Copyright © 1998 The American Studies Association. All rights reserved.
American Quarterly 50.1 (1998) 47-76

"Give an Imitation of Me": Vaudeville Mimics and the Play of the Self

Susan A. Glenn

In the winter of 1907, theatrical producer Joe Weber tried to stop comedienne Marie Dressler from singing her theme song, "A Great Big Girl Like Me," at the Colonial Theater in New York. Weber claimed that Dressler had first sung that song at Weber & Fields Music Hall, which gave the Music Hall exclusive performance rights to it. Marie Dressler's response was to claim that in her performances at the Colonial she was only "giving an imitation of someone giving an imitation" of her singing that song. 1 What allowed Dressler to make such a claim was both the shifting nature of women's humor on the popular stage in the first decade of the twentieth century and the broader cultural preoccupations and anxieties this new form of comedy produced and reflected.

Women's stage humor took many forms in the early years of the twentieth century, but nearly all funny women used some kind of imitative comedy--and quite a few depended upon it almost exclusively. That was true of what one observer called the "epidemic" and another referred to as "the great army" of mimics who descended upon the vaudeville stage beginning in the early 1900s. 2 So popular was mimicry that one musical revue playing in Chicago in 1908 featured several burlesques of the trend, including a song called "The Imitation Craze." 3

Though male performers were also implicated in the epidemic, imitations, especially imitations of well-known performers, were largely [End Page 47] the province of female comics. 4 Among them were the great headliners: Cecilia (Cissie) Loftus, Gertrude Hoffmann, Elsie Janis, and Juliet Delf (who, dispensing with her surname and adding a question mark, went by just, "Juliet?"). 5 These women were part of what might be called a mimetic moment in American comedy in the years between 1890 and end of the 1920s. On the popular stage of vaudeville and musical revue every conceivable kind of comic imitation was in full flower: blackface minstrelsy, gender impersonation, burlesque, parody, and ethnic caricature. But something new was taking place as well. While the female mimics' performances sometimes involved gender impersonation and imitations of racial "others," the stage work of Juliet, Hoffmann, Loftus, and Janis also represented a significant break from those traditions. Unlike those who devoted themselves exclusively to the comedy of blackface caricature and gender impersonation, the vaudeville mimics moved beyond generic and stereotyped images of race and gender to what could best be described as the comedy of personality. This was the imitation, sometimes in a satiric vein, of the particular style and repertoire of specific individuals--mainly well-known female and male performers. Much of the time they were impersonating white female performers like themselves--women they envied or admired.

From the perspective of the vaudeville mimics and their audiences it was the focus on the individual rather than on a generic type that distinguished the comedy of personality from other forms of mimetic humor. As Cissie Loftus put it in a 1907 article, rather than copying "a type," where only "general accuracy" was needed, her imitations required her to "get inside . . . and reveal the real personality" of the "particular person." 6

To a far greater extent than other forms of popular comedy, the comedy of personality provoked a critical dialogue about its cultural significance. Female mimics themselves took an active part in this dialogue. Their attempts to situate their comic practices within the cultural discourses of their day reveals an extraordinary degree of self-consciousness about how their performances related to larger cultural concerns. Why that should have been the case has much to do with the ways in which women on stage were assuming new roles as arbiters and interpreters of their own cultural moment. It was also a consequence of the broader cultural changes that made "imitation" a highly charged and widely discussed concept in both aesthetic and social theory.

The mimetic moment in American comedy coincided with the [End Page 48] mimetic moment in American social thought. As we shall see, the issues raised by the vaudeville mimics were also crucial to the wider discussions taking place among social scientists, psychiatrists, and cultural critics about the psychological, social, and aesthetic meanings of imitation, including its implications for understandings of gender.

To trace the reception of the vaudeville mimics and to study their own attempts to explain the inner workings and the meanings of their art is to understand more fully the relationships between theatrical and non-theatrical concepts of imitation. These relationships were fueled by contemporary fascination with the implications of mechanical reproduction for human beings, the role of the artist as critical observer, and debates about the significance of imitation for the constitution of the self. It was precisely the way in which mimicry opened questions about the relationship between self and other, individuality and reproducibility, that made it such a provocative and historically significant mode of cultural enactment.

The Comics of Personality

For audiences, the pleasures of the comedy of personality were many. The fantasy of the fluid self was one appeal. In a review of the double booking of Cissie Loftus and Gertrude Hoffmann on the same bill at Keith and Proctor's 125th Street Theater in Harlem in the spring of 1908, theater critic Alan Dale insisted that mimicry appealed to those who felt "chained" to their own "individuality." "Isn't it exquisite," he asked rhetorically, "to be occasionally somebody else?" 7 Vicarious freedom from the "fettered" self was one source of pleasure. Another derived from the audience recognition of who was being imitated and the surplus or excess that was inevitably produced in even the slightest exaggeration or deviation from the original. 8 The excess was accomplished in a variety of ways, but almost always the strategy of the vaudeville mimics was to draw out and exaggerate a prominent characteristic of the subject.

To heighten the comic effects, vaudeville shows often featured at least one mimic whose routines included imitations of someone else performing on the same bill, sometimes directly following the person they were imitating. 9 A number of theaters also followed the practice of booking two headline mimics together on the same bill to create a sense of competition. 10 A 1902 Louisville performance involving vaudeville [End Page 49] singer Josephine Sabel and teenage mimic Elsie Janis gives us some sense of the possibilities. For a number of years Janis, who once compared herself to a newspaper cartoonist "who purposely exaggerates certain characteristics in order to give a more striking air of reality to the finished picture," had delighted audiences with her Josephine Sabel imitations. 11 But Sabel's own repertoire also included a number of imitations of other performers, including one of Cissie Loftus doing an imitation of Sabel. 12 According to reviewers, the highlight of the evening came when Janis, who followed Sabel on the bill, gave "an imitation of Josephine Sabel in her imitation of Cissy Loftus giving an imitation of her." At the conclusion, Janis dragged Sabel back on stage and together they gave "the Loftus imitation." 13

Known as the "queen of mimics," Cecilia Loftus was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1876. Her mother, Marie Loftus, was a famous music hall singer, and it was not long before Cissie began performing her imitations of stage personalities at London music halls, where she billed herself as "the mimetic marvel." 14 In 1895 Cissie Loftus made her New York debut at Koster and Bial's Music Hall, and remained on the American popular stage until the 1930s, moving back and forth between vaudeville, "legitimate" drama, and musical theater. 15

It was Loftus who inspired Elsie Janis's work as an imitator. Born Elsie Jane Bierbower, in 1889 in Ohio, she began her vaudeville career in 1900, with her mother Jennie as her stage manager. Billed variously as "The American Cissie Loftus," "The Miniature Cissie Loftus," "The Pocket Edition of Cissie Loftus," and "Cissie Loftus' Only Rival," by 1905, at the age of sixteen, Janis was also becoming a rising star in Broadway musical comedy. That year Henry Tyrrell, a critic for Theatre Magazine, gave her the ironic title of "the inimitable child," and noted that her repertoire included at least eighty "living portraits." Janis's earliest routines on the vaudeville stage consisted of "impersonations" of Cissie Loftus's imitations of other performers. During this phase of her career she would first perform her own imitation of a celebrity, followed by an imitation of Loftus's original imitation of the same performer. 16 It was a strategy that Loftus herself had perfected on the London music hall stage during the "Cissie Loftus-Letty Lind dancing war," where Loftus's burlesque of Lind's dancing led to a series of counterimitations and ended with Loftus giving an "imitation of Miss Lind's imitation of my imitation of her." A similar round of imitative countering took place between Loftus and Lillian Russell. 17 [End Page 50]

The comedy of personality was also the mainstay of Gertrude Hoffmann's vaudeville turns. Born Kitty Hayes in San Francisco in 1886, Gertrude Hoffmann began her stage career as a dancer with local opera companies and later became one of the most important female choreographers of the vaudeville and revue stage. It was from Elsie Janis, Hoffmann explained, that she "caught the impersonation fever." 18 Hoffmann's career as an imitator began in 1906 with the Ziegfeld revue, The Parisian Model, where she imitated the show's featured star, Anna Held. Among the best loved stage mimics, Hoffmann imitated a wide range of male and female performers. In a single evening during her winter show of 1909-1910, Hoffmann gave the audience fourteen imitations of fellow performers including Ethel Barrymore, Eva Tanguay, Eddie Foy, George M. Cohan, Ruth St. Denis, Anna Held, Isadora Duncan, Valeska Suratt, Harry Lauder, Eddie Leonard (in blackface), Nora Bayes and her partner Jack Norworth, and Annette Kellerman. 19

