as “M’lle D’Aures: (sometimes “Mme. D’Aures) with a sharpshooting act called “The Curtain of Victory”. She was 40 years old at the time. Basically she presented herself as a French Annie Oakley, claiming to have learned her marksmanship from her father, a captain in the French Army. She claimed to have beaten King Leopold of Belgium once in a shooting contest, and was able to shoot a pipe out of a man’s mouth. She worked the big time Orpheum circuit through the midwest (from her homebase at the time, Chicago) and performed this act for around two years.

In 1923 she married writer J.P. McEvoy and this is how we initially became aware of her. McEvoy (whom we wrote about here) was a popular Jazz Age humorist, best remembered today for his association with W.C. Fields. Eugenie designed sets and was technical director on many of her husband’s theatrical productions during the 1920s. They divorced in the early 1930s. Eugenie got possession of their enormous Woodstock estate, which she converted into a resort hotel called Fountainebleau in 1941.

In addition to the eclectic career we have already described (painter, vaudevillian, stage designer, resort owner), she was accomplished in at least two other fields. In her early years with Aldrich, the pair supplemented their income by breeding, raising, training, boarding, and competing prize collies. And with her third husband, musician Philip O’Dell, she restored pianos.

To learn more about vaudeville, such as revue entertainment, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous