Trixie Friganza was born Delia O’Callaghan on November 29, 1870 and died February 27, 1955. She began her career as an operetta soubrette working her way from the chorus to starring in musical comedies to having her own feature act on the Vaudeville circuit. She transitioned to film in the early 1920’s 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 (played “Aramanthe Dedincourt") and is most well-known for her stage roles of Caroline Vokes (or Vokins?) in The Orchid, Mrs. Radcliffe in The Sweetest Girl in Paris, for multiple roles in The Passing Show of 1912, and of course her unforgettable run as a Vaudeville headliner. Trixie loved life, her fans and the stage and during the height of her career she used her fame to promote social, civic, and political issues of importance such as self-love and the suffragist movement.
Trixie Friganza was born in Grenola, Kansas to a mother of Spanish descent (Margaret Jane) and a father who was Irish. She had two younger sisters (one named Bessie) to whom she was very close, and along with their mother, these four women were a tightly knit unit growing up. She was educated at the St. Patrick’s School in Cincinnati, beginning what would become a life-long allegiance to the Catholic Church. When asked by a reporter why she took the name Friganza she replied, “I didn’t marry it,” an uncharacteristically flippant and assertive response for a woman in the early twentieth century. Friganza, in fact, is her mother’s maiden name, which she both liked and found to be suitable for the stage. A friend and colleague of hers by the name of Digby Bell (of Digby Bell Opera Co.), christened her “Trixie” early on and the name stuck, for she had never been fond of the name Delia.
She began working at a young age (approximately 12 or 13) in order to help support her family, securing a cash girl position in 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, which was a substantial increase in income for her. It was her boyfriend at the time (name unknown) 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.
Motivated by the desire to provide more for her family and the responsibility she must have felt due to being the oldest of the three daughters, she auditioned for a chorus girl position in The Pearl of Pekin’ (1889). She got the part but in order to avoid any embarrassment to her mother and family (stage careers for women were not considered reputable at the time) she opted to begin performing once the production moved up to Cleveland, Ohio. 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 chief 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 chief that she was neither “silly” nor “stage-struck,” that this was a business move) that the chief 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
Theatre Years (1889-1917)
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.
She worked mainly with musical comedies, however, she did perform in a few dramatic productions, opting to return to comedic performance relatively soon thereafter. Below is a list in chronological order of the productions with which she was involved. Supplementary information (roles; theatre company; additional cast members; theatre technicians; directors; producers; personal statements or experiences), when available, is provided. (dates placed in italics are guesstimated based on the chronology of her performances, meaning the performance likely took place in that year but research did not provide a hard date to confirm this.
Pearl of Pekin’ - 1889
The Tar and the Tartar – 1890 - Carlton Opera Co.
Understudied for Laura Joyce Bell and took her part when she was unable to appear.
Jupiter (comic opera) – 1891 – Carlton Opera Co.
Role of “Ganymede”
George Odell in the Annals of the New York Stage, said of Trixie, “The attendant Ganymede of Trixie Friganza, in later years a very heavy maiden, amuses me.”
The Mascot (comic opera) – 1892-4 – Digby Bell Opera Co.
Presented at Palmer’s Theater in NYC running from July 18th- October 1st
Role of “Frederic, Prince of Pisa”
Also starring Henry E. Dixey
Prince Kam or A Trip to Venus (musical comedy) – 1893-4
Role of “Isis”
Written by C.A. Byrne and Louis Harrison
Bill available from the Park Theatre (Robinson Locke Collection, New York City Public Library for the Performing Arts)
One Christmas Night (drama) - 1894
The Little Trooper - 1894
Chorus role along with Della Fox
Opened at the Casino in New York, August 30
The Little Joker (comedy) – 1894-5
Written by Carrie W. Colburn
Offered the lead role of “Kate” by Colburn who saw her performing in the chorus and wanted her to star in her play, which became T.F’s first starring role on stage.