While Elsie Janis used her own hair as her main prop and did not rely upon make-up or costume changes in her imitations, Hoffmann incorporated both into her routines. She first appeared on stage as "herself" and sang a song about the theme of impersonation. Then she entered a special dressing room arranged at the rear of the stage but in full view of the audience. Assisted by two maids, Hoffmann began each new imitation by stripping down to her undergarments and changing costume and make-up, thereby exposing the mechanics of the transformations that were part of her stage act. 20

What are we to make of women's deep involvement with mimetic comedy? And how are we to understand the larger cultural meanings of this fascination with imitations, imitations of imitations, and originals imitating their imitators? To begin to answer this question we first have to consider how the theater as a cultural institution facilitated new forms of female behavior. Vaudeville was a highly competitive industry where female stage "personalities" vied to get and keep the spotlight on themselves. 21 This new style of vaudeville mimicry opened up a space for the mutual enhancement of celebrity for both the imitator and the imitated. Even the ritualized competition between female mimics expanded the cultural capital of each party involved in the exchange. It was well known, for example, that a Gertrude Hoffmann imitation was to vaudeville what a Weber and Fields Music Hall parody was to a legitimate Broadway play: both a symbol of and a boon to one's popularity. 22

In the famous 1908 "feud" between Gertrude Hoffmann and Eva [End Page 51] Tanguay, we get some idea of how such capital was exchanged when women played off each other's personalities and careers. Eva Tanguay was one of the most imitated comics of her time, and arguably one of the most self-referential and self-parodic. She frequently performed "imitations of her imitators imitating her," and advertised her iconic status by performing a song called "Give An Imitation of Me." 23 In this song Tanguay invites the aspiring performer with no special talents of her own to "watch me while I'm on the bill and then jump into vaudeville" and "give an imitation of me." 24 Thus she invited her imitators to engage in bouts of ritual combat that were not unlike the competition that ensued when two mimics shared the bill.

During the winter of 1908, Tanguay attempted to generate publicity by issuing a warning to the mimics that no further imitations of her doing her theme song "I Don't Care" would be tolerated. Tanguay's "warning" was as fake as the "feud" that then ensued when Gertrude Hoffmann, who was then appearing on the same bill with Tanguay, refused to cease her Tanguay imitations. 25 Tanguay apparently staged one of her legendary tantrums to have Hoffmann removed from the bill, but kept the "feud" going by taking out a full page advertisement in the press addressed to "the public" and "especially to Miss Hoffmann":

I do original work and have always held my place on the bill . . . Miss Hoffmann left the theater not because I wouldn't play with her, but because she COULDN'T have my place on the bill. The FACT was the ORIGINATOR remained, and the IMITATOR quit. 26

To which Hoffman replied in the press:

EVA TANGUAY! STOP Four-Flushing and Make Good! If you think you are so extremely clever, appear on any bill with me. I will follow you and wager any amount . . . that I will receive as much genuine applause as you do." You might bluff foreign artists [a reference to Tanguay's earlier "contest" with English comic singer Vesta Victoria], but your hand is called now. 27

Keith and Proctor's vaudeville shows continued to stoke the fires by scheduling Hoffmann (and her Tanguay imitations) on a tour that followed Tanguay to each theater by one week. 28

Though there is not much record of what audiences thought about these performances, we can imagine that at least some pleasure must have come from watching women symbolically slug it out. When highly paid female celebrities imitated other highly paid female [End Page 52] celebrities they were engaging in aggressive rituals of competition--sometimes respectful, other times less so--but in any case, rituals that, outside of competitive sports, were rare among women in public life in this period. 29

Like modern day mud-wrestling, this ritual competition may have simply created new opportunities for male looking pleasure. But we need to remember that half to three-quarters of the audience was female, and that the most popular and successful vaudeville mimics were women who made most of their own decisions about what material they would perform. 30 In that sense, the aggressive, competitive nature of early twentieth-century stage mimicry was an instance of female celebrities using the celebrity of other performers to further their own careers. Paying tribute to others was ultimately a way to draw attention to oneself.

Nevertheless even as these rituals increased the cultural capital of the performers, they also posed a symbolic threat. Eva Tanguay's "warning" to her competitors to cease their imitations was more than a publicity stunt. The Tanguay/Hoffmann "feud" also suggests something of the nervousness in this period about the relationship between individual autonomy and cultural reproduction. For if mimicry was flattery and advertisement, it was also a form of appropriation that threatened to violate the very notion of a unique individual. As Eva Tanguay hyperbolically stated the case, Gertrude Hoffmann's imitations called into question just who was the "originator" and who was the "imitator," or, as she also put it, which of the two could occupy Tanguay's "place" on the vaudeville bill. The comedy of personality not only posed the question of what happened to the individual personality when someone else "became" you. It also raised issues about what happened to the mimic's individuality when they "became" someone else?

These questions were not confined to the stage. The significance of this form of comedy, coming as it did at a particular historical juncture, goes well beyond the way it facilitated and legitimated new forms of female aggression and competitiveness, which, in any case, was only one element in the mimics' vaudeville repertoire. More important was the way mimicry engaged both its practitioners and its audiences in a wider conversation about questions of selfhood, individuality, and creativity in the urban industrial age. [End Page 53]

The Mimetic "Art"

Mimetic comedy--the comedy of imitation and parody--thrived in the tension between nineteenth-century bourgeois fascination with imitation and the early twentieth-century "modernist" intellectual glorification of "authenticity." With late nineteenth-century manufacturing able to offer consumers imitations of every kind, affordable reproductions became as desirable as "the real thing." By the early decades of the twentieth century, Miles Orvell argues, though imitation remained an integral part of popular culture, a reaction was taking place amongst a new generation of artists and intellectuals who "reinvented" the concept of authenticity. 31 Cultural critic Andreas Huyssen has explored the gendering of modernist reactions against mass produced culture, noting that in the intellectual history of the West, "authentic" culture or "art" came to be associated with the masculine realm, while "mass" or inauthentic culture was labeled as feminine. "Fear of mass culture," he argues, would increasingly be articulated as fear of women and the masses. 32

In this context the female mimic or imitator could be understood as a threat to both older bourgeois and newer modernist notions of authenticity. Perhaps no other creation of early twentieth-century culture personified the female as a symbol of inauthentic culture as Theodore Dreiser's New Woman of l900, Sister Carrie. Carrie, Dreiser tells us, is "the victim" of urban mass culture's "hypnotic" displays. Lacking a core identity of her own, and driven by "ambitions to gain in material things," and an "insatiable love of variable pleasures," Carrie learns the ways of the world and constitutes a series of selves by mimicking the styles, expressions, and gestures of the upwardly mobile women around her. Carrie, writes Dreiser, was "naturally imitative." Her "passivity of soul," mirrored "the active world"; her "innate taste for imitation," her "sympathetic and impressionable nature," gave her the ability to "restore dramatic situations she had witnessed by recreating, before her mirror, the expressions of the various faces taking part in the scene." 33 Like Dreiser's Carrie, the comics of the vaudeville stage could be read as a personification of a feminized urban consumer culture where being and imitating were one and the same.

The vaudeville mimics proved especially shrewd at negotiating the public's perceptions of their status within the complicated discourse on cultural categories such as "art" and "authenticity." At the very moment that the epidemic of mimicry hit the popular theater, concepts of "true [End Page 54] acting" were undergoing a profound shift. Actors on the legitimate stage moved away from "classic" or "heroic" styles and the performance of ideal character "types," toward a new aesthetic of realism. 34 New methods of "realistic" acting emphasized "natural" speech, subtle physical gestures, and the "inner" psychology of the character being played. Equally important actors were urged to allow their own feelings and personality to shape the interpretation of the role. 35

This was the aesthetic paradigm through which theater critics and mimics read the cultural significance of comic imitation on the popular stage. As one theater critic put it in 1907, stressing the mimic's intellectual gifts, Cissie Loftus is able "to interpret in the most delicate of satire, the inner selves, as above the mere outer mannerisms, of her subjects." 36

Anxious to defend their work against charges that only those who lacked the cultural sensibilities of "real" or "authentic" dramatic performers turned to imitation, the mimics argued that comic imitation was the same as, and even superior to the art of "true" acting. Elsie Janis claimed that just as well-known actors and actresses "have made a specialty of imitating the personal traits and individual characteristics of people of everyday life," so "I and Miss Loftus have made a specialty of imitating the mannerisms and marked personalities of well-known actors and actresses." She maintained that, while the audience was in no position to judge how well the actor or actress playing a "straight part" deviated from "the models of everyday life," the audience could determine how well "the imitator . . . takes off a stage character whose work is known to them." She then boldly added: "Miss Loftus and I might be forgiven for contending that our imitations constitute the greater achievement." 37 J. Arthur Bleackley, a British mimic who argued in his 1911 book, The Art of Mimicry, that "the art of mimicry, and the art of acting are almost identical," even claimed that the mimic "has gone a step further than the actor in executing his powers of observation." 38

But it was the mimic Juliet who offered what is perhaps the most acute deconstruction of the perceived boundaries between mimicry and the high culture aura of "true" acting. Taking aim at the pretensions of the legitimate stage while defending her own line of work in her 1912 article for Green Book Magazine, she insisted that "all actors are counterfeits" to the extent that they make "simulations" of life "appear to be the reality." Because all actors were in some respects "imitators," she argued, vaudeville mimics like herself were actually "counterfeiting the counterfeits." 39 [End Page 55]

The most radical challenge to existing cultural categories came from those who claimed that to mimic was not just to "copy" it was also to "originate." In an article for Broadway Magazine in 1899, Cissie Loftus had stressed the difference between the "art of imitation" and "imitation pure and simple." Like dramatic actors, she declared, her comic "art" involved a process of "interpretation." 40 Mimic J. Arthur Bleackley echoed her view when, in an attempt to place this comedy on the same plane as serious culture, he urged his fellow mimics to "strive to be an original thinker, a creative artiste, and not just a mere imitator." 41 But it was one of Cissie Loftus's admirers who pointed to the heart of the new cultural claim when he wrote that: "her imitations are--though it may sound paradoxical--original artistic creations," so much so, he argued, that a Loftus "copy" "is in itself an original." 42

This paradox--the idea that imitations could also be "original" creations--was central to early twentieth-century intellectual reformations. Imitative comedy tweaked the sacred notion of authenticity upon which bourgeois concepts of culture and individuality rested, and upon which some writers have located the critical structures of modernist thought. 43 But "modernist" culture was composed of a number of diverse perspectives, some of which viewed imitation as the sign of a pernicious machine-age mass culture which threatened individuality and autonomy, others of which saw in imitation the enabling condition of human development and creativity.

These debates and the anxieties that accompanied them took a particular form in the first decade of the twentieth century. In the era of mass production, a time of shifting cultural sensibilities and ambivalences about concepts like authenticity and individuality, comic mimicry had the power to entertain as well as provoke. It provoked some observers because it suggested how human beings might take on the machine-like qualities of the emerging industrial culture with its standardized products. Perhaps no critic was as sure of the cultural meanings of mimetic comedy as French philosopher Henri Bergson. In his essay Laughter, which was published in l900, Bergson argued that what made any gesture or character comical was its ability to expose the repetitious, machine-like behaviors of human beings. This he called "the illusion of a machine working in the inside of the person."

Imitation and mimicry became laughable, according to Bergson, because "our gestures can only be imitated in their mechanical uniformity." And for Bergson, our modern tendency to behave mechanically [End Page 56] was precisely what threatened "our living personality." Human beings "become imitable only when we cease to be ourselves." Laughter came when we perceived "something mechanical encrusted on something living." The comic talent of the imitator, Bergson argued, resided in the ability to expose and make "ludicrous," the "element of automatism" of the person being imitated. 44 What enabled others to imitate us, he insisted, was the appearance of a "ready made element in our personality, which resembles a piece of clockwork wound up once and for all and capable of working automatically." Bergson argued that it was "comic to wander out of one's own self," just as it was comic to become "a category" or mechanical self into which others might "wander." 45

Writing in 1905 about the comic pleasures of imitation, Sigmund Freud quoted Bergson to argue that "attitudes, gestures, and movements of the human body are laughable in exact proportion as that body reminds us of a mere machine." Comic imitation produced its humor, Freud wrote, by suggesting a "deflection" or "degradation" of life "towards the mechanical." 46

If Freud and Bergson registered the anxious humor provoked by imitation in the machine age, American commentators were more divided. One turn of the century theater critic took offense at a newspaper story which suggested that Cissie Loftus "reproduced the tones of those she sought to mimic with the fidelity of a phonograph." The critic considered this comparison between human voice and machine voice "unkind and needlessly cruel." Loftus he argued, was "better than a Phonograph," her work was "finished and artistic." 47

Others were more inclined to emphasize their positive fascination with the ability of human beings to emulate mimetic technology. Reviewing a 1908 performance by two rival headline mimics at Keith and Proctor's 125th Street vaudeville house, theater critic Alan Dale talked enthusiastically about the technological wonders of "The Cissie Loftus Talking Machine" and the "Gertrude Hoffmann-ograph," and their "likeness" to machines that duplicated human voices. 48 In Loftus's case the metaphor was actually quite appropriate since she sometimes made "graphaphone" (the prototype for the phonograph) sound recordings of her subjects' voices before working on her copies. 49 Not only that, in her imitations of opera singer Enrico Caruso, Loftus actually played a phonograph recording of his performances and then followed it with an imitation of his voice on the "talking machine." 50 [End Page 57]

Loftus's routine bore a striking resemblance to the advertisements then appearing for the Victor Talking Machine. These ads showed a photograph of a famous opera singer such as Enrico Caruso or Luisa Tetrazzini opposite a photograph of a talking machine and asked: "Which is which?" The copy below read: "You think you can tell the difference between hearing grand-opera artists sing and hearing their beautiful words on the Victor. But can you?" And then the copy insisted:"Even in the Victor laboratory, employees often imagine they are listening to a singer making a record while they really hear a Victor." 51

The relationship between imitation and the reproductive technologies of modern life also entered into the mimics own cultural vocabulary. Yet it was not the phonograph but the camera that provided their symbol. In their attempts to create a metaphorical language to describe the mechanics of imitation, mimics (and many who observed them) invoked the notion of the mimic as a camera and the imitation as a photograph. As Juliet explained in a 1912 article, "the imitator makes of herself a camera to photograph the imitated." Like "the development and toning of a role of film or a set of plates," she insisted, the imitator must perfect the "psychological chemistry," necessary for making her imprint. 52 George M. Cohan, a frequent subject of vaudeville imitations, once described mimic Elsie Janis as "the best photographer I ever had." 53

There are a number of important issues raised by the idea of mimicry as camera work. The first returns us to Freud and Bergson's discussion of imitation as an articulation of machine age fascinations and anxieties. Key technologies and symbols of the emerging mass culture, both the camera and the phonograph have been described as "mimetically capacious machines"--machines capable of turning nature (the natural voice and the natural subject) into cultural reproduction. 54 Like the vaudeville mimics, cameras and their photographs had the capacity to detach an image from its original subject, substituting a "plurality of copies," as philosopher Walter Benjamin later put it, "from a unique existence." 55 "Analyse the impression you get from two faces that are too much alike," wrote Henri Bergson in his study of laughter. "You will find that you are thinking of . . . two reproductions of the same negative--in a word, of some manufacturing process or another." 56

Of all the mimetic technologies of late nineteenth century, it was the visual reproduction of the camera that had the most far reaching impact on cultural consciousness. By the middle of the nineteenth century, with the invention of new techniques for mass production of photographic [End Page 58] portraiture the human subject could be endlessly reproduced, purchased, and circulated in the form of small postcard-like portraits called "cartes de visites." Among the most popular subjects of this "cardomania" were actresses, who saw these photographs as a means for enhancing fame and celebrity. 57

