Posts Tagged ‘I Don’t Care’

Eva Tanguay at Hollywood Forever

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010


Eva Tanguay; the “I Don’t Care” girl





By Allan R. Ellenberger


Eva Tanguay, the ebullient music-hall performer, who made the song “I Don’t Care,” known the country over, was one of the outstanding headliners in the days of “big-time” two-a-day vaudeville. At the height of her career her salary ranked with that of Sarah Bernhardt and Nora Bayes, amounting to $2,500 to $3,500 for two shows a day in the Keith-Albee vaudeville circuit. Everywhere she played she attracted capacity audiences to see her act, which was unique because of her songs, her madcap humor, her freakish costumes and her crop of tousled hair – think Lady Gaga.


From childhood Tanguay had been on the stage. Born at Marbleton, Quebec in 1879 of French-Canadian parents, she made her first appearance on an amateur night in a variety house at Holyoke, Massachusetts. Her father had died shortly after he moved to the United States, leaving his family desperately poor. She won first prize in the amateur contest and followed it with other successes. Soon the fame of the child performer spread and at the age of 8 she received her first regular engagement, playing the title role in one of the companies presenting a dramatization of Francis Hodgson Burnett’s “Little Lord Fauntleroy” for a five-year run.



Eva Tanguay as Little Lord Fauntleroy (Henry Ford Museum)



Tanguay reached stardom in 1904 when she introduced the song, “I Don’t Care” to Broadway audiences who flocked to see her in a play called The Chaperones. She became the “oomph” girl of the turn of the century and her salary mounted to a peak of $3,500 a week, extraordinary for the period.


She did much to bring vaudeville out of its respectable front. She sang songs which were daring for the time, such as “I Want Someone to Go Wild with Me,” “It’s All Been Done Before But Not the Way I Do It,” and “I’d Like to be an Animal in the Zoo.”  The great favorite with her audiences, however, was “I Don’t Care.”





One of her most profitable acts was in Salome in 1908 and she once said that her costume consisted of “two pearls.” Censors complained loudly, while the act rolled up a record gross at the box office. Once she fashioned a costume of dollar bills and when Lincoln pennies appeared she used them for spangles. She won success also in Ziegfeld’s Follies of 1909. “I was the only one whose name was lighted atop the name Ziegfeld,” she once recalled. “For the others, the Follies always got the top billing.”


In 1910, at the height of her career as a vaudeville star, Tanguay said that the secret of her success lay entirely in her personality, and she always exploited that personality to the utmost. At times she was as mercurial and unpredictable off stage and in her business relations as she was behind the footlights.


In Evansville, Indiana, she cut a stage curtain to shreds with scissors because the house manager fined her for missing a matinee. In Sharon, Pennsylvania, she once chided the house manager from the stage because he had refused to put a larger mirror in her dressing room. She was arrested in Lexington, Kentucky when a stage hand accused her of stabbing him with a hatpin when he didn’t get out of her way as she rushed from the stage to her dressing room. At the police station, she produced a roll of bills and cried: “Take it all and let me go, for it is now my dinner time.” She was ultimately fined forty dollars.



Banner proclaims the arrival of Eva Tanguay (Henry Ford Museum)



Tanguay was married three times – first in 1913 to John W. Ford, a dancer and later to Roscoe Ails, a vaudeville actor. In 1927 she obtained an annulment of her marriage to Alexander Booke, her former pianist who was 23 and she was 46 – possibly entertainments first cougar. Her charges claimed that Booke deceived her in many ways and did not use his true name when they married, claiming his name was Allen Paredo. They were married for less than two months.


During World War I she disappeared from the public eye and it was supposed she had retired with a sizable wealth. Although she had made several fortunes on the stage, Tanguay had always spent freely and was equally liberal in helping out friends in financial trouble. The vivacious beauty, who once carried nothing but $1,000 bills, lost a fortune in the stock-market crash of 1929; some estimates of her losses running as high as $2,000,000.


A brief night club appearance in Brooklyn in 1932 was her last public performance where her pal Sophie Tucker was present. But she remained confident of a comeback to the end. “I’ll dance and sing again,” she told her infrequent visitors, mostly other veterans of the great days of show business.


When in 1933 she went blind, Sophie Tucker paid for the operations which restored her sight. Tanguay mapped plans for a comeback to raise enough money, she said, to endow a children’s hospital for the blind, but was stricken with an arthritic condition which partially paralyzed her.  At that time in 1939, it took 26 blood transfusions to keep her alive. Moving to a small cottage at 6207 Lexington Avenue in Hollywood where she was bedridden, and communicated with the world through her bedroom window. She often explained that she “looked so awful” she wanted no one to see her. “Don’t come in,” she would say. “Eva Tanguay is not here.”


6207 Lexington Avenue in Hollywood where Eva Tanguay lived the last eight years of her life and where she died. Above is the bedroom window from which Eva would speak to reporters (PLEASE NOTE: This is a private residence. Please do not disturb the occupants)



She covered the walls of her Lexington Avenue bedroom with old photographs of herself, and she talked – as she always did – about the past. Forgotten by the world except for periodic visits by reporters, she always managed a cheery greeting “for the people who still remember me.” On her 68th — and last – birthday, a reporter visited her and spoke to a pair of bare feet which protruded motionless from a white sheet that stretched away from the window into the bedroom’s darkness. “It took them an hour to get me fixed in bed,” she told the reporter from the shadows.


“There were hundreds of (birthday) messages,” she said. “And you know, there were lots from people I never heard of.” She was getting along until the previous week when she was out for a drive and the car stopped suddenly and she was thrown to the floor. “I’ll probably be in the grave,” she said prophetically when asked about her prospects for the coming year. She was still working on her autobiography titled, “Up and Down the Ladder,” and hoped to sell the rights to a studio. “They’re interested in it,” she said, “but just because you’re sick and broke, they think they can get it for nothing.”


“Miss Tanguay,” said the reporter, “I have a photographer with me and we were wondering –“


“Close the window! Close the window!” the voice in the shadows cried.


On the morning of January 11, 1947, Eva Tanguay suffered a stroke and died amid the yellowing photographs pasted on the walls around her depicting her as the “I Don’t Care” girl.” With her were her niece, a nurse and a neighbor.


Tanguay’s funeral was held at Pierce Brothers Hollywood Mortuary. From the forgotten wings of show business it was a standing-room-only audience. Among those who attended were Trixie Friganza , her friend, and Harry Leonhardt, her first manager; Joe Whitehead, who once appeared with her before President Woodrow Wilson, and bearded Tex Cooper, a vaudeville cowboy who taught her how to ride a horse 45 years earlier.


There was stillness in the chapel as Rev. Elizabeth Garrick-Cook spoke simply of Eva Tanguay, of her humor and sparkle and her quality of greatness, of her talent and her open heart. “We should not feel that she is gone, but rather that she has been freed from the pain she endured in her last years,” she said. “Aside from her artistry, she had the quality of opening her heart and her purse to the needy.”


Tanguay was buried in the ermine coat she bought nearly twenty years earlier when she attempted a comeback. Her casket was placed in a crypt in Hollywood Cemetery’s Abbey of the Psalms mausoleum. When her estate was settled, the woman who was once worth 2 million dollars, left personal effects valued at $500.





Below is footage of Eva Tanguay with French language narration