Fleur de Lis - 1895
Performed with Della Fox
Production opened at the Palmer’s Theater in NYC
A Trip to Chinatown – 1896-7
Role of the “Widow” (principal)
La Poupee - 1897
Role of “Henry” (boy’s part- principal)
Performed with Anna Held
Show opened in Lyrie, NY, October 9th
The Man in the Moon – 1898-99
Role in the front row of the chorus
The Country Sport – 1898-99
Role in the chorus
Understudied for Kate Davis and got to play the principal when she fell ill
The Casino Girl - 1900
Opened in Casino, NY; had a chorus role
The Belle of Bohemia – 1900-1
Role of “Mrs. Muggins” (principal)
First appearance in London at the Apollo in this role – February 21, 1901
The Whirl of the Town - 1901
Role of “Samanthy Brown”
Performed with Henry E. Dixey and Madge Lessing
Opened in London, September 11, 1901
The Rounders – 1901
One of the four daughters (principal)
The Girl From Paris – 1901-2
Role of “Julie Bonbon” (principal); Show toured back in the U.S. and in Montreal
Belle of New York - 1902
Role of “Salvation Army girl”
When asked to kick a tambourine as the character does in the German translation of the play, she “refused to stultify her artistic conscience in that way”
The Chaperons (musical comedy) - 1902
Role of “Aramanthe Dedincourt” (principal)
Director Frank L. Perley; Music by Isidore Witmark; Book and Lyrics by Frederic Ranken
Opened in New York, NY on June 5th
Performed with Walter Jones, Eddie Redway, Lou Middleton, Harry Conor, Eva Tanguay, and May Boley
F.C. Havenmeyer, a wealthy 71 year old man, followed the production around the country showering the female actresses with gifts from Tiffany’s, T.F. included.
Sally in Our Alley - 1903
Role of “Sally” (principal)
Played at McVicker’s Theater
The Darling of the Gallery Gods - 1903
Role of “Whoa San” (principal)
The Dress Parade - 1903
Role of “DuBarry” (principal)
Opened in Crystal Gardens, NY, June 22nd
The Prince of Pilsen – 1903
Role of “Mrs. Madison Crocker” (principal)
Opened on Broadway, NY, July 4th , 1903 and in Shaftesbury, London, May 14, 1904
Wears a gown covered with roses which was her “invention.”
The Sultan of Sulu – 1904
Role of the “Widow”
Higgledy-Piggledy – 1905 – Joe Weber’s All Star Co. or Joe Weber Music Hall Stock Co.
Role of “Mimi de Chartreuse” (principal)
Opened in Weber’s M.H., New York, February 13
The Girl From Paris - 1906
Revived role of “Julie Bonbon” (principal)
Opened in Manhattan Beach, New York, July 21st
Twiddle-Twaddle – 1905
Role of “Matilda Grabfelder” (principal)
Opened at Joe Weber’s Theatre
The Three Graces – 1906 – Kohl and Castle
Opened at the Chicago Opera House and went on tour
His Honor the Mayor – 1906
Role of “Katrinka” (principal)
Performed with Harry Kelly
The Orchid – 1906-7
Role of “Caroline Vokes” (or Vokins?) (principal)
Performed with Eddie Foy
Opened in Herald Square Theatre, New York, April 8th
The Girl from Yama - 1907
Role of “The Girl from Yama” (principal)
The American Idea (musical comedy) - 1908
Role of “Mrs. Waxtapper (principal)
Written by George M. Cohan
First public performance at the Star Theatre in Buffalo, New York, September 7th
Opened in New York, New York, October 5th
The Sweetest Girl in Paris (musical comedy) – 1910-11
Role of “Mrs. Ned Radcliffe (principal)
Opened at the Chicago LaSalle Opera House, August 8th and went on tour
The Passing Show of 1912 – 1912-13 – Winter Garden Co.
Roles of “Keokuk,” “Julia Scream,” and “Nancy Sikes”
Opened in Winter Garden, NY, July 22nd and went on tour
A Parody of ‘’Oliver Twist’’
Town Topics (musical comedy) – 1915
Role of “Albany Dayline”
Conceived of and staged by Ned Wayburn
Canary Cottage – 1916-17
Role of “Blanche Moss”
Vaudeville Years (1906-1932)
Trixie Friganza easily made the transition from musical comedy to vaudeville though her first vaudeville appearance is a contested matter. The newspaper, Brooklyn Eagle claims that her debut was at Keeney’s Theatre, May 6, 1905, whereas the Encyclopedia of Vaudeville lists her first appearance at the Hammerstein’s Theatre in New York, NY, in the summer of 1906. Regardless, from that time forward she shuttled back and forth between the theatre and the vaudeville stage until 1912-13 when she began working primarily within the vaudeville circuit. Her fame as a comic actress buoyed her success and she soon became a headliner, given top billing in the shows.
