Historian and author Andrew Erdman will present at Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum a Tuesday Talk on “Eva Tanguay, the I Don’t Care Girl or Lady Gaga of the Gilded Age”. He will make his visual presentation on Tuesday, July 28 at 4:00 pm.
“She came on like a meteor, but there is a lasting quality.” So wrote Ashton Stevens, Chicago Examiner, in 1911. Who was this Lady Gaga of the Gilded Age? Erdman will tell us based on his latest book Queen of Vaudeville: The Story of Eva Tanguay, the first-ever biography of the legendary performer. Showbiz circles of her day nicknamed her the “I Don’t Care Girl” after her trademark song “I Don’t Care”, which she first introduced as part of a vaudeville act in 1905. Erdman will play her later recording of this song for us.
Tanguay billed herself as “the girl who made vaudeville famous”. She was to be an audience favorite with a long-lasting career. Ziegfeld had to have her for his Follies. She is remembered for brassy, self-confident songs that portrayed the emancipated woman, such as “It’s All Been Done Before but Not the Way I Do It”, “I Want Someone to Go Wild with Me” and “That’s Why They Call Me Tabasco”.
Gaining free publicity with outrageous behavior (she also paid large sums for advertising) was to her liking. In 1910, a year after the Lincoln penny was issued, she appeared on stage in a dress entirely covered in the new coins, some of which she pluck off and playfully threw at men in the audience. With her natural talent for self-promotion, she made headlines for allegedly being kidnapped and having her jewels stolen. She even declared herself a Christian Scientist and became one of the first celebrities to receive plastic surgery. She was described by the father of public relations, Edward Bernays, as “our first symbol of emergence from the Victorian age.”
She out-earned the likes of such contemporaries as Enrico Caruso and Harry Houdini, a fortune that she lost with the stock market crash of 1929. During the following decade she retired from show business and died in 1947 at her home in Hollywood, CA, at age 68. A native of Canada, her family had moved to Holyoke, MA, where she developed an initial interest in the performing arts.
Erdman served as a staff reporter at Fortune magazine where he wrote a weekly human-interest column and profiles of the world’s billionaires. He also has written for National Lampoon, Diversions, Women.com and LifetimeTV.com. He has worked in television, serving as head writer for the talk/comedy/variety show Sex, Lies and Video Clips on VH1. His earlier book is Blue Vaudeville: Sex, Morals and the Mass Marketing of Amusement, 1895-1915. Erdman is a trained psychotherapist and author of topics related to therapy and psychoanalysis. He teaches at the New York University School of Social Work.
Tickets for the Erdman lecture are $20 per person. Reservations are required and seating is strictly limited. Tea cannot be served until further notice due to the Coronavirus. Masks are required and social distancing will be practiced. Call us at (413) 637-3206 for a reservation. The historical mansion is located at 104 Walker Street in Lenox.
The Summer 2020 series of Tuesday Talks are sponsored by Ventfort Hall board member Lucille Landa and William Landa.