Share This Page

Uniontown man toured U.S. with Vaudevile's 'Lady Gaga'

| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 6:24 p.m.
George “Zeke” Williams enthralled his grand kids with stories about the years he spent as a stagehand on the vaudeville circuit. He often spoke of a singer named Eva Tanguay, with whom he toured until he returned home to Uniontown in 1915.
Eva Tanguay is remembered as the original Lady Gaga / Madonna.
Zeke Williams of Uniontown, the first stage manager at the State Theatre, toured as a stage hand for Eva Tanguay.

Editor's note: This is the fourth in a six-part series on old-fashioned theaters in Fayette County. Eva Tanguay was “The I Don't Care Girl.” Uniontown's George “Zeke” Williams toured with the Vaudeville star.

George “Zeke” Williams enthralled his grand kids with stories about the years he spent as a stagehand on the vaudeville circuit.

He often spoke of a singer named Eva Tanguay, with whom he toured until he returned home to Uniontown in 1915.

However, he left out a minor detail: Eva Tanguay is remembered as the original Lady Gaga / Madonna.

From about 1905 to 1920, Eva's wild stage antics made her a queen of Vaudeville.

The French-Canadian born singer and dancer earned several thousand dollars a week at the peak of her success. However, thanks to her lavish lifestyle and outrageous costumes, she often spent twice as much as she made.

She was tagged with many nicknames — “The Cyclonic Comedienne,” “The Madcap Wonder,” and “The Wild Girl,” to name a few — but the name that stuck was “The I Don't Care Girl.”

“I Don't Care” was Eva's swan song but she sang a symphony of scandalous tunes. Among them were “I Want Someone to Go Wild With Me,” “Go As Far As You Like” and “That's Why They Call Me Tabasco.”

Audiences anticipated her provocative stage antics. She was saucily sexy but not lewd enough to be thrown out of vaudeville, which touted itself as family-friendly, unlike its bawdy burlesque counterpart.

Several sources quote Eva Tanguay as saying she couldn't really sing, dance or act. But based on her popularity, she must have had something special; one could compare Eva to 1920s silent film actress Clara Bow, who was nicknamed the “It Girl.”

Mae mimicked Eva

Eva's persona was so flashy that Mae West — who began in Vaudeville and went on to 1930s film fame with her raunchy act — is said to have emulated the “I Don't Care Girl” in developing her own image.

Eva Tanguay's first stage appearance was at age 8 in Massachusetts. She starred in several Broadway shows but by 1905 she was a Vaudeville headliner. In 1909, she performed with the famous Ziegfeld Follies.

Eva's offstage life was as scandalous as her shows. She married and divorced twice — and in 1908 staged a fake wedding to popular actor Julian Eltinge, a cross-dresser. For the “nuptials,” Eva donned a tuxedo and Julian wore the white wedding gown.

Outside of marriage, Eva's supposed affair with married African American comedian George Walker caused a public uproar.

Eva was notoriously difficult to work for. She was fined $50 in Louisville, Kentucky, for throwing a stagehand down a flight of stairs.

Was that stagehand Zeke Williams of Uniontown?

“I wouldn't doubt it,” said his grandson, Pete Williams of Uniontown, laughing. Pete never knew his grandfather but grew up listening to stories about Zeke's show biz experiences. The Williams family still has the steamer trunk that he hauled with him from coast-to-coast.

The 1929 Wall Street Crash ended Eva Tanguay's fame. She retired and was working on her autobiography when she died in 1947 at age 68.

Eva was laid to rest in Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery (now Hollywood Forever Cemetery). In 1953, Eva's life was immortalized when Mitzi Gaynor portrayed her in a fictionalized film, “The I Don't Care Girl.”

Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.

Friday: Connellsville film director Edwin S. Porter's historic 12-minute “The Great Train Robbery” of 1903 featured 40 actors and had at least 10 different scene locations — unheard of at the time.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.