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Queen of Vaudeville:The Story of Eva Tanguay

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Long before digital access brought us Netflix or MuchMusic videos and the flamboyant stage acts of performers like Madonna, Beyonce or Lady Gaga there was Eva Tanguay. Not a household name today perhaps but she enjoyed a lengthy career in Vaudeville - the reality show of its time. 

Brazen, saucy, alluring and bombastic was how the press described Eva.  She said of herself that she wasn't beautiful, couldn't sing, wasn't graceful and preferred playing the queen of nuts rather than an ingenue. 

Helene Eva Tanguay was born in 1878 into a large French Canadian family.  Her first stage appearance took place when she was just eight years old.  Success came early as she won the top prize of a dollar for her act.   The stage was Eva's calling.  Imbued with truckloads of charisma and emotion her career blossomed.  As a thirty year old entertainer in 1908 Eva was  paid  $3500 a week making her the highest paid woman in Vaudeville.  It certainly helped that she was a leading figure of the Salome dance craze that had engulfed the theatre world. Eva applied her acting skills in Hollywood's new medium of silent movies and her screen popularity ranked with Mary Pickford and Sarah Bernhardt.   Audiences called her the I Don't Care Girl named after a song that Eva had popularized. 

Her private life was as colourful as her innovative stage acts which created plenty of gossip in the daily society pages.  Eva's star status waned in her later years.  Severe health issues robbed her of the chance to make a come back.  She died in 1947 and was quickly forgotten by the rapidly changing entertainent world .  Andrew Erdman's well researched book revives the story of this Canadian entertainer of yesteryear.  Readers might also like to see the Library's other Vaudeville titles  available here.