May 12, 2010 / 8:11 PM / 9 years ago

The last of the Ziegfeld Follies showgirls dies aged 106

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - New York’s Broadway will dim its lights on Wednesday to mark the death of the last of the famed Ziegfeld showgirls, performers renowned for their lavish costumes and elaborate stage routines.

Doris Eaton Travis died at age 106 on Tuesday in Michigan of undisclosed causes just two weeks after she last appeared on stage in New York, according to a statement on the website of Broadway public relations firm Boneau/Bryan-Brown.

She was one of the performers who rose to fame in the Ziegfeld Follies, a series of elaborate theater productions on Broadway that began in 1907 and remained popular until 1931. The show was inspired by the Folies Bergeres of Paris.

Many top entertainers of that era such as comedians W.C. Fields and Will Rogers appeared in the shows that were famous for their chorus girls in lavish costumes and feathered headdresses who became known as the Ziegfeld girls.

Travis joined the Ziegfeld Follies as the youngest ever showgirl in 1918 at the age of about 14, following in the footsteps of her sister Pearl. Four Eatons were in the Ziegfeld Follies over the years.

She performed with the Ziegfeld girls until 1920 then went on to star in various stage productions and silent films in the 1920s and 1930s before becoming a dance instructor after the Great Depression took its toll on Broadway. In her retirement she began a horse ranch in Oklahoma with her husband.

She returned to the spotlight in 1997 after she and four former Ziegfield girls reunited for the reopening of the New Amsterdam Theater in New York, joking that she was the only one still able to dance.

Travis was invited to join the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights

AIDS campaign and from 1998 until this year appeared in the group’s annual Easter Bonnet competition in the New Amsterdam Theater on Broadway. She only missed one year and even in April this year managed a couple of kicks, supported on either side.

“She adored dancing with the young dancers, seeing new shows and the incredible response from the Easter Bonnet audience and Broadway community,” her nephew Joe Eaton said in a statement released on behalf of the family.

Travis published an autobiography and family history entitled “The Day We Danced” in 2003.

Tom Viola, executive director of BC/EFA, said no matter her age, Travis was instantly and forever young in the stage lights.

“Doris taught us all a little bit about how to celebrate the past and live for today,” Viola said in a statement, adding that the lights on Broadway would be dimmed at 8 p.m. on Wednesday in her honor.

Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis

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