During her career she headlined at the B.F. Keith’s Palace Theatre in New York no less than ten times. Records from the Theatre documented performers’ success by rating their reception, applause, counting the number of laughs received and how they finished. Records from appearances during the week ending April 28th, 1918 indicate that the audience’s response to Trixie Friganza was huge, where she elicited a total of 29 laughs, second only to Charlie Chaplin’s motion picture A Dog’s Life. In 1919 she toured with an act called “At A Block Party,” which featured songs and witty repartee representative of an actual city block party. Frederick James Smith, writing for the Dramatic Mirror (Feb. 8, 1919) called her show “a vigorous comedy act” (Slide, Selected Vaudeville Criticism, pg. 88). During one appearance at the Palace, Variety Magazine called her act, “My Little Bag O’ Trix,” “a riotous hit” (March, 1920). Other one-woman shows included the “Trixie Friganza Road Show” (1921) and numerous others that she performed untitled.
She performed many successful acts, many of which revolved around her plus-sized figure, which she described as the “perfect forty-six,” and the trials and tribulations of love (Slide, Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, pg. 199). She was an advocate for being plump, topping the scales herself at 180 lbs, and went as far as suggesting that her success as a comic correlated directly to her mass. On July 21, 1915, the Dramatic Mirror reported successful completion of a 75-week tour on the Keith vaudeville circuit; during that span of time she never missed a performance, never was late or was involved in any altercations with the stage or house manager.
Film Years (1923-1940)
Trixie Friganza began making appearances in film in 1923 beginning with Mind Over Motor where she played the character “Tish.” Over the course of seventeen years she appeared in over twenty films mostly playing small but comedic roles. The “Filmography” section is as comprehensive listing of her films as I could compile, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there are films yet to be discovered in which she featured. In the listing provided supplementary data such as the roles she played or anecdotal information is included when available.
Trixie Friganza was civic minded and socially attuned. She was not progressive by our 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. She donated money to the cause and repeatedly went on record as an advocate for women’s rights, equality and independence (see “Quotes” section below). Her own personal life is consistent with those ideals; having taken her mother’s maiden name and refusing to leave her career in spite of marriage, she defied society’s proprieties and norms, modeling what Susan Glenn calls the “New Woman." New women were concerned with sexual freedom and equality, and demonstrated this by experimenting with “public behavior and new gender roles” (Glenn 6). Friganza used her celebrity status to promote and further the rights of women as well as other causes such as promoting the arts to the economically disenfranshised. Newspapers noted that many performances in which she was involved held performances for orphans and children from lower income families.
Trixie Friganza was quite a beauty, thick and thin, and though she used her occasional single status to sing songs (like “No Wedding Bells for Me”) and make jokes about being desperate for a man, she had many beaus. Her first marriage was to an unknown man in the late 1890’s and newspapers reported that she was divorced from this “John Doe” in September of 1899. Her second marriage, which took place during the summer of 1901, was to Dr. Barry, the physician hired aboard the steamship Bohemian, upon which the cast sailed from Boston. The wedding was held at Stermin’s Hotel and those in attendance were fellow actors and cast members of Belle of Bohemia. She and the Doctor were divorced several years later, though the exact date is unknown. On August 20, 1909, tabloids reported that Trixie was to be engaged to Nat M. Wills, but nothing more was said of this and she did not in fact marry the man. Her third marriage, taking place in New York on March 10, 1912, was to her manager, Charles A. Goettler. She filed for a divorce in the summer of 1914 on the grounds of “failure to provide” and “cruelty.” Records do not indicate that she was ever married again. During all of her marriages she never changed her name and was adamant about continuing her career in show business.
Trixie Friganza suffered from arthritis beginning in the 1930’s and because of it by 1940 could no longer work in Hollywood or on stage. In 1940 she turned over all of her assets and money to the Academy of the Sacred Heart, a convent and school in Flintridge, California. She taught drama there as long as she could until her health prevented her from doing so. She reportedly had a room in the institution that that looked over the city of Pasadena where every year she would watch the football games at the Rose Bowl stadium.
At the age of 79, in an interview with the L.A. Times, she confessed to enjoying watching TV a great deal saying, “that’s where vaudeville has gone –into television” (Slide, Encyclopedia… pg. 199). She correctly identified the many comic and dramatic tropes borrowed from the stage and incorporated into American cinema and television. Despite her popularity, theatrical achievements and astounding record of stage and cinematic productions, which rivaled male comic greats such as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, she died in relative obscurity in Flintridge at the age of 85 on February 27, 1955. She bequeathed all her possessions to the Academy and left a legacy to the American public.
