Louise Alexander: Trendstepper

Today a few words of acknowledgement for popular dancer Jennie Louise Spalding (1888-1958), best known under the stage name Louise Alexander.

Originally from Kentucky, Alexander was only 18 when was cast in the chorus of the Broadway show The Earl and the Girl with Eddie Foy in 1905. I am interested to note that the chorus of that show also featured a Marian Alexander and a Madeleine Alexander. Perhaps the source of her professional handle has a connection to them. This was followed by chorus jobs in The Social Whirl (1906) and the first two editions of the Ziegfeld Follies (1907 and 1908).

In her next show, The Queen of the Moulin Rouge (1908-09) Alexander and dance partner Joseph C. Smith introduced the Apache Dance, already popular in Paris and London, to American audiences. When the show closed, the paired toured vaudeville with an act that demonstrated several dances, including the Apache, greatly helping to popularize it here. It was to subsequently prove a staple of the American musical theatre (and occasionally film) for decades. In 1908, Alexander also married race car driver Lewis Strang, the only American driver in the 1908 French Grand Prix. She sometimes billed herself as Louise Strang during their marriage.

Starting in 1909, another number in Alexander’s vaudeville act was the “Temptation Dance” also known as a Vampire, Vamp or Flirtation Dance, and sometimes “A Fool There Was”, after the show it had originated in. It was a sexually suggestive number that was sometimes banned in theatres. In 1910, Julian Mitchell choreographed her in this type of dance in the Chicago production of Miss Innocence with Anna Held. Mitchell was also her partner in the number in The Ziegfeld Follies of 1910. The pair had an affair at this time, resulting in Alexander’s divorce from Strang, and Mitchell’s from wife Bessie Clayton (although the latter pair later reconciled). Strang died in a car crash a few months after the divorce in 1911, causing tongues to wag about a possible suicide.

Alexander’s last Broadway show was Peggy (1911-12), directed by Ned Wayburn. In 1912 and 1913 she was partnered onstage and off with jockey, bobsledder and gambler Jay O’Brien (1888-1940) in a dance act that played cabarets, restaurants, and night clubs in the U.S. and Europe. O’Brien then parted ways with Alexander and teamed with Mae Murray, whom he married in 1916.

By 1914 Castlemania was raging across the nation, and Alexander worked with a succession of partners in social exhibition dances, demonstrating steps like the maxixe, the tango, and the hesitation waltz in the manner of the famous team. Like the Castles, Alexander’s acts often featured black musicians, a groundbreaking move at the time. Her partners during this time including Clive Logan, John Jarrott (former partner of Joan Sawyer), and Rudolph Valentino, then billed as “Rodolfo”. Alexander performed in night clubs and vaudeville with such acts through the end of 1916. An engagement at the Woodmansten Inn in Westchester led to her marrying its owner Joseph L. Pani in 1917, although she almost immediately filed for divorce, which was not granted until 1919. By that she was working as a hostess at the Café des Beaux Arts, in New York.

By 1921 Alexander had retired from dancing and was running a fashionable dress shop in New York. Five years later she married for the final time to a chap named ParkPike” Larmon, older brother of Sig Larmond, Chairman of Young and Rubicam. This marriage took. The pair moved to Bayside, Queens, where they lived for 30 years. Larmon died in 1957, Alexander a year later.

For more on vaudeville history, please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous