As the double octet
performed their Pale Moonlight skit on stage at the Iroquois
Theater, the energetic pair of
dancers known as Young and de Voie may have been in their
dressing rooms above and on the south side of the stage.
They were commonly referred to as "soft shoe dancers" or "clog
dancers," terms describing early tap dancing, but acrobatics
part of their act.
In Mr. Bluebeard they performed to the music of
Clancy H. Kerr but I've failed to find the music online.
Their skit was scheduled for Act II
Scene 4, five skits off. By the time they were qued, the
scene on stage would have changed three times and they would
emerge into Bluebeard's Palace Hall. Frank's role was that
Bessie's that of Korafai but I've found nothing to indicate how,
if at all, those characters were worked into the story.
They sometimes inserted dialogue into their skit so may have
talked about Bluebeard, Fatima or the dead wives in the
notorious Blue Room.
When the fire broke
out, Frank and Bessie would have scrambled down the spiral
stairs or been among those
Robert Smith brought down on the elevator. They would have
exited out the stage door onto Couch Place alley or directly
onto Dearborn St. from
#5. Nothing was reported about their escape so it is likely
they avoided injury.
With uncustomary effusiveness, the Detroit Free Press later
called them "the greatest dancing team in
the business, the embodiment of grace," with Young "a
wonder on his feet" and Bessie "one of the prettiest and most
graceful dancers on the circuit." I suspect one or
both performers were working publicity and networking almost as
hard as their hamstrings. They got to Mr. Bluebeard
on Broadway by way of an engagement in San Francisco with
Nat Goodwin, an established actor, who wired producer
E. Rice that they deserved a shot in the 1902 production of
Show Girl at Wallacks Theater. They applied for a
position as dancers but were given speaking roles. Goodwin reiterated
his opinion in letters of recommendation that they then carried
with them and presented to newspapers as evidence of their past
success and used to persuade other newspapers to quote from.
There were many dancing and singing duos on the circuit that
received less editorial mention. Someone, probably Frank,
was working all the angles.
During the summer
between Mr. Bluebeard on Broadway and the fall road tour,
they were booked at the West End in in New Orleans where they
met with a reporter at the Times-Democrat newspaper
resulting in a blurb quoting Daily America (who had
perhaps run them as supplied by Frank): "From a song and
dance specialty in vaudeville to prominent roles in a Broadway
musical comedy is a long jump, and to fill these roles so
successfully as Miss Bessie De Voie and Frank C. Young of the
team of Young and DeVoie have done in the cast of the Show
Girl at Wallacks is a feat worthy of special mention."
Fortunately for those interested in forming a mental
image of their act, the newspaper was persuaded to give the team
yet another paragraph a week later, "Miss DeVoie, a dainty
little woman, goes through the many fancy steps with an ease and
grace that at once commands attention. Mr. Young is not only a
foot-shaker of considerable ability, but some of the acrobatic
stunts which he introduced to the lively ballet music were
applause getters of no mean order. One of them, a head
summersault, is an acrobatic feat which any circus wonder might
be proud of." And a week later, "Their dancing turn
is a rather unique thing inasmuch as every particular jig is
introduced with a short but cleverly arranged dialogue. An
acrobatic turn or so is also introduced in a rather startling
Though part of the Klaw
& Erlanger's Mr. Bluebeard company, Frank and Bessie's
act was a plug-in, like the Pony Ballet and Grigolatis aerialist
dancers, given star billing status similar to cast members with
feature roles. It gave them a bankable act to take with
them after Mr. Bluebeard.
Their names were not
included in newspaper stories about Bluebeard cast members who
struggled to find food and shelter until they were allowed to
return to New York, nor were they mentioned as witnesses in the
coroner's inquest. Frank was performing within ten days of
the Iroquois fire and the pair was promoting a new duo within five months called "Dancing
by Note," later changed to "Dancing by the Book."
They joined up with the Rogers Bros. for two seasons.
C. Young ( 1872- 1910)
Frank Young was
performing again within ten days of the fire,
at the Maryland Theater in Baltimore, in Under
Frank had begun as Bessie's
trainer, promoter and mentor but the relationship was sometimes
rocky. He married
another chorus girl, possibly around the time that
Bessie and Gould (see right) were becoming a steamy
duo. Her name was Georgia though some 1907
newspapers inacurately reported his wife was Bessie.
