Like the tale of the blind men and the elephant, an artifact of popular culture as vivid as today’s featured sheet music at right has a variety of angles worth pursuing. What of the career of Austrian composer Heinrich Reinhardt, or lyricist Robert Bache Smith? And what of that fantastic cover art, which features besotted man-insects drinking from and falling down drunk at the base of a Spring beauty? The persistent researcher could uncover a novel’s worth of material from just one of these approaches. I conducted a quick morning’s research on just one of the names attached to this springtime reverie and have found in just a few years worth of newspaper clippings a lifetime of incident.
Mizzi Hajos was born in Budapest, Hungary. She first came to America in 1910 at the young age of nineteen. She barely spoke English, but still impressed audiences as the hen pheasant in A Barnyard Romeo. Hajos originated the role of Princess Bozena in the Hungarian production of The Spring Maid. Theatrical producers Werba & Luescher brought her across the pond for their stateside production of the operetta, and audiences continued to laugh at her heavy accent. Newspapers were condescending to the “little foreigner,” and in 1911 The San Francisco Chronicle saw fit to publish an example of her language struggles with the headline, “Little Mizzi Writes to her Managers to Show Progress.”
Several years later, the Chronicle took her a little more seriously. In 1915, during a run of her hit show Sari, the paper ran a story about Hajos’ concerns, leading with the fact that nobody pronounced her name correctly (a problem she solved later by simplifying her stage name to just “Mitzi”). But her major concern was with the war back home. While in America, Hajos would return to Budapest every year, and all was obviously not well.
Contemporary newspaper accounts give conflicting reports about her family’s involvement in the war. Hajos reportedly had several cousins in Russian prisons, and according to The San Francisco Chronicle, her brothers were eager to serve but twice failed physical examinations. However, The Los Angeles Times, in a story about one of Hajos’ trips back to Budapest, tells a harrowing tale of a sister’s worry. As soon as she arrived home on this trip, she cabled family members, worrying about two brothers who were reservists and likely to see battle.
A 1912 Chronicle article reports that Hajos had written a new operetta called The Vagabond Princess. According to the article, Werba and Leuscher signed on to produce the work, about the rise and fall of an Austrian singer with royal blood. Hajos performed in the Washington area a number of times, starring in the 1924 production of The Magic Ring at Ford’s Theater. One of her co-stars was none other than Sydney Greenstreet, a veteran stage actor who had a brief but memorable career as a character actor in films like The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca.
In 1930 Hajos appeared in a revival of one of her biggest stage hits, the show Sari, but after that the trail runs cold. The artist once known as Mitzi is a subject for further research, but in the meantime, enjoy a pair of recordings from the National Jukebox that feature her charming voice, which frankly does not sound so heavily accented.
Listen to Mizzi Hajos perform two numbers from the show Pom-Pom: