Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Elsie Janis, Vaudeville Star, Singer, Actress, Composer

Elsie Janis was born in Marion County, March 16, 1889 and she took to the stage at aged two at Dr. Washington Gladden’s First Congregational Church at the northwest corner of Broad and Third.  By age eleven she was a headliner on the vaudeville circuit as Little Elsie. As she matured, she began perfecting not only her singing skills, but her comedic skills as well.

She was acclaimed by American and British critics, Janis was a headliner at Columbus’ Hartman Theater, Broadway and in 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 was a tireless advocate for British and American soldiers fighting in World War I, doing what Bob Hope was to become famous for. She raised funds for Liberty Bonds. 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. She wrote about her wartime experiences in The Big Show: My Six Months with the American Expeditionary Forces, published in 1919, and recreated them in a 1926 Vitaphone musical short, Behind the Lines. She made famous the song “It’s A Long, Long Way to Tipperary.”

Janis maintained her private home, ElJan, on the east side of High Street in Columbus, across the street from what was the Ohio State University's "Ohio Field", the precursor to Ohio Stadium. Janis came back many summers to rest from her hectic professional stage and travel schedules, to visit with relatives. Janis was always proud to be an Ohioan. She sold the house following her mother's death and a McDonald's now occupies the site of ElJan.

Elsie moved to the Los Angeles area of California where she lived until her death in 1956. She did several films for Selznick Pictures, including A Regular Girl (1919) for which she wrote the screenplay, co-wrote the title song, and acted. She joined a distinguished group of writers and publishers to become a charter member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) founded by Victor Herbert in 1914. Janis enjoyed collaborations with some of the most important songwriters of her day including Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern.

Elsie Janis is one of the greatest performing arts talents from the Columbus area and one of the most popular stars of her day.

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