December 04, 2005

Last One Dancing

From the December 4, 2005 New York Times (sorry, no link):

The last of the Ziegfeld Girls is still dancing.

Doris Eaton Travis, Broadway's longest-running performer, is planning to waltz again at the New Amsterdam Theater for two nights in March. When the curtain
rises again at her old stomping grounds, Mrs. Travis will be 102.

The last of the Ziegfeld Follies girls, Doris Eaton Travis, 101, will dance again next year on Broadway. "The New Amsterdam is where I started," Mrs. Travis said recently from her ranch in Norman, Okla. "And that's where it looks like I'm going to finish."

doris eaton1.jpg

Mrs. Travis, the honorary president of the National Ziegfeld Club in New York, which raises money for indigent women in show business, was 14 when she became a member of the Ziegfeld Follies in 1918, joining a legion of long-legged lovelies in a variety show created by the impresario Florenz Ziegfeld. Along with two sisters and two brothers who also appeared in the Follies - which featured singers and comics as dancers and ran from 1907 until 1931, the year before Mr. Ziegfeld's death - Mrs. Travis worked the stage alongside stars like Eddie Cantor, Fanny Brice and Will Rogers.

For the past eight years, she has returned to New York to help raise money for
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, dusting off old dance numbers like the swing trot and the black bottom before several thousand theatergoers who probably missed her opening act 87 years ago.

"Every year, she brings down the house," said Nils Hanson, administrator of the Ziegfeld Club. "She's the darling of Broadway, a New York treasure."

When Mrs. Travis first performed for Broadway Cares in 1998, she was joined by four other original Ziegfeld Girls, all of whom have since died.

Last month, when the former Ziegfeld dancer Dorothy Wegman Raphaelson died in Manhattan at 100, Mrs. Travis became the sole survivor of a bygone era of song and dance, when the Follies shared Broadway marquees with the likes of Fred and Adele Astaire and Bob Hope.

"It's a strange feeling to know that all of that is gone," she said. "It can get kind of lonely."

Mrs. Travis says that she is overcome by a sense of nostalgia whenever she steps onto her old stage. "I think back to all the beautiful people I danced with, all the beautiful numbers, hearing that wonderful applause," she said. "It was a beautiful era, and there hasn't been anything like it since."

Mrs. Travis remembers Mr. Ziegfeld as a man determined to "create an environment of beauty and grace," when putting together his Follies shows. "He would always scrutinize our costumes," she said. "He always wanted to make sure that there was nothing vulgar about the way we dressed, and that we were all a picture of elegance out there on stage."

Mrs. Travis and her siblings grew up in Washington and began their careers as child actors with Poli's Theater there. By 1913, before Mrs. Travis turned 10, she was performing at Poli's in front of huge Friday night audiences, which sometimes included President Woodrow Wilson. "The president loved coming to our theater," Mrs. Travis recalled. "During curtain calls, we would wave to him, and he would wave back at us."

After leaving New York in 1938, Mrs. Travis opened the first Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Detroit, building a successful chain of 18 of those studios throughout Michigan, which she operated for 30 years. In 1970, she moved to Norman to live on an 880-acre ranch with her husband, Paul Travis, who died two years ago. She continues to keep her spirits and her rhythm alive by teaching country-western dancing at a small club near her home.

"Listen now, some days I get up and I don't feel like doing the Charleston," she said. "But I still feel pretty good, and I still love to dance."

In 1992, at the age of 88, Mrs. Travis became the oldest student to graduate from the University of Oklahoma, where she earned a degree in history. Two years ago, she was the lead author of "Days We Danced: The Story of My Theatrical Family From Florenz Ziegfeld to Arthur Murray" (Marquand Books).

"It seems strange to me," she said, "that of everyone from that world, this old Follies Girl is the last one standing."

And the last one dancing.

There's a current photo of this amazing lady in the extended entry.

doris eaton2.jpg

Doris Eaton, last surviving Ziegfeld Girl, 2005.

Posted by Ted at December 4, 2005 01:06 PM | TrackBack
Category: History

You're right....she is amazing.We should all be so healthy.A bit ironic too is that I just got a chance to watch The Aviator last night for the first time on STARZ.Those people knew how to party back then I tell ya.

Posted by: Russ at December 4, 2005 08:11 PM

Wow--for 101 she looks incredibly young, and still quite beautiful! Perhaps Ponce de Leon should have looked to the dance hall instead of the trackless wilderness, when he went in search of the fountain of youth.


Posted by: Denita TwoDragons at December 5, 2005 03:58 PM

Hello Ted- THANKS for posting this story about DORIS EATON- she is an absolutely AMAZING woman. I interviewed Doris for my book "JAZZ AGE BEAUTIES-The Lost Collection of Ziegfeld Photographer Alfred Cheney Johnston" due out in Feb. 2006 from RIZZOLI INTERNATIONAL PUBLICATIONS in NYC (Available now on online bookstores). In fact, that's an Alfred Cheney Johnston photograph that she is holding. This ACJ photograph graces the cover of a MOVIE WEEKLY Magazine from the 1920's. By the way, do you know who took the photo- I'd like to get a copy of it! Thanks Again, Bob

Posted by: Bob Hudovernik at January 15, 2006 08:53 PM
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