ElJan, N High St, Columbus, OH 43201
Philipse Manor Hall State, 29 Warburton Ave, Yonkers, NY 10701
Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale) Glendale, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Elsie Janis (March 16, 1889 – February 26, 1956) was an American singer, songwriter, actress, and screenwriter. Entertaining the troops during World War I immortalized her as "the sweetheart of the AEF" (American Expeditionary Force).
Elsie Bierbower (or Beerbower) was born in Marion, Ohio, the daughter of major league baseball player Louis Bierbauer. ("Bob Addie's Column" in The Washington Post, October 30, 1956, Page D3.) She first took to the stage at age 2. By age 11, she was a headliner on the vaudeville circuit, performing under the name Little Elsie. As she matured, using the stage name Elsie Janis, she began perfecting her comedic skills.
Acclaimed by American and British critics, Janis was a headliner on Broadway and London. On Broadway, she starred in a number of successful shows, including The Vanderbilt Cup (1906), The Hoyden (1907), The Slim Princess (1911), and The Century Girl (1916).
Janis’ London debut in 1912 in which she sang “Florrie was a Flapper” in full male evening dress, won her the adoration of a young Eva Le Gallienne, who became part of Janis and Janis' mother, Jennie’s intimate circle.
Janis was a tireless advocate for British and American soldiers fighting in World War I. She raised funds for Liberty Bonds. Accompanied by her mother, Janis also took her act on the road, entertaining troops stationed near the front lines – one of the first popular American artists to do so in a war fought on foreign soil. Ten days after the armistice, she recorded for HMV several numbers from her revue Hullo, America, including "Give Me the Moonlight, Give Me the Girl". She wrote about her wartime experiences in The Big Show: My Six Months with the American Expeditionary Forces (published in 1919), and recreated these in Behind the Lines, a 1926 Vitaphone musical short.
A new musical about this period of her life called Elsie Janis and the Boys, written by Carol J. Crittenden and composer John T. Prestianni, premiered under the direction of Charles A. Wallace as part of the Rotunda Theatre Series in the Wortley-Peabody Theater in Dallas, Texas on August 15, 2014.
Janis was befriended by Edmund Goulding, to whom she gave a job as a writer for her first David O. Selznick picture, A Regular Girl (1919).
Elsie performed at the grand opening of the Brown Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky on October 5, 1925.
Janis also enjoyed a career as a Hollywood screenwriter, actor, and composer. She was credited with the original story for Close Harmony (1929) and as composer and production manager for Paramount on Parade (1930). She and director Edmund Goulding wrote the song "Love, Your Magic Spell Is Everywhere" for Gloria Swanson for her talkie debut film The Trespasser (1929). Janis's song "Oh, Give Me Time for Tenderness" was featured in the Bette Davis movie Dark Victory (1939), also directed by Goulding.
Janis maintained her private home ElJan on the east side of High Street in Columbus, Ohio. The home was across the street from what was Ohio State University's Ohio Field, the precursor to Ohio Stadium. Janis sold the house following her mother's death.
Until her mother, Jennie’s death, Janis was not romantically involved with men, and both, her mother and she, sought emotional and professional sustenance chiefly from other women, primarily each other but also well-positioned role models such as Elisabeth Marbury and Elsie de Wolfe. Janis, in turn, would support a younger generation of more overtly lesbian theather professionals.
In 1932, Janis married Gilbert Wilson, who was 16 years her junior, which caused some scandal. There is some evidence it might have been a bearded relationship. Although his talent was far more limited, his good looks and Janis’ connections helped get him cast as a chorus boy in Noël Coward’s revue Set to Music (1934). He never ascended to theatrical greatness, but he did become one of Coward’s party companions. Janis also socialized independently, appearing at one gathering clad in male riding attire on the arm of the notoriously libidinous actress Marilyn Miller.
The couple lived in the Phillipse Manor section of Sleepy Hollow, New York, formerly named North Tarrytown, until Janis moved to the Los Angeles area of California where she lived until her death. Janis expressed no desire to have children of her own, saying she'd never meet the standards her mother set, and said that her young husband could be her child. She was foster mother to a 14-year-old Italian war veteran and orphan, Michael Cardi.
In 1934, Janis became the first female announcer on the NBC radio network. Janis was production supervisor for New Faces of 1934, a revue that introduced to Broadway Henry Fonda and Imogene Coca. Also in the cast was Katharine Cornell’s eventual lesbian companion, Nancy Hamilton, whose career Janis was helping to bolster.
Her final film was the 1940 Women in War.
Elsie Janis died in 1956 at her home in Beverly Hills, California, aged 66, and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. When Janis died at her bedside was Mary Pickford, an old friend from their days as child stars in turn of the century vaudeville.
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Elsie Janis has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6776 Hollywood Blvd.
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