Mind Over Motor – “Tish”
Borrowed Finery – “Mrs. Brown”
The Charmer – “Mama”
The Road to Yesterday – “Harriet Tyrell”
The Coming of Amos – “Dowager Duchess of Perth”
Proud Flesh – “Mrs. McKee”
The White Desert
Almost A Lady – “Mrs. Timothy Reilly”
Monte Carlo – “Flossie Payne”
The Whole Town’s Talking – “Mrs. Simmons”
The Waiter From the Ritz
A Racing Romeo – “Aunt Hattie”
Gentleman Prefer Blondes – “Mrs. Spoffard”
Thanks for the Buggy Ride – “Actress”
The Unruly Three – “Lady Customer”
Free and Easy (aka Easy Go: U.S. TV title) – “Ma Plunkett” – with Buster Keaton (his first Talkie)
My Bag O’ Trix
Strong and Willing
Myrt and Marge (aka Laughter in the Air: UK title) – “Mrs. Minter”
Wanderer of the Wasteland – “Big Jo”
Silks and Saddles – “Aunt Agatha Braddock”
A Star Is Born – “Mabel” (a waitress)
How to Undress in Front of Your Husband – “Herself” – with Elaine Barrie (“Wife”), Hal Richardson (“Peeping Tom”), and Albert Van Antwerp (Narrator) This was a 20-minute black and white comic short
During her career Trixie Friganza published articles and poems in newspapers, some of which still exist today in the Robinson Locke Collection at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Those still available (mostly on microfilm) are listed below accompanied by a short description of content.
“Ballad” – From the “Trixie Ballads,” published in 1903 in an unknown newspaper
“Comediennes Chosen By Weight” – April 1907, Newspaper Article
This article written by Trixie argued that in the future female comics would be selected not based on reputation, rather on their excess pounds. She recognized the value of having thin actresses play leading dramatic and romantic roles, but if any woman would succeed in comedy it would be the larger lady of the two.
“Six Trixie Friganza Tricks Which Make Women Laugh” – May 16, 1909, Chicago Tribune
The article derived from an interview in which the reporter quoted T.F. at length, her dialogue comprising over 70% of the text. In it she shares her desire to play to women’s sense of humor, encouraging their laughter, and the theatrical strategies necessary to do so.
“These Stories” – June 26, 1910, published in an unknown newspaper
A collection of humorous short anecdotes, most of which seem to derive from real life experiences and place the woman as the humorist or satirist.
“Bromides” – February 3, 1915, poem in New Jersey Star
The poem documented the internal questions and worries of a stage actor.
“Once I asked Miss Friganza, why people laughed at her. ‘They don’t,’ she said, ‘they laugh with me. Or at least I like to jolly myself into believing that they do. You know I wasted a lot of time trying to be pretty and cute and all that sort of thing.'”
From Dramatic Section, “Her Breadth is Her Meal Ticket, Quoth the Mirthful Trixie” by Archie Bell
“’I do not believe any man –at least no man I know –is better fitted to form a political opinion than I am.’”
From the New York Telegraph, Oct. 27, 1908 (archived in the Robinson Locke Collection, Vol. 220).
“I make it my business to compel women to laugh. Now you will understand that I understand when I tell you that I can always do this. When one woman can compel another woman to laugh heartily and earnestly, she understands her sex pretty well, eh?”
From the Chicago Tribune, “Six Trixie Friganza Tricks Which Make Woman Laugh,” published May 16, 1909
“The Cincinnati Girl”
“The Perpetual Flapper:” dubbed this by The Billboard in 1931
"The Champagne Girl”
Eugene Pallette was born July 8, 1889 at Winfield, Kansas. He died in 1954 in Los Angeles. At his request, his ashes were brought to Grenola for burial, we’re not sure just when.
Eugene Pallette was a noted character actor who began his career in silent movies. He began his career as a slim romantic lead. In 1916, Pallette played the dashing leading man in the movie Intolerance in 1916. He entered the service during WWI and upon his return, had difficulty finding the lead rolls he had enjoyed before. He did find good supporting parts in movies such as The Three Musketeers in 1921. Feeling that he needed a more distinctive appearance, he decided to gain weight, eventually weighing300 pounds, and became in demand as a character actor. In 1927, he appeared in the Laurel and Hardy classic, Battle of the Century. With the development of” talkies” his distinctive deep croaking voice brought many more acting opportunities. He is probably most noted for his roll as Friar Tuck in The Adventures of Robin Hood 1938. His last roll was in Silver River, in 1948.
