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Doris Eaton Travis
Born March 14, 1904 (1904-03-14) (age 106)
Norfolk, Virginia,
United States
Occupation Actress, dancer, Ziegfeld girl

Doris Eaton Travis (also Doris Eaton) (born March 14, 1904) is a retired Broadway and film performer, dance instructor and author. She is also the last surviving Ziegfeld girl.

Eaton Travis began performing onstage as a young child, and made her Broadway debut at the age of 13. A year later, in 1918, she joined the famed Ziegfeld Follies as the youngest Ziegfeld Girl ever cast in the show. She continued to perform in stage productions and silent films throughout the 1920s and early 1930s. As of 2010 ,she is along with Miriam Seegar, Barbara Kent, Dorothy Young and Carla Laemmle one of the oldest surviving American Performers at 106.

When her career in stage and screen declined, Eaton Travis started a second career as an Arthur Murray dance instructor and local television personality in Detroit. Her association with Arthur Murray lasted for three decades, during which time she rose through the ranks to own and manage a chain of nearly 20 schools. After retiring from her career with Arthur Murray, she went on to manage a horse ranch with her husband and returned to school, eventually earning several degrees.

In recent years, Doris Eaton Travis has returned to the public eye. As the last surviving Ziegfeld Girl, she has been featured in several books and documentaries about the Ziegfeld Follies and her other stage endeavors. Eaton Travis has also returned to the stage as a featured performer in benefit performances for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Contents

Early life and career

Eaton began attending dance lessons in Washington D.C., along with her sisters Mary and Pearl, at the age of four. In 1911, all three sisters were hired for a production of Maurice Maeterlinck's fantasy play The Blue Bird at the Shubert Belasco Theatre in Washington. While Eaton had a minor role in the show, as a sleeping child in the Palace of Night scene, it marked the beginning of her career in professional theatre.[1]

After The Blue Bird, in 1912, the three Eaton sisters and their younger brother Joe began appearing in various plays and melodramas for the Poli Stock Company. They quickly gained reputations as professional, reliable and versatile actors, and were rarely out of work.[1]

In 1915, all three sisters appeared in a new production of The Blue Bird for Poli. Doris and Mary were given the starring roles of Mytyl and Tytyl. The siblings were subsequently invited to reprise their roles for a New York and road tour of the play, produced by the Shubert Brothers. When the show closed, Doris and her brother Charlie, who had followed his four siblings into show business, resumed their work with Poli and appeared together in their first Broadway show, Mother Carey's Chickens at the Cort Theatre. The entire Eaton family relocated to New York City, where the children pursued their careers in various stage projects.[1][2]

Ziegfeld Follies years

By 1918, Pearl Eaton had become a dancer and assistant to the director with the Ziegfeld Follies. When Doris accompanied Pearl to a rehearsal, dance supervisor Ned Wayburn spotted her and hired her for a role in the summer touring company of the 1918 Follies.[3][4]

The same day she finished the eighth grade, Doris began rehearsals for the Follies. To circumvent child labor laws and the attention of the Gerry Society, she performed under the stage names "Doris Levant" (actually her young niece's name) and "Lucille Levant". As soon as she turned sixteen, she began using her real name again. Wayburn was one of only a few people who were aware of her true age, and arranged for her mother to accompany her on the Follies tour as a paid member of the company.[1][4]

Eaton Travis would associate with Ziegfeld for several years, appearing in the 1918, 1919 and 1920 editions of the Ziegfeld Follies and the 1919 Midnight Frolics.[2] She was the understudy to star Marilyn Miller. Doris was not the only member of the Eaton family to prosper in the show: by 1922, Mary, Pearl, Doris, Joe and ten-year old Charlie had all performed in one edition of the Follies or another. Doris' last appearance with the Follies was the 1920 edition.[1][3]

Eaton Travis made her motion picture debut at the age of 17 in the 1921 romantic drama At the Stage Door, opposite silent film star Billie Dove. Her career flourished in the 1920s and early 1930s. She appeared in a number of additional silent films, including Tell Your Children with director Donald Crisp in England and Egypt; performed in five different Broadway shows and danced in the Hollywood Music Box Revue and the Gorham Follies in Los Angeles and the Hollywood Club in New York.[5][1][3]

Throughout her silent film career Doris lived in England and sailed to New York onboard RMS Aquitania on August 12th 1922. Aged 18.

While in the Hollywood Music Box Revue, Eaton Travis premiered two important songs, both composed by Nacio Herb Brown: Singin' in the Rain and The Doll Dance. Doris was the lyricist for the latter song, but did not receive due credit.

