If not for her early death at age 29, the likelihood is strong that more people might know the name of Mabel Hite (1883-1912), for there might have been some films to remember her by. I’m startled this morning to note that, though the farthest thing from a sports person, I have already done a post on Hite’s husband, baseball player Mike Donlin, before doing one on her. (To be fair, Donlin also performed in vaudeville without Hite and then went into films, but it’s not the expected progression).
Hite was the daughter of a small town druggist and union official, and grew up in three different cities: Ashland, Kentucky; Pocatello, Idaho; and Kansas City, Missouri. She was only a tween when she began performing professionally in melodramas and musicals, and touring all over the country with stock companies. Her first Broadway show was A Venetian Romance (1904). This was followed by the Chicago production of L. Frank Baum’s The Woggle Bug the following year. In 1906 she formed a vaudeville act with a partner named Walter Jones, but dropped it a few months later to take a role in A Knight for a Day, which went on to break a record as the longest running musical in Chicago until that time. In 1908 she returned to Broadway to star in The Merry-Go-Round, whose chorus included future stars Mae Murray and Fay Tincher. That same year she went into vaudeville with her husband, Turkey Mike Donlin, with whom she appeared in a sketch called “Stealing Home”, which they performed through 1911. The pair then went into the Broadway show A Certain Party, for which Hite co-wrote some of the songs. It was directed by William Collier, later known as a film actor. In 1912 Hite toured vaudeville with an act called “Mabel Hite and her Clowns”. She finally succumbed to intestinal cancer in October of that year.
To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.