Introducing the great, cyclonic, Eva Tanguay—the world’s most eccentric comedienne and most loved musical comedy star on the American stage that you probably never even heard of!
Eva Tanguay was the highest-paid and billed as the most outrageous star of vaudeville’s golden age. Born in Marbleton, Canada, her family relocated to Holyoke, Massachusetts when she was just a toddler. She got her big break, so to speak when she starred in a touring theater production of Little Lord Fauntleroy at age 11 and became a household name around the turn of the twentieth century when she played Gabrielle Du Chalus in My Lady at the Victoria Theatre in New York and next as Phrosia in the production, The Chaperons.
Audiences had never seen anything like her before—her performances were described as ribald, ebullient, outlandish, and flamboyant—earning her the attention of newspapers the world over. She was once arrested on stage for breaking the “Sunday Law” by “dancing indecently” on stage. Not to mention, her personal affairs, like her unsuccessful marriage to her dancing partner and fellow vaudeville trouper, John W. “Johnny” Ford, in 1913 kept her name in the papers.
With her “take me as I am” attitude, Eva was never one to take herself seriously, and she set herself apart from other touring performers at the time with her bodacious, striking appearance (wild, red curly hair) and imaginative costumes as elaborate as her personality (her $40 dress was made from—you guessed it—400 Lincoln pennies!). Eva knew that she wasn’t in the ranks of being the best vaudevillian dancer or singer—yet her audience loved her all the same. Her mood would change on a dime—keeping audiences glued to their seats to see what outlandish thing she would do next. Her songs were certainly eyebrow-raising with risqué titles like: “It’s All Been Done Before But Not the Way I Do It” and “I Want Someone to Go Wild With Me.”
In 1904, she starred in the play, The Blond in Black, as the lead character, Carlotta Dashington. A testament to her true “take me as I am” attitude, she penned the song, “I Don’t Care.” It is arguably her best hit and earned her the nickname, the “I Don’t Care Girl.” Soon she segued into vaudeville, where she headlined F. Ziegfeld, Jr.’s Revue on the Follies of 1909 at the famous Palace in New York, a well-known vaudeville theater, taking home by some accounts up to $3, 500 a week—an unheard-of salary for a female performer of the time.
It was her vision loss that prevented her from performing later in her life and Eva, unfortunately, spent the last 10 years of her life bedridden with very few visitors, preferring to be remembered for her stage performance. When she died from a heart attack at the age of 68, her standing-room-only funeral was well-attended by the Hollywood elite.
For more on Eva, turn to this topic page which provides useful information for searching in Chronicling America’s historic newspapers, including significant dates, associated search terms, as well as sample article links. For even more, check out the book, Queen of Vaudeville: Story of Eva Tanguay by Andrew L. Erdman and view this photograph from the Prints and Photographs Division and Eva Tanguay’s Love Song from the Library’s Historic Sheet Music Collection.