Doris Eaton Travis traversed one of the longest and more inspiring careers in show business. On stage since childhood, she was the youngest chorus girl ever hired by the Ziegfeld Follies, a popular theatrical spectacle of the early 20th century designed to "glorify the American girl." She died Tuesday at 106.
By the time of her death from an aneurysm in Commerce, Mich., Travis was the last surviving chorus girl from the Follies, according to Ziegfeld archivist Nils Hanson. He said Travis' death "marks the end of the Ziegfeld golden era of Broadway."
An American counterpart to the Folies Bergère in Paris, the original Ziegfeld Follies ran from 1907 to 1931 and featured some of the top entertainers of the day, including W.C. Fields and Will Rogers. It introduced songs by Irving Berlin and other leading pop composers.
Impresario Florenz Ziegfeld spared no expense in celebrating feminine beauty, and his Follies presented acres of alluring women dripping with silk and shimmering art deco jewelry.
"It was beauty, elegance, loveliness," Travis told The New York Times in 2005, "beauty and elegance like a French painting of a woman's body."
Well, to a point. For the 1919 show, Travis was elevated from the chorus to specialty dancer, at one time portraying paprika in a life-size "salad" of women dancers. She was later promoted to salt and then pepper. She became a solo tap performer in 1920, the last of her three years with the Follies.
Afterward, Travis appeared in a few silent films and was regarded as a reliable performer in stage revues and musical comedies. She introduced the song "Singin' in the Rain" in a 1929 Broadway production - "You know what that did for Gene Kelly," she later said.
With her stage career dwindling by the mid-1930s - many theaters shut down during the Depression - she taught ballroom dance for an Arthur Murray school in Manhattan before opening a franchise in Michigan. She later launched a prosperous horse breeding ranch in Oklahoma.