Vaudeville to American Suffragette

 

Trixie Friganza was born on November 29, 1870 and given the name Delia O’Callaghan.

She began working at a young age (12 or 13 years old) in order to help support her family, securing a cash girl position at Pogue’s store, and earning $3.00 a week. When she was sixteen she was promoted to the handkerchief counter at Pogue’s store and her salary went up to around $4.50–$5.00 a week. It was her boyfriend at the time, who encouraged her not to waste her talents as a singer and actress and to venture onto the stage where she could double or triple her current salary. She took her mother’s maiden name Friganza and the nickname Trixie stuck.

Her mother was inconsolable and devastated at her daughter’s decision to take to the stage. She notified Cleveland authorities who brought Trixie before a Cleveland judge to justify her decision to work in theater. She presented such a compelling and rational case for this career move (she had to prove to the judge that she was neither “silly” nor “stage-struck”, that this was a business move) that the judge granted her clemency and telegraphed her mother saying that Trixie was doing the right thing. She remained on stage in some form or another for the next fifty years.

Trixie Friganza was civic minded and socially attuned. She was not progressive by modern standards, but for a woman at the turn of the twentieth century to align herself with women’s suffrage and to promote a positive female body image was pretty radical. On October 28, 1908, Trixie attended a women’s suffrage rally at New York City Hall where she delivered a speech for women’s rights.

Trixie at Suffragette movement in New York, 1908

She transitioned to film in the early 1920s mostly playing small characters that were quirky and comedic and retired from the stage in 1940 due to health concerns. She spent her last years teaching drama to young women in a convent school and when she died she left everything to the convent. She became a highly sought after comic actress after the success of The Chaperons.

Trixie Friganza in The Chaperons

Trixie toured with many theatre companies in the coming years working her way from roles in the chorus to more prominently featured roles with speaking parts. Part of her success can be attributed to her constant willingness to step in and take over roles when others fell ill or could not appear. These instances provided her an opportunity to demonstrate her ability and ingenuity. She impressed agents, audiences and other actors alike with her stellar singing voice and ability to command audiences with her humorous interpretation of characters.

Trixie Friganza with Buster Keaton in Free and Easy – Easy Go, 1930 Credit: AF archive/Alamy

You can watch a funny video of Trixie here:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9H-7fKb9uQY

 

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