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Queen of Vaudeville: The Story of Eva Tanguayby Andrew L. Erdman
Synopses & Reviews
In her day, Eva Tanguay (1879-1947) was one of the most famous women in America. Widely known as the I Don't Care Girl-named after a song she popularized and her independent, even brazen persona-Tanguay established herself as a vaudeville and musical comedy star in 1904 with the New York City premiere of the show My Lady-and never looked back. Tanguay was, at the height of a long career that stretched until the early 1930s, a trend-setting performer who embodied the emerging ideal of the bold and sexual female entertainer. Whether suggestively singing songs with titles like It's All Been Done Before But Not the Way I Do It and Go As Far As You Like or wearing a daring dress made of pennies, she was a precursor to subsequent generations of performers, from Mae West to Madonna and Lady Gaga, who have been both idolized and condemned for simultaneously displaying and playing with blatant displays of female sexuality.
In Queen of Vaudeville, Andrew L. Erdman tells Eva Tanguay's remarkable life story with verve. Born into the family of a country doctor in rural Quebec and raised in a New England mill town, Tanguay found a home on the vaudeville stage. Erdman follows the course of her life as she amasses fame and wealth, marries (and divorces) twice, engages in affairs closely followed in the press, declares herself a Christian Scientist, becomes one of the first celebrities to get plastic surgery, loses her fortune following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and receives her last notice, an obituary in Variety. The arc of Tanguay's career follows the history of American popular culture in the first half of the twentieth century. Tanguay's appeal, so dependent on her physical presence and personal charisma, did not come across in the new media of radio and motion pictures. With nineteen rare or previously unpublished images, Queen of Vaudeville is a dynamic portrait of a dazzling and unjustly forgotten show business star.
"'Nobody quite knew why she had become the most famous and popular live entertainer of her day,' the Erdman notes about Eva Tanguay (1878 — 1947). 'They did not come to Eva looking for an astounding vocal range, gifted dancing, or impressive acting.' Yet Tanguay, as Erdman t (Blue Vaudeville: Sex, Morals, and the Mass Marketing of Entertainment, 1895 — 1915) makes very clear, was one of the most famous vaudeville performers in the world. Every knowable aspect of her biography is covered in impressively researched detail, from her performances as a child star in Holyoke, Mass., to her success as the 'I Don't Care' Girl on the vaudeville stage. Erdman peeks into Tanguay's scandals (including the appearance of a niece who he's convinced is her illegitimate daughter), but also sketches enticingly the theatrical world around Tanguay. It's unfortunate that Erdman isn't a more supple writer: every new person who wanders into the book stops the narrative for a formulaic introductory paragraph, more). Though he argues for Tanguay as the independent feminist forebear of 'talented iconoclastic women' like Madonna and Lady Gaga, he doesn't make a firm case, and readers will still not quite understand why Eva Tanguay enjoyed such popularity. 19 halftones. 19 b&w illus. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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