Current Issue, Vol. 31 No.3

Unruly Reproductions: The Embodied Art of Mimicry in Vaudeville

by Jennifer Schmidt
The Journal of American Drama and Theatre
Volume 31, Number 3 (Spring 2019)
ISNN 2376-4236
©2019 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center

The Belle of Mayfair, a musical comedy composed by Leslie Stuart with book by Basil Hood, Charles Brookfield, and Cosmo Hamilton, premiered in London in 1906. The comedy was loosely based on Romeo and Juliet, which did not prevent it from including a number called “Why Do They Call Me A Gibson Girl?” commenting on the American fashion craze sparked by Charles Dana Gibson’s illustrations. The lyrics for the song instructed the listener on how to “affect” the Gibson style:

Wear a blank expression,
And a monumental curl,
And walk with a bend in your back,
Then they will call you a Gibson Girl.

The girls affect a style
As they pass by
With down-cast eye,
And a bored and languid smile,

They do their best, for they’ve seen the pictures.
[Chorus: They’ve missed the point of the Dana picture,]
Which are intended, don’t you see,
For all in perfect type should be.[1]

For the New York production, which ran from December 1906 through March 1907, Valeska Suratt, a milliner from Indiana, used the role and her dressmaking skills to launch her acting career. Commenting on the hit song for the production’s Baltimore transfer, a review in The Sun exclaims that “Miss Surratt…looks like she had just stepped out from one of Charles Dana’s $1,000 sketches.” The reviewer also notes that the chorus featured a different look than the typical “chubby chorus girls,” stating, “Their places were well filled by tall, willowy creatures, called Gibson girls, who wore the most stunning gowns imaginable and who lifted up their chins in preference to their toes.”[2]

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