November, 1907 Frank was admitted into the Woodmere
hospital for the insane in Evansville, IN.
He imagined himself to be extremely wealthy and
suing the theatrical syndicate for $169,000.
It was reported that his mental condition was due to
his distress over breaking up with Bessie but it is
more likely he suffered from syphilis.
Connecting it to Bessie was part of a popular media
thirst then of femme fatales who bewitched men and
drove men beyond sanity. Another Bluebeard
Bonnie Magin, was similarly characterized in the
media when she too became involved with and was then
jilted by a wealthy man. Sadly, as a result of
Bessie's romance with Gould, Frank's
institutionalization was highly publicized.
Sad for an entertainer to suffer such humiliation at
the end of his life when his behavior was likely
beyond his control. He died at age thirty
eight, still a resident of Woodmere. On the
death certificate the cause of death was reported as
paresis which is cerebral atrophy, a symptom of
parents were Adam and Katherine Young, residents of
Pigeon, Indiana near Evansville. His mother
bore ten children but by 1900 only Frank and a
sister survived. His mother died in 1908 and
his father in 1910. Have to wonder if syphilis
played a role in wiping out the family.
Elizabeth Bessie VanDorn
de Voie (c1882 - 1974)
Though various other
birthplaces were reported over the years, Bessie,
who sometimes went by Katherine, was most probably
born in Bedford, Indiana but raised in Henderson,
KY. She was the daughter of Robert and Mary A.
Peitche VanDorn. Bessie used her surname up until
at least 1898 and changed it to de Voie sometime
Her father was
a thirty-six-year-old locomotive engineer who died in a
horrific train accident in
1893. The family was living in Henderson and Robert worked on the Baltimore and Ohio Railway.
Around midnight one summer night he was engineering
a freight train near Morganfield, KY when cattle ran
onto the track. The train derailed and all six cars,
including cars full of grain piled atop the engine
and tender. Three of the five crew members were
killed, nearly incinerated by fire. The
gristly nature of their deaths meant that the story
of the accident was picked up and run in newspapers
around the country, every story ending with, "burned
to a crisp." Three years later the family was
still trying to sue Ohio Valley Railway for $15,000.
It was reported that he left an $8,000 life
insurance policy to his wife and children.
(About a quarter million dollars in today's dollars.
Bessie had two siblings.
It is a certainty that a
decade later at the Iroquois Bessie thought about
her father's terrible death, as did her
mother upon learning of her daughter's narrow escape.
In the years after the fire
Around 1908 Bessie became romantically
involved with the son of robber baron Jay Gould,
Frank Jay Gould. When his wife
named her in a divorce suit Betsy denied the
relationship but a year later sued Gould for
$200,000 to 250,000 for breach of promise (various
amounts were reported) and a mutual friend, Edna Slayback, for
$100,000 for slandering Bessie to Gould, resulting
in his changing his mind about marriage. He
denied there had been a proposal so she shared
letters with the press purportedly from Gould.
When he and his attorneys continued to balk, she
shared more letters. It was suggested in the
press, a rumor possibly started by Gould's
attorneys, that the letters may have actually been
written by Frank Young but I doubt anyone involved
in the case believed it. Reportedly she
accepted a $10,000 settlement from Gould in exchange
for his letters, with which she was able to pay her
attorney's fees. The legal dispute carried
over into 1910. There was no mention that
Bessie attended the funeral of her former partner
and mentor, Frank Young.
Publicity from the Gould
affair possibly contributed to Bessie being offered
theatrical roles around 1912, such as Lousiana
Lou, Our Miss Gibbs and The Dairy
Maids, but by 1920 it was all over. My guess is
that as her perky ingénue appeal faded, and talkies
became the dominant form of entertainment, she
qualified for few roles.
By age twenty-eight her
theatrical career was over. She spent the last
fifty years of her life in Norwalk, CT, living with
her mother and working as a saleswomen in department
stores until her retirement in 1962. I found
no evidence of marriage or children. Her
obituary stated she had no survivors.
In the newspaper notice
when Mary's body was shipped to Mattoon, IL for
burial next to her husband there was no mention that
she was Bessie's mother, suggesting that by 1930
Bessie was not interested in calling attention to
her former stardom.