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Eva Tanguay



Eva Tanguay somehow made sexual audacity acceptable. A big-boned brassy-voiced Canadian, her declarations of desire and desirability were framed in assertions of feminine liberty - and vaudeville proved the cultural space most congenial to putting oneself forward as the horny suffragette. She came to prominence in the 1890s and 1900s just as the art of ballyhoo was transforming Broadway.

Phony stories of jewel robberies, assaults, near fatal illnesses proliferated, and Tanguay took pains to make sure the stories circulating about her were among the most lurid. Though she appeared in the 1909 Ziegfeld Follies, she thought that Ziegfeld's aesthetic was too refined, with too much visual harmony and not enough novelty. Her vaudeville outfits became famous for their garish ornament, their strategic bareness, and their dissimilarity from anything anyone else was wearing. Her song performances reveled in physicality - heaving, shaking, floor rolling - done with daredevil abandon and a knowing conspiratorial glance in the direction of the audience. A good time, rather than good taste, was her motto.

Though "I Don't Care" was her signature song, she made a half dozen other tunes popular, including "Go as Far as You Like" and "It's All been Done Before But not the Way I Do It." The most traditional aspect of Tanguay was her work ethic; she believed that projecting personality to a degree that it amuses an audience was a taxing effort. Consequently she chided young women who aspired to get into theater because they wanted pleasure without much labor. Of performers of her generation, she more than any other depended upon direct contact with an audience to ignite.

Tanguay's ventures into film were infrequent and rather mannered. She was generally averse to recording her hit songs. She frequently confessed that she could not dance, and lacked artistry as a singer, and was not beautiful in any conventional way, but that she was the highest paid entertainer in vaudeville because she was the most alive. People paid to be in the presence of personality. David S. Shields/ALS