The stone at the cemetery tells us that Ella Pallette was born in 1860 and died in 1906. William B. Pallette was born in 1858, but there is not a date of death..
Looking in the Grenola Greeting and Chief, Charlene found this article on April 27, 1906, ”Mrs. Ella Pallette of St. Louis, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joel Jackson of this city died at her home this week. The remains are expected here this evening for burial.”
Without a death date, we have been unable to find any information about the death of Mr. Pallette, but we do find information about the Jackson’s.
Faithful Mother Passes Beyond to Happy Golden City
Mrs. Arthusia Jackson was born September 1826, and departed this life at the home of her daughter in Kansas City, June 3, 1915, having exceeded by several years the allotted limit of a normal life. (Age 89).
She was married April 2, 1849 to Joel Jackson who for more than 66 years has shared her joys and sorrows.
For more than sixty-five years she wore with becoming grace the jeweled crown of Christian motherhood. Her two daughters, Mrs. Pallett and Mrs. Bruce preceded her, but her five daughters and two sons, Mrs. Millie Bartlett of Kansas City, Mrs. Sallie Mann of Lawrence, Mrs. Lizzie Brown of Beggs, Oklahoma., Mrs. Anna Snodgrass(wife of John V. Snodgrass (1847-1915) of Grenola, Mrs. Melissa George of Slater Mo., John Jackson of Denver Col., all of whom survive, cherish the tenderest memories of a wise and saintly mother.
During the civil war they moved from Saline Co., to Livingston county Mo., finally settling near Warrensburg, from there they moved to Cowley Co., Kansas and in the early eighties came to Grenola where they remained until the past few years, failing health has caused them to spend their time among their children.
She never sought, but shunned publicity. The memories of her wifely care, of her industry and economy, of her modest motherly grace, of her sweet simplicity of her unfailing cheerfulness, of her thoughtful solicitude for others—these memories are cherished with thankfulness by all who knew her best.
They form a rich bequest to her seven children, twenty grandchildren and seventeen great grandchildren.
Her remains arrived in Grenola Saturday morning and were taken to the home of her grandson, Ellis Mann, where they remained until the funeral services which were held in the Christian Church of which she was at member, at 3:30 p.m., June 5, 1915, conducted by Mrs. Belle Yates assisted by Rev. Coons of the M.E. Church
Amid a shower of roses and other beautiful flowers, her body was laid to rest in Green Lawn Cemetery.—A Friend”
From the Grenola Leader, we learn that: “Joel Jackson was born in Bath County, Kentucky, near Lexington, March 1, 1821 and passed to be with his family at the ripe old age of 101 years, 4 months and 12 days.”
He moved with his parents to Missouri, where he married Arthusa Morris in 1850. Coming to Cowley Co. Kansas, in 1879, the couple came to Grenola in 1882. The same daughters are listed as survivors and in addition are granddaughters; Mrs.Rhoades and Mrs. Wilson and great-grandchildren Neil Wilson of Moline and J.F. Deal of Weir, Ks. He had been making his home with his daughter, Mrs. P.I. Brown of Tulsa, where he fell July 4th fracturing his hip. The shock was too much and he passed away July 13th.”
You might be interested in reading a lengthy tribute to him in the complete copy of the obituary. An interesting ending to the obiturary states: “His funeral was officiated over by Mrs. Belle Yates at the Christian Church Sunday at 11:00. There was a large crowd present and fourteen old settlers who had known him for forty years were seated as guards of honor.
There was a beautiful service at the cemetery when one hundred and one small children, one for every year he was old, marched around the grave covering the casket with flowers.”
Films of Eugene! these are just a few of his 240 films
Birth of a Nation (1915)
Tarzan of the Apes (1918)
The Three Musketeers (1921)
The Ten Commandments (1923)
The Wolf Man (1924)
The Battle of the Century (1927)
The Love Parade (1929)
Shanghai Express (1932)
The Kennel Murder Case (1933)
My Man Godfrey (1936)
One Hundred Men and a Girl (1937)
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
The Lady Eve (1941)
The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941)
The Male Animal (1942)
Heaven Can Wait (1943)
The Gang's All Here (1944)