When we consider the metaphor of the camera, it helps to know that photography was undergoing something of a shift in cultural meaning at the end of the nineteenth century. In the 1890s photography still connoted a literal copy, and investigators of various kinds--ethnologists, psychiatrists, criminologists, and journalists--used the photograph to describe, catalogue, and diagnose various specimens of human nature. Along with its uses as a tool of social and political surveillance and control, photography also became a tool for documenting and exposing urban and industrial conditions and social "facts." 58 During this same time period, however, older notions of photography as "a seemingly literal imitation of reality," competed and even combined with the idea of the photograph as a medium for delivering more fantastic and illusory images of the world. 59 Finally there was the emerging idea of the photograph as artistic interpretation. This was a concept promoted by Alfred Stieglitz and the journal Camera Work, namely that the photograph did not reproduce "normal vision"; rather it was a conspicuous medium of human control and revelation. As modernist art critic Charles Caffin wrote in 1901, the photographer "does not attempt to depict the actual thing, but the impression which it makes upon him." 60

The photograph as an artistic, human interpretation of nature rather than a literal copy was exactly what a number of observers had in mind when they described the vaudeville mimics of their time. As one writer put it, "it is Miss Loftus' mental brilliancy that lifts her studies from mere photographic perfection to true greatness. She is a remarkable analyst." 61 Caroline Caffin, author of the 1914 study Vaudeville, expressed a similar perspective, one that was no doubt influenced by the aesthetic philosophy of modernist photographers like Alfred Stieglitz with whom Caroline's husband, art critic Charles Caffin, was closely associated. 62 "Just as the photographer, by focus and arrangement of light . . . can influence the result of his photograph," argued Caroline Caffin, so too the vaudeville "imitator" may "give us the result in differing ways, each way being none the less a true imitation." 63 As the mimic Juliet put it, just as in the photographer's development of films [End Page 59] or plates, in the imitation of stage personalities "there must be the same consideration of light and shade, the same retouching, the same toning up or toning down, the same care in printing." 64

The gender issues surrounding the idea of mimicry as camera work are by no means clear cut. 65 What is most striking is the way the vaudeville mimics and those who wrote about them used the metaphor of the camera to describe and legitimate the role of the female comic as critical cultural observer and commentator.

The camera has been called a tool of "surveillance" which enables the photographer to create "a second figure who can be examined more closely than the original." 66 This was very close to how one theater critic described the work of Gertrude Hoffmann in 1907 when he insisted that Hoffmann's "amazing art . . . enables you to see Anna Held, Elfie Fay, George Cohan, Eddie Foy, and Vesta Victoria better than they are themselves." 67 Similarly critic Amy Leslie observed that in each of her imitations Cissie Loftus used her elaborate powers of photographic observation to create "a brilliant work of art" based on "her own opinion of the amusing and impressive characteristics of her model." 68 In being likened and in likening themselves to photographers, the mimics and their audiences not only asserted the right of women to look powerfully at others, but their ability to create another version of what they observed.

The Mimetic "Self"

But if the camera was a tool of observation, it was also an instrument for "self-reflection." To look powerfully at others, it has been suggested, is also to acquire new knowledge of oneself. 69 In their metaphorical roles as photographers, the mimics played the part of the "conscious spectator" or what the French called the flâneur. At the end of the nineteenth century, art historian Judith Wechsler has written, the urban photographer became the "portent" and the "emblem" of the male flâneur as self-conscious observer. A figure closely associated with the birth of modernist sensibilities, the flâneur was the artist who began "to shift his preoccupation from the city scene to his own relation to the scene." 70

In this new sense of imitation as creative and self-reflective activity, the vaudeville mimics contributed to a modern dialogue about identity. For it was the "play of the self," as much as the imitation of the other, [End Page 60] that the mimics' work articulated. 71 Self-knowledge figured prominently in the mimics's discussions of comedy, as female performers pondered in very serious and deliberate ways the relationship between their art and questions of human psychology.

What is especially remarkable about the female mimics is the degree to which they interpreted their own cultural position. It was an effort that reveals an extraordinary self-consciousness about how their humor touched on the weightier questions of human development as well as the relationship between the theater and the wider culture. This perhaps is the most culturally resonant aspect of the mimetic moment in American popular theater.

The comic practices I have been describing were part of a larger cultural reorientation toward new concepts of selfhood, concepts that used theater and theatricality as central metaphors. Crucial to this reorientation was a performative model of personality. By the beginning of the twentieth century, traditional notions of a "fixed" "immutable" and "intrinsic" human character were giving way to the more fluid concept of personality as something to be learned or performed. 72 Unlike the concept of "character" which some identified as "intrinsic" to the masculine self, "personality," as it was articulated in popular and psychiatric literature, was not a gender specific concept. As historian Elizabeth Lunbeck has argued, personality was perceived as malleable, understood as "a strategy of self-presentation," an outward affect displayed by everyone, regardless of sex. 73 Yet the very notion of personality as performative or theatrical was itself partly a product of a theoretical turn in psychology that relied on a new notion of the imitative self.

The vaudeville mimics contributed to these discussions both materially and theoretically. First and most obvious, their comedy helped build the "cult" of personality and celebrity that historians have described. 74 Second, and more important for our purposes, it helped shape the dialogue about the relationships among imitation, personality, and subjectivity. Though the theater is a particular cultural zone where acting is understood to be the staging rather than the documenting of social "truth," it is nevertheless clear that the "epidemic" of mimicry in vaudeville coincided with and contributed to a complicated series of off-stage conversations about the psychological meanings and implications of imitation.

From 1890 on, two prominent theories of imitation competed among both Continental and American psychologists, psychiatrists, and social [End Page 61] scientists. The older paradigm related human imitation to abnormal psychology, especially to the female malady of hysteria. The newer, and what would become the predominant model in American social science by 1900, viewed imitation as a universal human faculty, key not only to the development of a healthy or "normal" selfhood, but key as well to a harmonious social order.

Older notions of imitation stressed it as an involuntary and potentially dysfunctional phenomenon. At the turn of the century, many psychiatrists still shared the views of French clinicians Jean-Martin Charcot and Pierre Janet, who associated hysteria with "an enormous development of the tendency to imitation," "the growth of mental suggestibility," and the tendency to develop dissociated (multiple) personality states. 75 When American psychiatrist Morton Prince published his study of the multiple personalities of "Miss Beauchamp" (pronounced Beecham) in 1905, his book was an instant success, widely reviewed and sensationalized in popular periodicals, and turned into both a Broadway play and a silent film. Prince hypothesized that Miss Beauchamp's alternating personalities were the result of the hysteria or "traumatic neurosis" produced by "nervous shocks" to her system. What was especially striking about Miss Beauchamp was that one of her personalities--the boisterous figure of "Sally"--tended to "impersonate" "Miss Beauchamp," and "play her part" by "copying as far as she was able her mannerisms and tone." 76

The case of Miss Beauchamp underscored the links between hysteria and the capacity of women to stage multiple personalities. As the primary candidates for hysterical disorders, historian Ruth Leys has written, "women were seen as diffuse, changeable, lacking any core of individuality and permanent identity," and could be imagined to signify "mimeticism itself." 77 This view was consistent with more general associations between mimicry and what one turn-of-the-century psychologist called "the lower, less volitional types of mind." In addition to the hysteric, these included "the undeveloped child, the parrot, the idiot . . . ." 78 To this list he might have added others commonly regarded as having an underdeveloped "volitional" capacity: monkeys and "primitives" (colonial subjects). As anthropologist Michael Taussig has shown, it was no accident that technologies of mimesis, such as the phonograph, were advertised and marketed along with images of dogs, birds, and women. 79

The issue of mimetic capacity becomes all the more interesting if we consider the argument feminist theorists have made: that western [End Page 62] culture has trouble acknowledging female individuality. Not only have women been characterized as instinctively imitative, but, as reproducers of other bodies, less capable than men of maintaining the boundaries between self and other. 80 Those with the greatest mimetic tendency in other words, were those suspected of lacking a stable self, categories of beings perceived to be lower on the scale of intellectual development than men of European ancestry. 81

Nevertheless, at the same time that mimicry was taking on "epidemic" proportions on the American vaudeville stage, a new and powerful model of imitative behavior was changing the direction of American psychology and social science. 82 Over and against traditional understandings of the primitive and pathological locations of mimetic behavior, imitation emerged as the central paradigm for the development and constitution of "normal" and healthy human self and for the well functioning social order. In the new social theory both the outward play of personality and the inner psychology of the human being were constituted through a process of imitation.

