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Energetic and bold, Tanguay was known as the “I Don’t Care Girl,” after her most famous song. 



June 2006

Eva Tanguay, Vaudeville’s Star

Eva Tanguay was a showstopper—one of vaudeville’s most charismatic stars.  Long before performers like Madonna made their mark, Eva Tanguay was wowing ‘em on the vaudeville stage.

The flamboyant singing comedienne was the highest paid performer for over a decade during the heyday of American vaudeville in the early 1900s.  Known as the “I Don’t Care Girl” after her most famous song, Eva’s bold, self-confident songs symbolized a new, emancipated American woman. 



MORE: Eva Tanguay, Vaudeville’s Star

As a child, Eva was already touring on her own, appearing in productions like “Little Lord Fauntleroy.” ID.2005.100

In an era when women wore long skirts, Eva’s costumes were considered quite risqué.

A banner advertises Eva Tanguay’s performance of a new song hit, “America I Love You,” at the Majestic Theater, Chicago’s leading vaudeville house, about 1915.    ID.2005.100

Eva’s costumes, like this feathered wonder from 1921, were quite often as flamboyant as her personality. ID.2005.100

Eva’s apartment in New York was fittingly stylish, complete with a tiger skin rug on the floor.  ID.2005.100

Born in Canada in 1878, Eva Tanguay grew up in Holyoke, Massachusetts.  As a child, Eva was already an actress, touring in productions like “Little Lord Fauntleroy.” By the turn of the 20th century, Eva turned from stock and Broadway plays to the two-a-day vaudeville circuit, making her New York vaudeville debut at Hammerstein’s Victoria Theater in 1904.  About this time, she made a huge splash with her performance of the tune, “I Don’t Care,” which became her signature song.  Eva steadily rose from being a $500 a week performer to earning as much as $3,500 a week by 1910. 

Outrageous, full of energy, and often risqué, the wild-haired blonde defied conventional values as she flaunted her irreverent sense of humor and sensuality.  Eva’s audiences flocked to her performances— not to hear a lovely voice (which was average and rather brassy), but for her ability to light up the stage with her performances.  Eva could really sell a song.  People were intrigued by what she was wearing and how she was behaving.  Her daring, revealing and, often, flamboyant costumes caused scandal in their day.  Eva once quipped, “When I put on tights, my name went up in lights!”  Eva toured not only the American circuit, but was a hit in cities like Toronto and London as well.  Tanguay also made two movies, “Energetic Eva” (1916) and “The Wild Girl” (1917), though they met with little success.

Eva well understood the value of self-promotion.  She would take each city by storm, spending liberally on publicity and advertising.  She was often billed as “The Genius of Mirth and Song,” and “The Evangelist of Joy.”
Eva Tanguay’s many fans loved her—her exuberant personality fascinated vaudeville audiences for more than three decades.  Late in her career, the show business publication Variety wrote, “What Ruth is to baseball, Dempsey to pugilism and Chaplin to pictures, Tanguay is to vaudeville.  She embodies the spirit of youth in her work, her personality is elusive and baffling as ever, and she has the color that penetrates beyond the four walls of a theatre and cashes in at the box office.” 

Yet, as vaudeville began to fade in the late 1920s, so too did Eva’s luck.  She lost a fortune during the 1929 stock market crash.  Cataracts had dramatically affected her vision by the early 1930s, but her sight was restored by an operation paid for by admirer Sophie Tucker.  Arthritis slowed Eva in 1937 and she became more and more reclusive.  By the time of her death on January 11, 1947 in Hollywood, California, her once vast fortune was reduced to $500.

Jeanine Head Miller
Curator of Domestic Life





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