Portait of Pauline Hall


February 26 is a good day for Paulines. It gave us Pauline Musters, the Smallest Woman Ever. And also stage star Pauline Hall (Pauline Fredrika Schmidgall (1860-1919).

Like Musters, Hall was considered to be of a remarkable body type in her day. She was prized for her hourglass figure, and for once a legendary beauty-related attribute shows up in photos (see above, and I’ve come across the others that also display the trait). Her shape was no doubt helped along by corseting, but nonetheless Hall transcends the foible we encounter so often in photos of famous beauties of the era (e.g. Lillian Russell) which don’t seem to match verbal descriptions. In her day most conceded that Hall’s figure was her best attribute (as opposed to, say, her singing and dancing) but it’s undeniable that she was popular enough with audiences to command prominent bookings and high salaries, no matter what the critics said.

Hall was born in Cincinnati on the eve of the Civil War, at a time when that great transportation hub was to become a kind of staging ground for Union incursions into the South, particularly the rapid occupation of Tennessee. In light of this, it is interesting, but probably meaningless that her second husband was a man named George B. McLellan, the theatrical agent brother of C.M.S. McLellan (The Belle of New York). (It was tempting to think these brothers might be related to the Civil War General/Mayor of New York and his distinguished family, but they spelled it McClellan, with an extra C.)

As we know from our research into Adah Isaacs Menken, Cincinnati was a big theatrical town, and Hall was dancing there professionally by age 15. Over the next several years, she toured with the companies of Alice Oates, Mary Anderson, and Edward E. Rice, gaining experience in opera, melodrama and musical comedy. With Rice’s company she followed in Menken’s footsteps by playing a male part in a revival of Evangeline. In 1886 she made a hit on Broadway as the title character in Erminie, which played for over two years, her greatest stage success. From 1890 to 1896 she toured with her own stock company. At this point in her stardom, the vaudeville circuits had been established and she became a star there as well, taking advantage of the lucrative salaries. Towards the end of her life, she returned to Broadway, for revivals of Robin Hood (1912) and The Geisha (1913) and The Ziegfeld Follies of 1918. Pneumonia snatched her away in 1919.

It turns out that there was a passel of Pauline Halls back in the day, dare I say, you could fill a “Pauline Hall” with them. Overlapping with the famous star was a younger one who never rose above chorus girl status. She was in a dozen shows between Miss 1917 and The Three Musketeers (1928), including such shows as Sunny (1925) with Marilyn Miller. And there was also a famous Norwegian composer and music critic by that name (1890-1969). She also sounds like a fascinating person, though she’s a little out of our wheelhouse to rate a discrete post.

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To learn more about vaudeville history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.