At eighteen, Eaton Travis married Joe Gorham, the producer of the Gorham Follies. The marriage was opposed by the Eaton clan, and quickly regretted by the young Doris when Gorham, who was twice her age, revealed a cruel and abusive nature. The union lasted for six months, ending when Gorham died of a heart attack.[1][3]

Second and third careers

Eaton Travis performed in her final Broadway show, the play Merrily We Roll Along at the Music Box Theatre, in 1935.[2] Her career, along with those of her siblings, declined in the 1930s. She returned to work in stock theatrical productions on Long Island and had a brief, albeit unsuccessful, foray into vaudeville with her brother Charlie.[1]

In 1936, Eaton Travis was hired by the Arthur Murray Dance Studios in New York as a tap dance instructor. She remained with the Arthur Murray company for thirty-two years, advancing from teaching to owning her own school. Eventually Eaton Travis established and owned a total of eighteen Arthur Murray studios across Michigan. She authored a column of dance advice and commentary for the Detroit News entitled "On Your Toes" and hosted a local television program for seven years.[1][6][4]

One of Eaton Travis' pupils, inventor and engineer Paul Travis, became her husband after an 11-year courtship. Their marriage would endure for over fifty years, until Paul's death in 2000; they had no children.[6][1]

After retiring from the dance studio business in 1968, Eaton Travis and her husband moved to Norman, Oklahoma, and established a ranch. The initial 220-acre (89 ha) plot grew to 880 acres (356 ha), and many of the quarter-horses bred and raised on the ranch had success in racing. The ranch is still in operation, largely as a boarding facility, and managed by Eaton Travis, as of 2008.[6][3]

Later life

In 1992, aged 88, Eaton Travis graduated cum laude from the University of Oklahoma.[1] She was awarded an honorary doctorate from Oakland University in 2004 at the age of 100.

She has appeared in several documentaries and interviews about the Ziegfeld Follies and her siblings and colleagues; she also published an autobiography and family history, entitled The Days We Danced, in 2003. In 2006, Eaton Travis was the subject of a photo-collage biography by Pulitzer Prize nominee Lauren Redniss entitled Century Girl: 100 Years in the Life of Doris Eaton Travis, Last Living Star of the Ziegfeld Follies. In 1999 she made her first film appearance in over sixty-five years with a small role in Man on the Moon with Jim Carrey.[5]

In 1998, Eaton Travis returned to Broadway and the New Amsterdam Theatre, the same venue where she had first appeared in 1918, 80 years earlier, to participate in the Easter Bonnet Competition, a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. She became the show's "lucky charm" and an audience favorite, and has continued to appear in the production almost every year, often presenting renditions of her old dances to standing ovations from the audience.[1][7][4]

In January 2008, Doris Eaton Travis, served as the Grand Marshal of the opening parade for the Art Deco Weekend festival in Miami Beach.[6]

On March 14th 2010, She celebrated her 106th birthday, she reportedly still dances three times a week.[citation needed]

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Travis, Doris Eaton (2003). The Days We Danced. Marquand Books. ISBN 0-8061-9950-4. 
  2. ^ a b c "Doris Eaton Travis at the Internet Broadway Database". http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?ID=39166. Retrieved 2008-02-06. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Wilson, Victoria (January 1999). "Doris Eaton Travis, a former Ziegfeld Follies dancer". Interview. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1285/is_1_29/ai_53567018. Retrieved 2008-02-06. 
  4. ^ a b c d Simonson, Robert (April 17, 2004). "Nearly) Oldest Living Ziegfeld Girl Tells All: 100-Year-Old Doris Eaton Visits New Amsterdam Once More". Playbill Online. http://www.playbill.com/news/article/85619.html. Retrieved 2008-02-06. 
  5. ^ a b "Doris Eaton Travis at the Internet Movie Database". http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0247811/. Retrieved 2008-02-06. 
  6. ^ a b c d Orkin Emmanuel, Lisa (January 18, 2008). "Oldest living Ziegfield girl kicks off annual Art Deco Weekend". Associated Press. http://www.jacksonville.com/apnews/stories/011808/D8U8HF8G2.shtml. Retrieved 2008-02-06. 
  7. ^ Viagas, Robert (April 20, 2005). "Easter Bonnet Competition Raises $2.5 Million". Playbill Online. http://www.playbill.com/news/article/92461.html. Retrieved 2008-02-06. 

Additional sources

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