[Dixielandjazz] Eva Tanguay book reviewed - "Queen of Vaudeville."

Robert Ringwald rsr at ringwald.com
Sat Dec 15 10:34:13 PST 2012

Book Review: "Queen of Vaudeville." By Andrew L. Erdman. Cornell, 310 pages, $29.95.
by Andy Battaglia
Wall Street Journal, December 14, 2012
It would be hard to dream up a song title more summarily American than "I Don't Care."
A spirited show of daft amenability and defiant pride -- it casts out multiple meanings
at once. The 1905 song by Jean Lenox and Harry O. Sutton was the calling card for
vaudeville superstar Eva Tanguay, who drove audiences to distraction when she sang:
"They say I'm crazy, got no sense, / But I don't care. / They may or may not mean
offense, / But I don't care."
Famous in her 1910s prime and neglected since, Tanguay sang with a zany bray, sent
up the conventions of dance with spastic agitations and made a show of seeming more
than a little bit crazy in every way. As author Andrew Erdman presents her in "Queen
of Vaudeville," Tanguay was a virtuoso of "mirthful lunacy." She once stabbed John
Philip Sousa with a hatpin. She staged a sham engagement to an actor famous for female
impersonations, and turned down an airborne proposal from one of the world's most
accomplished pilots of balloons. Tanguay took to dancing in a racy dress made of
pennies ("marking perhaps the only time in modern memory," Mr. Erdman writes, "when
a leering crowd collected the tips at a striptease"). Mr. Erdman argues that her
canny sass and formidable business acumen made her a forerunner of contemporary celebrities
such as Lady Gaga.
Tanguay was certainly a "new woman," critical of the trappings of marriage ("wedding
bells don't sound like music to me," she once said). She devoted her career to scrambling
conventions of sex, gender, morality and decorum of all kinds. Yet Mr. Erdman's book
reminds us it doesn't always pay to be ahead of one's time. Tanguay's star began
to fade as vaudeville lost sway to the burgeoning culture of cinema. She starred
in one ill-suited feature film, the 1917 silent "The Wild Girl," and after her 1947
death served as the subject of a bumbling biopic, "The I Don't Care Girl," that consigned
her to a fate of being misremembered when she was remembered at all.
Welcome, then, this valuable, vivacious corrective.


-Bob Ringwald
Amateur (ham) Radio Operator K6YBV
916/ 806-9551

"Jesus loves you."
A nice gesture in church but a terrible thing to hear in a Mexican prison.

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