Applause this morning for American stage star Edna Wallace Hopper (Edna Margaret Augusta Wallace, 1872-1959).
The San Francisco native started out in vaudeville and with stock companies, originally under the billing “Ann Wallace”. In the course of performing she met and romanced DeWolf Hopper, whom she married in 1893, becoming thenceforth known as Edna Wallace Hopper. The pair appeared on Broadway together in two shows, Dr. Syntax (1894) and El Capitan (1896). Wallace weighed 85 lbs and was under 5 feet tall. Much antic hay was made out of the fact that her famous husband towered over her.
The Hoppers divorced in 1898, but Edna went on to continued stardom in 15 additional Broadway shows including the original American production of Floradora (1900-02), and George M. Cohan’s Fifty Miles from Boston (1908). In 1908 she married Wall Street broker and actor Albert Oldfield (A.O.) Brown. The couple later separated but not before she learned the entrepreneurial ropes from him, later starting her own cosmetics company and becoming the first female member of the board of the investment banking firm of L.F. Rothschild. In 1916 she appeared in two silent films The Perils of Divorce and Who Killed Simona Baird? Her last Broadway show as the Ziegfeld Follies of 1927.
I wondered about this tagline of her’s, “The Eternal Flapper”. After all, Wallace had been born during the Gilded Age. To be charitable, she was mature by the time the Jazz Age rolled around. When one wipes away the facepaint, a truth emerges! A clue is embedded in the headline to her NY Times obit, which calls her an “Actress of Perpetual Beauty”. People thought of her the way we thought of Dick Clark in my time, and the way people think of Paul Rudd or Marie Osmond right now. Had there been some pact with the devil? Had she whispered a spell to Amun-Ra? But, no. It turns out she was one of the first actresses to get plastic surgery! After she retired from full-time acting, she made personal appearance tours giving beauty tips and hawking her cosmetics products. Also: during her life, she was cagey about her age, claiming her birth certificate was lost during the San Francisco Earthquake (ho, ho, but that in and of itself dates her. As Robert Bader uncovered, even Groucho Marx used to lie to cover up the fact that he had once performed at a benefit for Earthquake victims. By the mid 20th century, it was like saying you’d fought the French at Waterloo). In truth, Edna Wallace Hopper was 87 when she left this life.
For more on vaudeville history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.