French sociologist Gabriel Tarde's 1890 publication, The Laws of Imitation, a treatise on the social origins of the self which was to exercise a major impact on Progressive era social scientists in the United States (an English translation was published by Elsie Clews Parsons in 1903), argued that "imitation" was the key to understanding the general process of social development and the formation of the individual self. 83 Using the metaphor of the camera much the same way as the female comics, Tarde argued that social imitation consisted of "the action at a distance of one mind upon another" and of "the quasi-photographic reproduction of a cerebral image upon the sensitive plate of another brain." He defined imitation as "every impression of an inter-psychical photography, . . . willed or not willed, passive or active." 84

Though Tarde's book emphasized the importance of both conscious and unconscious imitation, his theories drew in part upon new work being done in the science of hypnotism, especially the notion of hypnotic "suggestion." Many believed that during a hypnotic trance the psychological boundaries between the self and other dissolved, leading the patient to unconsciously identify with and imitate the hypnotist. This theory posed a significant challenge to the idea of the autonomous self. 85

Popular interest in the concept of hypnotic imitation-suggestion spawned numerous turn-of-the-century literary fantasies, including tales about criminals hypnotizing innocent persons and causing them to [End Page 63] commit crimes. But the most influential treatment of the theme was one that also became a runaway sensation on the American stage, George du Maurier's best seller of 1894, Trilby. Daughter of an English lord, Trilby came of age in Paris where she worked as a seamstress and an artist's model. Tone deaf and with no musical talent whatsoever, Trilby comes under the hypnotic spell of a music teacher, the sinister Jew called Svengali. Under his hypnotic trance, Trilby becomes the brilliant concert singer "Svengala," and eventually agrees to become the hypnotist's wife. Without the powers of Svengali's hypnotic suggestion, Trilby cannot sing, and when he dies her voice is silenced too. In 1895 "Trilbymania" swept the United States as Paul M. Potter adapted the novel to the stage. By the next year there were twenty-four productions of the play running simultaneously in American theaters, including several parodies. A fashion spin-off quickly followed. 86

The popularity of this play was a testimony to the cultural centrality of questions of selfhood, not only the vulnerability of the female self, but also the larger question of confronting both sexes in an emerging industrial society where hypnotic suggestibility might be induced by the lure of material goods, by the manipulations of advertising, or, as some social theorists worried, by the psychological sway of the crowd or the mob. 87

If Trilby sensationalized the darker side of imitation-suggestion theory, emergent theories in social science as they were formulated by Gabriel Tarde and his intellectual descendants stressed its functional capacities, theorizing the importance of both conscious and unconscious imitation as basis for a stable social order. In Tarde's model, imitation begins with social "inferiors" imitating "superiors," and proceeds to the development of social grouping held together by "imitative assimilation" and "incessant accumulation of similarities" especially as they are regulated by custom and law. 88 Even before the 1903 English translation of Tarde's book, his theories exerted a profound impact on James Mark Baldwin, one of the most influential American social psychologists of this era. Baldwin's pathbreaking study of child psychology, Mental Development: The Child and the Race (1894), followed Tarde in rejecting the notion that imitation was largely the consequence of "involuntary" non-volitional behaviors such as those associated with highly suggestible hysterics. Rather he argued that "imitation represents the general fact that normal suggestibility . . . is . . . the very soul of our social relationships with one another," and, [End Page 64] following the ideas of Josiah Royce, that "rational ideas" in mankind were "products" of imitation. "The self," Baldwin insisted, "is realized in taking in 'copies' from the world." 89

Building upon the work of Tarde, Baldwin, and William James's writings on the "many social selves" that make up the individual, American social scientists like George Herbert Mead, Jesse Taft, Charles Horton Cooley, and Elsie Clews Parsons theorized the self as a social phenomenon, constituted through a process of individuals and groups imitating one another. 90 In this way imitative theories of personality presented a significant challenge to traditional nineteenth century "anti-mimetic" concepts of selfhood founded on the axioms of Emersonian individualism and self-reliance. The idea of a mimetic or un-fixed identity came to symbolize the intensification of sensibility and a responsiveness to all of life's possibilities. 91

In contrast to traditional notions that imitation was the province of the primitive and disordered mind, the new imitation school of social psychology sought to locate imitation in the realm of what George Herbert Mead called "creative imagination." Mead argued that there were important distinctions between the "sympathetic" and "self-conscious" capacities of human imitation and the purely instinctual imitation of the animal world. Significantly his descriptions drew upon the metaphors of the theater to make the analogies between imitation and playing the part of the other. As Mead put it: "sympathy and imitation are both due to taking the role of another, reconstructing the individual--not simply accepting him as real, but actually constructing him, standing in his . . . shoes and speaking with his intonation. It is that sort of imitation which is impossible for the lower animal to be subject to, because he has no self-consciousness . . . ." 92 When we play "the part" of another, Mead argued, we not only "take on another's intonation and attitude but tend to take them into ourselves." 93 For Mead, role playing was not only an external process, but also an internal one by which the mimic played the behavior of the other on the "inner stage" of the imagination. 94 Mead believed it was the "healthy" individual who could "merge" the various "selves" acquired by imitation into "a single personality." Conversely the unhealthy person evidences "a dissociation of selves" which can only be cured by bringing together the "multiple selves" into a functional unity. 95

Like Mead, the mimic Cissie Loftus viewed imitation as a psychological process of standing in the shoes of the other person and even [End Page 65] taking that person "into" the self. But whereas Mead rejected the idea that in imitation the individual effected the "merging of his personality in the other," Loftus was less consistent. 96 On the one hand she insisted that "I absorb my subject so thoroughly that when I show Rose Stahl for instance, in my own mind I am Rose Stahl. I sink my personality completely and substitute Miss Stahl's." 97 Or as she put it on another occasion: "When I throw myself into the personality of one of these stage people I lose my own; forget that I am Cecilia Loftus, cease to have any personal emotions." 98 Yet she also insisted on the centrality of the mimic's own personality to the whole process of imitation, arguing that she could "absorb" the "temperament of another person into my own without losing my own individuality." 99 Indeed both the mimics and their admirers believed that the imitator's personality and individuality (Mead's "core" self) were crucial to the success of the mimetic art. 100 As one theater critic remarked of Cissie Loftus: "that the imitator's . . . own individuality should infuse the imitation is to a certain extent inevitable and necessary," and went so far as to argue that "to the extent that the imitator has a distinctive personality, the imitation will have a greater value." 101

The resonances between the stage and social theory did not stop there. In terms that were strikingly similar to those the vaudeville mimics used to defend imitation as creative "art," the social theorists who promoted new concepts of imitation boldly proclaimed that it was in the imitative capacity that true genius and inventiveness lay. In 1902, Charles Horton Cooley maintained that Baldwin was correct in asserting there is "no radical separation" between invention and imitation. Cooley argued:

There is no imitation that is absolutely mechanical and uninventive--a man cannot act without putting something of his idiosyncracy into it--neither is there any invention that is not imitative in the sense that it is made up of elements suggested by observation and experience. 102

That same year, psychologist Mary Whiton Calkins (a former student of William James) made an even more pointed declaration about the relationship between invention and imitation, insisting that "the usual road to inventiveness is through imitation." In some cases, Calkins argued, "inventiveness consists solely in the selection of unusual persons or ideas for imitation." 103 Like Mead she used theatrical metaphors to claim that imitation was a mode of self-invention whereby [End Page 66] one's "act" follows the path of other actors. Fundamentally, she asserted, "imitation of other selves" is "a richly personal experience . . . a conscious attempt to make oneself into this fascinating personality." 104

These imitative concepts of selfhood posited a radical new environmentalist model in which social experience rather than fixed or innate qualities explained human development. It was a model of crucial significance the evolving feminist project. For to embrace an interactive model of the self located in imitative relations with others was to challenge the proposition that biology was destiny. 105 As Mead's student Jessie Taft argued in her study of The Woman's Movement From the Point of View of Social Consciousness (1916), girls had "no attitude" toward themselves at birth. Rather their development depended upon the nature of their opportunities for mimetic social observation and interaction. For Taft, female emancipation went beyond problems of politics and economics to issues of psychology as well. 106

Ironically, imitation, which had traditionally been linked to the primitive, the hysteric, and the overly labile female mind had now become an important concept for Progressive era feminist social scientists. Indeed many Progressive era thinkers, male and female, were elevating a concept formerly associated with the highly suggestible and allegedly inferior mind of the woman to the status of a normal human trait. A previously "feminine" and now increasingly "feminist" concept, imitation as a theory of psychological and social development threatened traditional gender categories.

