Zaza Belasco was the stage name of twenty-one year old
chorus girl, Winifred "Violet" Dunne Percival (b.
1881).* She was one of those in the Mr. Bluebeard cast
who escaped through a manhole cover from the
Iroquois Theater basement.
According to a 1902 New York Times newspaper story, Violet was the daughter
of a Boston livery stable owner. Her stage
name was thought up by Broadway producer and
director, George Lederer (1862-1938). Zaza
was a notorious French play about a promiscuous
woman. David Belasco's 1898 version starring
Mrs. Leslie Carter was
controversial for its sanitized, more virtuous
heroine and Lederer thought it a good name for the
young Violet. Claudette Colbert made the role
famous in 1939.
Violet appeared in a couple plays in New York in
1900 and 1901, then
worked for a short time as a beauty columnist for a Boston
Sunday newspaper before returning to the chorus
One humbuggery newspaper report said Zaza was terribly
effected by the death of the children at the
Iroquois because she knew many of them. Since none
of the children in the Mr. Bluebeard cast
died, and Violet spent her young life in Boston,
it's unlikely she came to know many non-theatrical Chicago
children during her three weeks in the city.
Five years prior to the Mr. Bluebeard tour,
Percival's marriage with Violet was on the rocks
as they sued each other for infidelity. She
did not name the correspondent partner(s) but he
presented charred letters from her lovers, two
different bicycle racers. She was called Violet
Clover and her maiden name was Sibley. He
sought a divorce, she a separation. In 1903,
however, newspapers mentioned his relief upon
learning that a Zaza escaped the Iroquois (who in a
1902 newspaper story was said to be Winifred
"Violet" Dunne). Genealogical
information about Violet is conflicting.
Percival appears to have married two women nicknamed
Violet. One was Winifred Dunne, aka Zaza, and
before her was Clover Sibley. By 1910 Percival had
traded all the Violets for a Marjorie.
I failed to learn what became of Zaza / Winifred
'Violet" Dunne Percival. A better known actress named Violet Dunn
appeared in the 1930s but she was born twenty-five years after Zaza.
Violet's husband, Dr. "Doc" Charles Percival
(1872-1940), a Massachusetts native, was an
interesting character. He had nothing to do with the
Iroquois but I'm capturing the info here in case it
eventually leads to more info about Zaza.
He frequently claimed to be a graduate of Harvard's
medical program and his obituary described him as
the one-time sports editor for the Boston Globe. He
used such hyperbole in self promotion that I was
curious and investigated.
should be ventilated. If we went bareheaded there
would be very little baldness."
Dr. Charles Gilbert Percival
He attended Harvard in 1900 and 1901, and in later
years was listed as an alumni so probably graduated,
but did not receive a medical degree. As to the
Boston Globe, he was the cycling editor at the
Boston Daily Journal, a newspaper unrelated to the
In the early 1900s he transitioned
from bicycles to health, writing articles for pseudo-medical
magazines, including Bernarr Macfadden's Physical
Culture, John Harvey Kelloggs Modern Medicine
and William Benham Snow's The Journal of Advanced
Therapeutics. He wrote about hair and dental care and
homeopathic treatments. For gonorrhea he
recommended frequent rectum injections of hot water,
Sitz baths and complete abstinence from alcohol.
In 1908 he transitioned from medicine to automobiles
and became an publicist for the Cleveland Motor
Car Company, and for maybe thirty seconds headed the
automotive department at A. W. Erickson Advertising
agency in New York, overseeing the Haynes, Garford,
Packard and Continental Tire accounts. A. W.
Erickson was the foundation of the legendary
McCann-Erickson. (Yup, the agency that as of
this mid-season moment is slapping around Peggy, Don
and Joan.) Percival was there when agency
founder Alfred Erickson was campaigning to start a
national association of ad agencies.
1910 saw Percival magazine gems such as Motor Car Makes More
Red Blood: French Scientists Find that Motoring
Develops Red Corpuscles: Vibration of the Automobile
Stirs Up Sluggish Blood Currents. After
spending 1911-1912 traveling the country in an
Abbot-Detroit auto, in 1913 he self published a
100-page book with 200 of his photos, offered for
$.50 -- The Trail of the Bull Dog: A 50,000 Mile
Journey by Motor Car Through the United States,
Canada, Mexico, British Columbia, Alaska and the
In 1918 he contributed articles to US military
magazines, became a captain in a tank division of
the American Expeditionary Forces in France,
commanding the 149th Kentucky and 151 West Virginia
called himself a newspaper and advertising writer.
By 1925 he dropped the medical title and called
himself a major.
By 1920 he remarried -- a woman named Marjorie Nea who in 1910 was his housekeeper
settled in Teaneck, NJ.
In 1940 he died of a heart failure in Cold Spring,
Discrepancies and addendum
There is one suggestion that
she may have used the name Clover Griggs on
occasion. Upon her return with the cast to NYC
after the fire a newspaper report
by that name. It should be noted, however,
that there are other errors in that same newspaper