The Song is Ended, but the Melody Lingers On
May 12, 2010 8:30 PM   Subscribe

Doris Eaton Travis, the last Ziegfeld Girl, has passed away at age 106. One of the last living links to the time of vaudeville and theatrical revues, Travis premiered the song Singin' in the Rain. She performed with the likes of Al Jolson and Irving Berlin, and hobnobbed with Babe Ruth and Henry Ford. Her career as a performer and entertainer lasted nearly 100 years...

Born into a family of entertainers in 1904, Doris Eaton Travis (and her sisters) had her first role in a major production, Maurice Maeterlinck's play The Blue Bird, in 1911. At age 14 she lied about her age to become one of the youngest dancers in 20+ year history of the Ziegfield Follies, an extravaganza of music, showgirls, and high class vaudeville acts. As silent film eclipsed live theatre, Travis transitioned to the silver screen, before her career declined alongside the triumph of the "talkies". In the 30's Travis became a dance instructor with Arthur Murray, ultimately owning a chain of dance studios. In later life she maintained a public presence, acting in the movie Man on the Moon in 1999 and performing for the Easter Bonnet Competition, an annual AIDS fundraiser.

To the end, she was a Broadway lady.

posted by Esteemed Offendi (26 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I bought her biography for my girlfriend Coco, who absolutely loved it and wrote Doris a fan letter; she responded and sent a signed photograph. I did not relish telling Coco that she had passed away, but I figured she would want to know about it as soon as possible.

A very long, full life. Even in death, I envy her.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:40 PM on May 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

She was awesome.
posted by SPrintF at 8:46 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

In her 70s she earned a long-delayed high school diploma. She then devoted 11 years to acquiring a college degree, taking a course or two a semester at the University of Oklahoma. She graduated in 1992 at the age of 88 with a history major and a Phi Beta Kappa key. She was halfway to a master’s degree when she decided to focus on her memoirs instead.

In 2007, Oakland University in Michigan gave Mrs. Travis an honorary doctorate. She responded by singing and dancing “Ballin’ the Jack,” a song popularized by Lillian Lorraine, a renowned Ziegfeld Follies’ star.

A little more than two weeks ago Mrs. Travis returned to Broadway to appear again at the annual Easter Bonnet Competition held by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, this time at the Minskoff Theater. She did a few kicks, apologizing that she no longer performed cartwheels.
Doris Eaton Travis, I never met you and I never will, but I love you nonetheless.
posted by jokeefe at 9:16 PM on May 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

She really was gorgeous. (From Astro Zombie's link.)
posted by jokeefe at 9:19 PM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

posted by Joe Beese at 9:21 PM on May 12, 2010

This is humbling.

posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:29 PM on May 12, 2010

Fascinating, thank you. Especially enjoyed the Midnight Palace interview:
"Later on, I had my own television show in Detroit when I had my Arthur Murray studios there. I had a television show and periodically I would put on a little history of social dancing. "
What a strange and wonderful world.
posted by PHINC at 9:35 PM on May 12, 2010

and a hundred and fucking six. , some people can;t be put into neat historical boxes, they spread out all over.
posted by The Whelk at 9:50 PM on May 12, 2010

Holy cow. An awesome person.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:53 PM on May 12, 2010

This is an example of how to do a well-written and thoughtful obituary post. Kudos!
posted by amyms at 10:49 PM on May 12, 2010

please picture this "." dancing, because clearly, that was key to her longevity.

sleep well, magnificent woman.
posted by squasha at 11:01 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

please picture this "." dancing, because clearly, that was key to her longevity.

and if you're having trouble picturing it (SLYT)
posted by Lukenlogs at 11:11 PM on May 12, 2010

My . is doing cartwheels.

Humbling, indeed. What a life.
posted by yiftach at 11:41 PM on May 12, 2010

Here she is dancing at 101.

posted by joedan at 11:41 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

What an amazing life and she was indeed stunning.

posted by Skygazer at 11:49 PM on May 12, 2010

Wow. What an amazing life. She was/is/shall be inspiring.
posted by OolooKitty at 11:51 PM on May 12, 2010

In 2006, illustrator Lauren Redniss published Century Girl, a wonderful book of drawings and collages based on her interviews with Doris. I'm a friend of Lauren's and that's how I came to first hear about this legend. (Lauren's next book is about Marie Curie.)
posted by jcolombo at 12:05 AM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Damn. By she time majored in history, she had seen and been history.
posted by pracowity at 12:31 AM on May 13, 2010

posted by JHarris at 4:05 AM on May 13, 2010

I saw her just a few weeks ago. A song of mine was performed at the BC/EFA Easter Bonnet Competition, and Ms. Eaton Travis opened the show. She was incredible, and will be missed.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:17 AM on May 13, 2010

I had the pleasure of seeing her at last year's BC/EFA Easter Bonnet Competition. What a doll she is! Performing for the crowds at 100+. The community will definitely miss her.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:02 AM on May 13, 2010

I am sad in a way that can't be rationalized. I never met her, I read a story about her several years ago and she came to represent to me eternal hope. I just assumed she would live to be the oldest person ever, because her vitality never dimmed.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:03 AM on May 13, 2010

posted by HumanComplex at 7:04 AM on May 13, 2010

Wow, I love all those old chorus girl movies, but I'd never heard of her. Going to read that book for sure. What a beautiful, amazing woman.

posted by JoanArkham at 8:02 AM on May 13, 2010

posted by jquinby at 8:51 AM on May 13, 2010

great post. might never have heard of this amazing woman otherwise!
posted by neitheror at 5:12 PM on May 13, 2010

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