The cultural anxieties unleashed by the discovery of the imitative self apparently proved too unsettling for some social theorists, including Jesse Taft's mentor, George Herbert Mead. For as Ruth Leys suggests, in the era of the New Woman, the idea that individuals were always in flux, and always susceptible "to the influence of others," threatened to undermine any claims for a stable, autonomous self, and suggested the possibility of endless gender permutations. Even a concept as previously unassailable as sexual difference might be threatened by theories of the imitative self. Mead and some of his colleagues would begin to suppress the radical implications of their own theories in favor of ideas that posited the existence of an originary "self" which "precedes" the imitative socialization process, thereby reinforcing foundational notions of sex difference and identity. It was not that Mead and others rejected the concept of imitation as a theory of human and social development, so much as they sought to retain within [End Page 67] in it the notion of the differentiated subject who, even while imitating, remains conscious of the lines between other and self. 107

Yet the backlash in formal theory could not suppress what popular culture had already absorbed. The theater had a life of its own, and the female mimics and their audiences traded on widely available concepts of personality to fashion their own ideas on the psychological and cultural implications of mimetic comedy. Caroline Caffin's 1914 study, Vaudeville, echoed the "imitative school" of social psychology with the notion that mimicry was central to the process of human development. As Caffin put it, "the imitative faculty is so inherent in the human race that the limits of its influence are difficult to appreciate." Caffin noted that while the vaudeville mimics were consciously and deliberately giving their imitations, the audiences at vaudeville shows were in turn unconsciously mirroring the expressions of the actors on stage. 108 As a modernist critic and a feminist writing about the popular theater, Caroline Caffin articulated the conceptual bridges between the world of the stage and the world of off-stage ideas. 109

Although it would be tempting to argue that the discourses of popular theater and social theory were mutually constitutive, it is difficult to determine exactly how much the new imitative school of social psychology directly shaped intra-theatrical discourse and how much the theater itself was a model for the mimetic turn in social theory. 110 The best that can be said in the case of vaudeville comics is that there is at least circumstantial evidence that performers like Cissie Loftus were aware of some of the key psychological concepts of their time. Conversely, if Bergson and Freud are any indication, we have every reason to believe that psychological theorists were familiar with the comic practices of the popular theater.

If we can never know the exact degree to which the ideas of the stage and those of social theory influenced each other, neither is it possible to determine with any precision which zone of cultural discourse had a greater impact on the broader society. Though its concepts were not as sharply defined as those of formal theory, the popular theater reached a far broader audience and was potentially a more powerful force in shaping cultural understandings. Whatever the points of origin and interaction, there is little doubt that both the comics and the social theorists spread and popularized complementary discourses of the social self. Both cultural zones challenged the idea that imitation was a primitive or inferior animal reflex with the assertion that mimicry was [End Page 68] a self-conscious interpretive act. To imitate was not only to copy, it was also to invent something new.

The vaudeville mimics also added another dimension to the growing assertiveness of women in public life. As performers like Cecilia Loftus acted out and articulated the cultural shifts that made imitation a much debated topic, they took on a new female role: that of the artist/intellectual who both participated in and critically evaluated the cultural practices of the day. The self-consciousness with which the mimics discussed the psychological dynamics and the aesthetic meanings of their comic art exemplified how female performers, and the institution of the theater more generally, were helping to chart the direction of modern thought.

University of Washington

Susan A. Glenn is associate professor of history at the University of Washington.. Give an Imitation of Me: Vaudeville Mimics and the Play of the Self," is based on a chapter of her book Popular Theater and the Spectacle of the New Woman to be published by Harvard University Press. Copyright © 1998 by Susan A. Glenn. Used by permission of Harvard University Press. All rights reserved.


I presented an earlier version of this essay at the 1996 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, where Robert Allen and Jane Desmond offered helpful comments. I am grateful to Priscilla Wald, Shirley Yee, Caroline Simpson, Angela Ginorio, Uta Poiger, and Ross Posnock for helping me think about the issues raised in this work. I also thank Faye Dudden and the reviewers for American Quarterly for their thoughtful critiques, Lucy Maddox for her editorial advice, and the NEH for research support.

1. "Evasion by Imitation," Variety, 5 Jan. 1907, 7. Performers and producers at the time distinguished between "legitimate" imitations (which were acknowledged as such) and stage "piracy" whereby acts were stolen and passed off as originals. See Irene Franklin, "The Pirates of the Stage," Green Book Magazine, Oct. 1912, 692-99.

2. Joe Laurie Jr., Vaudeville: From the Honky-Tonks to the Palace (New York, 1953), 103, 99-101; "The Great Army of Mimics . . . ," New York Dramatic Mirror, 18 July 1908. Radio comedy extended the vogue for mimicry after vaudeville began its decline.

3. "The Girl Question," Variety, 11 Jan. 1908, 17.

4. An unidentified newspaper clipping from Oct. 1908, notes that "many men and women, chiefly women, have relied upon this species of entertainment to win them favor with vaudeville audiences." Clipping in Cecilia Loftus Scrapbook pt. 2, vol. 313, Robinson Locke Collection, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

5. Juliet Delf added a question mark to her stage name, presumably because Juliet? would add a sense of ambiguity to her own identity. See "Juliet? 'The Queen of the Mimics'" advertisement, Variety, 10 Sept. 1910.

6. Cecilia Loftus, "My Yesterdays," Bohemian Magazine, May 1907, in Loftus Scrapbook pt. 2, vol. 313, Robinson Locke Collection.

7. Alan Dale, ". . . Two Lovely Imitators," 1908 clipping of article describing the appearance of Cissie Loftus and Gertrude Hoffmann on the same bill at Keith and Proctor's 125th Street Theater in Harlem. Loftus Scrapbook, pt. 2, vol. 313.

8. See for example New York Telegraph, 26 May 26 1908, clipping in Eva Tanguay scrapbook vol.450, Robinson Locke Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

9. "The Parisian Model Ought to be Spanked and Sent Home," unidentified clipping, 29 Nov. 1906. Gertrude Hoffmann Scrapbook, vol.273, Robinson Locke Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

10. One of the most famous competitions between mimics was the double booking of rivals Cissie Loftus and Gertrude Hoffmann on the same bill at a Harlem vaudeville theater in the spring of 1908. See "Hoffman vs. Loftus," Variety 7 Mar. 1908, 11; "125th Street," Variety, 14 Mar. 1908, 16; "125th Street," New York Dramatic Mirror, 21 Mar. 1908.

11. Janis quoted in Linda Martin and Kerry Segrave, Women in Comedy (Seacacus, N.J., 1986),62.

12. "How We Imitate the Actors You Like," by Juliet, Green Book Magazine, Dec. 1912, 1064.

13. Quoted in Lee Alan Morrow "Elsie Janis: A Compensatory Biography" (Ph.D. diss., Northwestern Univ., 1988), 61.

14. On the "mimetic marvel" see Max Beerbohm, Letters to Reggie Turner, ed. by Rupert Hart-Davis (London, l964), 71, 44-70. Beerbohm, who frequently saw her perform at London music halls, was infatuated with Loftus and fantasized about marrying her. In 1893 he parodied his lovesickness for her in a series of letters to his friend Reggie Turner.

15. Biographical information in Anthony Slide, The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville (Westport, Conn. 1994) and from clippings in the Cecilia Loftus Scrapbooks, 2 vols. Robinson Locke Collection.

16. Morrow, "Elsie Janis," 57; Variety, 27 Apr. 1907 (on Janis's imitation of Cissie Loftus's imitation of singer Hattie Williams); Henry Tyrrell, "Elsie Janis--the Inimitable Child," Theatre Magazine, Aug. 1905, clipping in Elsie Janis Scrapbook, vol. 300, Robinson Locke Collection.

17. Unidentified clipping, Oct. 1907, Loftus Scrapbook, pt. 2, vol. 313; "Cissie Loftus Superb in Art of Mimicry," Buffalo News, 2 Nov. 1916, Loftus Clippings, Locke Envelope no.1210, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

18. Vera Caspary, "The Secret of Gertrude Hoffmann's Success," The Dance Magazine, Nov. 1925, 14-15.

19. "Gertrude Hoffman and Co.," Variety, 15 Jan., 1910 and "Hammerstein's" Variety, 19 Feb. 1910 on "The Gertrude Hoffmann Review"; "What 'Skigie' Thinks of Gertrude Hoffmann," Variety, 28 Feb. 1910. See also Barbara Naomi Cohen "The Borrowed Art of Gertrude Hoffmann," Dance Data, 2 (1977): 2-11; and "Gertrude Hoffmann," in Barbara Naomi Cohen-Straytner, Biographical Dictionary of American Dance (New York, 1982).

20. Claudia B. Stone, "Gertrude Hoffmann: Artist or Charlatan?" (M.A. thesis, New York Univ., 1987), 11-12.

21. Caroline Caffin, Vaudeville (New York, 1914), quote on 26-27. For other comments on the competitive nature of vaudeville see Henry Jenkins, What Made Pistacio Nuts?: Early Sound Comedy and the Vaudeville Aesthetic (New York, l992), 59-73.

22. Cohen "Borrowed Art," 4; Armond Fields and L. Marc Fields, From the Bowery to Broadway: Lew Fields and the Roots of American Popular Theater (New York, 1993), xiii.

23. Variety 25 July 1908, 17; Variety 14 Mar. 1908, 16; Variety, 14 Sept. 1910. The song "Give an Imitation of Me" was written for her by Blanche Merrill in 1910. Lyrics in Delaney Song Book, no.59, 7, copy in Music Division, N.Y. Public Library for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center. Variety, 20 Dec. 1912 lists this among a number of songs Merrill wrote for Tanguay.

24. "Give an Imitation of Me." Words and Music by Blanche Merrill. Copyright 1910 by Charles K. Harris. Lyrics in Delaney Song Book, no.59, 7.

25. "Tanguay Back and Hoffman Off," New York Telegraph, 25 Feb.1908, Hoffmann Scrapbook, Robinson Locke Collection. Variety, 14 Mar. 1908,16, has a description of their acts at the 125th Street Theater in Harlem.

26. Morning Telegraph 26 Feb. 1908, Hoffmann Scrapbook, vol.273, Robinson Locke Collection.

27. Quoted in Cohen, "Borrowed Art", 4. Eva Tanguay and Vesta Victoria both headed the program on the billboards of the Colonial Theater in New York. See Variety, 25 Jan. 1908, 15 and "Hammerstein's Victoria," New York Dramatic Mirror, 21 Mar. 1908.

28. Cohen, "Borrowed Art," 4; Stone "Gertrude Hoffmann," 14.

29. Apparently rituals of competition among women were still controversial within the world of sports into the 1920s. See Susan K. Cahn, Coming on Strong: Gender and Sexuality in Twentieth Century Women's Sports (New York, 1994), esp. chap. 3. See also Allen Guttman, Women's Sports: A History (New York, 1991).

30. As one review of Cissie Loftus's performance at the Colonial Theater in New York put it, Loftus was a "potent attraction," especially with the women patrons. New York Dramatic Mirror, 4 Apr. 1908.

31. Miles Orvell, The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1989), xv-xvi, 34, 36-37, 142-44; Lawrence W. Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (Cambridge, Mass., 1986). Hillel Schwartz has shown that the cultural fascination with "facsimilies" and "counterfiets" persists into our own time. See The Culture of the Copy (New York, 1996).

32. For a fascinating, if not altogether satisfying discussion of the cultural debates about women and mass culture, see Andreas Huyssen, "Mass Culture as Woman: Modernism's Other," in Huyssen, After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (Bloomington, Ind., 1986).

33. Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (1900; New York, 1967), 70, 127, 12-13, 89. The idea that women had an "innate" capacity for simulating was a well established cultural concept. See for example "Why Women are Greater Actors Than Men," Current Literature, 41 (Oct. 1906): 423-24.

34. Benjamin McArthur, Actors and American Culture, 1880-1920 (Philadelphia, 1984) 171, 175-76,185-87. For a more sweeping analysis of the importance of cultural types at the turn of the century see Martha Banta, Imaging the American Woman: Idea and Ideals in Cultural History (New York, 1987).

35. McArthur, Actors and American Culture,178-83. McArthur notes related moves toward "realism" in law, philosophy, and social science. See also Garff B. Wilson, A History of American Acting (Bloomington, Ind., 1966),140-42; Alan Dale "Nazimova and Some Others," Cosmopolitan, 42 (Apr. 1907): 674-683. Jackson Lears describes the more general cultural emphasis on "precise techniques of observation and representation," which helped promote a "cult" of "naturalness." See Fables of Abundance (New York, 1994), 84.

36. Unidentified clipping, Oct. 1907, Loftus Scrapbook, pt. 2, vol. 313, Robinson Locke Collection.

37. "Imitators and Imitations: Elsie Janis and 'Cissie' Loftus Tell What They Think of Eachother," Vaudeville clipping files, Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard University.

38. J. Arthur Bleackley, The Art of Mimicry (New York, 1911), 9, 80.

39. Juliet, "How We Imitate Actors Like You," Green Book Magazine, Dec. 1912, 1064-69. For a similar statement see Elsie Janis' remarks in "Why An Imitation?" unidentified clipping, 5 Sept. 1905, Janis Scrapbook, vol. 300, Robinson Locke Collection.

40. Cissie Loftus, "The Art of Imitation, or Imitation as Art," Broadway Magazine, May 1899, Loftus Scrapbook, pt. 1, Robinson Locke Collection, vol. 312. See also Constance Ray "The Art of Imitation: A Talk With Cecilia Loftus," unidentified clipping, 19 Aug. 1911, Vaudeville Clipping Files, Harvard Theatre Collection.

41. Bleackley, The Art of Mimicry, 9, 80.

42. Robert Howard Russell, Cissie Loftus, An Appreciation (New York, 1899), souvenir booklet in Loftus Clippings, Billy Rose Theatre Collection.

43. Huyssen, "Mass Culture as Woman,"; Orvell, The Real Thing.

44. Henri Bergson, Le Rire [Laughter] (1900). rpt. in English ed.Wylie Sypher, Comedy (Baltimore, Md., 1980), 80-81, 97.

45. Bergson, Laughter, 156-57.

46. Sigmund Freud, "Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious," in trans. and ed. A. A. Brill, The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud (New York, 1938), 776, 782-83.

47. "Cissie Loftus is Not a Phonograph," unidentified clipping, Jan. 7, 1899, Loftus Scrapbook, pt. 1, vol. 312, Robinson Locke Collection.

48. Alan Dale ". . . Two Lovely Imitators," clipping [1908], Loftus Scrapbook, pt. 2, vol. 313, Robinson Locke Collection.

49. "Cissie Will 'Gie Us The Giftie' of Seeing 'How Ithers See Us'." (l899) unidentified clipping Loftus Scrapbook, part 1, vol. 312, Robinson Locke Collection.

50. "Colonial" New York Dramatic Mirror, 4 Apr., 1908.

51. Advertisements for the Victor Talking Machine, The Theatre Magazine, Oct. 1908, ix; ibid., May 1908, vi.

52. Juliet "How We Imitate," 1064.

53. Quoted in Morrow, "Elsie Janis," 84. Cissie Loftus's vocal imitation were sometimes liked to those of a phonograph. See "Cissie Loftus is Not a Phonograph," unidentified clipping, 7 Jan. 1899, Loftus Scrapbook, pt. 1, vol. 312, Robinson Locke Collection.

54. The term is Michael Taussig's. See Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses (New York, 1993),xvii-xix, 198-220. The philosopher Walter Benjamin called photography "the first truly revolutionary means of reproduction," an emancipatory technology that displaced the "ritual" or "cult value" of art and delivered it to the masses. See Benjamin's essay of 1936, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," in Benjamin, Illuminations (New York, 1969).

55. See Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," 121. As Benjamin puts it "the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition or what he called the "aura" of its roots.

56. Bergson, Laughter, 82.

57. On the development of the cartes-de-visites industry and the international "cardomania" see Beaumont Newhall, The History of Photography (New York, 1994), 64-66; Vicki Goldberg, The Power of Photography: How Photographs Changed Our Lives (New York, 1991), 13-14, 107-12; Faye Dudden, Women in the American Theatre: Actresses and Audiences, 1790-1870 (New Haven, Conn., 1994), 63-64, 157.

58. Allan Sekula, "The Traffic in Photographs, in ed. Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Serge Guilbaut, and David Solkin Modernism and Modernity: The Vancouver Conference Papers (Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1983), 124-25; Vicki Goldberg, The Power of Photographs,19-28,39-44, 61-62; Alan Trachtenberg, Reading American Photographs (New York, 1989).

59. Orvell, The Real Thing, 77, 73-81.

60. Charles Caffin, "Photography as a Fine Art" (1901), excerpt reprinted in ed. Vicki Goldberg Photography in Print: Writings from 1816 to the Present (New York, 1981), quote on 221. On the changing aesthetic practices of photography see Orvell, The Real Thing,198-203; Trachtenberg, Reading American Photographs; Goldberg, The Power of Photography.

61. Unidentified clipping, Oct. 1907, Loftus Scrapbook, pt. 2, vol. 313.

62. On the collaborative relationship between Caroline and Charles Caffin see Sandra Lee Underwood, Charles H. Caffin: A Voice for Modernism, 1897-1918 (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1983), 10-11.

63. Caroline Caffin, Vaudeville, 136. Charles Caffin was an art critic who wrote for Stieglitz's journal, Camera Work. Equally important the illustrator for Caffin's book, Marius de Zayas was a member of the Stieglitz group.

64. Juliet, "How We Imitate," 1068.

65. This was a time when women photographers were entering the fields of portraiture and "art" photography. See Naomi Rosenblum, A History of Women Photographers (New York, 1994); Judith Fryer, "Women's Camera Work: Seven Propositions in Search of a Theory," Prospects: An Annual in American Cultural Studies 16 (1991): 57-117.

66. Catherine A. Lutz and Jane L. Collins, Reading National Geographic (Chicago, 1993), 189-91, 211; Donna Haraway, Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science (New York, 1989), 44-46. Michel Foucault's work, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York, 1977) is a foundational interpretation of the concept of visual surveillance as social control. Among feminist film critics, the most influential argument about the power of the camera and its relationship to patriarchy is Laura Mulvey's. See "Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema," (1975), rpt. in ed. Constance Penley Feminism and Film Theory (New York, 1988). The photograph, especially the composite photograph was also central to turn of the century psychiatric attempts to classify types of mental diseases. On the debates over these practices and their relationship to emerging understandings of individuality, see Ruth Leys "Types of One: Adolph Meyer's Life Chart and the Representation of Individuality," Representations, 34 (spring 1991): 1-28.

67. Unidentified clipping, 2 Sept. 1907, Gertrude Hoffmann Scrapbook, Robinson Locke Collection, vol. 273.

68. Amy Leslie, "Cecilia Loftus, Mimic," Chicago News, 30 Oct. 1909, Loftus Scrapbook, pt. 2, vol. 313, Robinson Locke Collection

69. On the self-reflective aspects of photography see Judith Fryer, "Women's Camera Work," 73; Lutz and Collins, Reading National Geographic,207-8; Donna Haraway, Primate Visions, 45-46.

70. On the photographer as the "emblem" and "portent" of the "conscious spectator," see Judith Wechsler, A Human Comedy: Physiognomy and Caricature in 19th Century Paris (Chicago, 1982), 174-75. Ross Posnock calls flâneur a figure who is capable both of immersion and detachment from the urban scene. The Trial of Curiosity: Henry James, William James, and the Challenge of Modernity (New York, 1991) 100, 141, 151, 179. Feminist scholars have questioned whether urban society allowed for the emergence of a "flâneuse" or female "flâneur." Janet Wolff argued that in the late nineteenth century "such a character was rendered impossible," by the sexual divisions of society. See "The Invisible Flâneuse: Women and the Literature of Modernity," in Wolff Feminine Sentences (Cambridge, 1990). Others have asked whether shopping, prostitution, and movie going--in other words various kinds of looking, strolling, and spectatorship--were forms of early twentieth-century female flânerie. For an important summary of these debates see Anke Gleber, "Female Flânerie and the Symphony of the City," in ed. Katharina Von Ankum Women in the Metropolis: Gender and Modernity in Weimar Culture (Berkeley, Calif., 1997).

71. Ronald Bogue and Mihai I. Spariosu suggest that traditional understandings of mimesis as "the disappearance of the subject," need to be placed alongside examinations of mimesis "as play in the constitution and dissolution of the individual and social self." See their introduction to their edited volume, The Play of the Self (Albany, N.Y., 1994), vii.

72. Warren I. Susman "'Personality' and the Making of Twentieth Century Culture" in Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (New York, 1973). Richard Sennett traces the emergence of a "culture" of personality back to the era of the French Revolution. See The Fall of Public Man (New York, 1974).

73. Elizabeth Lunbeck, The Psychiatric Persuasion: Knowledge, Gender, and Power in Modern America (Princeton, N.J., 1994), 69, 355 n.95.

74. Vaudeville theaters held popularity contests see which female "personality" was the most popular. See for example "Irene Franklin's Remarkable Run," Variety, 2 May 1908, 7, describing contests held at the Colonial, Alhambra, and Orpheum Theaters in New York. On the star system in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Theater see McArthur, Actors and American Culture. See also Richard de Cordova, Picture Personalities; Joshua Gamson, Claims to Fame (Berkeley, Calif., 1994); Leo Braudy, The Frenzy of Renown.

75. James Mark Baldwin, both summarizes and critiques the theories of Janet and Charcot in his pathbreaking study which was first published 1894, Mental Development: The Child and The Race (New York, 1900), 404-6. Freud too linked imitation with the suggestibility of hysterics.

76. Morton Prince, M.D., The Dissociation of a Personality: A Biographical Study in Abnormal Psychology (1905; New York, 1930), 116-117 (on impersonation), 22-23 (on multiple personality and "traumatic neurosis" or hysteria. The book was widely reviewed. See for example: James H. Hyslop, "Some Amazing Cases of Multiple Personality," Woman's Home Companion, Nov. 1905, 9-19, 61; "Four Different Women in One Body," Current Literature, Apr. 1906, 439-43; J. Corbin, "How One Girl Lived Four Lives," Ladies' Home Journal, Nov. 1908, 11-12. On the dramatic and cinematic versions see Schwartz, The Culture of the Copy, 84. For an astute analysis of Morton Prince's theoretical twists and turns in the case see Ruth Leys, "The Real Miss Beauchamp: Gender and the Subject of Imitation," in ed. Judith Butler and Joan W. Scott Feminists Theorize the Political (New York, 1992).

77. Leys, "The Real Miss Beauchamp," 193; Elaine Showalter, Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle (New York, 1990),121-23.

78. James Mark Baldwin, Mental Development: The Child and the Race, 349. Baldwin disagrees with this characterization made popular by Janet and Charcot.

79. Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity, 207-13.

80. Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York, 1991), 253 n.8 remarks that women have been defined by "their bodies' talent for making other bodies."

81. Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity, 220.

82. For an important overview of the concept of imitation in social psychology see Ruth Leys, "Mead's Voices: Imitation as Foundation, or The Struggle against Mimesis," Critical Inquiry 19 (winter 1993): 277-303.

83. For an excellent discussion of imitative theories of personality in American social science see Rosalind Rosenberg, Beyond Separate Spheres: Intellectual Roots of Modern Feminism (New Haven, Conn., 1982), 114-47, 160-61. Henri Ellenberger argues Freud's ideas were in many respects similar to Tarde's, noting that "what Tarde called imitation, Freud called identification." Henri F. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious (New York, 1970), 528.

84. Gabriel Tarde, The Laws of Imitation, 2d. ed. trans. by Elsie Clews Parsons (New York, 1903), xiv.

85. Leys, "Mead's Voices," 279-82.

86. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious, 165; I. Edward Purcell, "Trilby and Trilby Mania: The Beginnings of the Bestseller System," Journal of Popular Culture 11 (summer 1977): 62-76.

87. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious, 528.

88. Tarde, Laws of Imitation, 213-39, 388.

89. James Mark Baldwin, Mental Development: The Child and the Race (1894; New York, 1900), 278, 353-54, 330 n.1, 487-88. See also "The Mysteries of Personality," The Independent 58, 22 June 1905, 1419-1420 on the concept of "multiple individuality" in the theories of Boris Sidis. On the importance of imitation, sympathy, and suggestion to the emerging discipline of functional psychology and theories of social control see Dorothy Ross, Origins of American Social Science (Cambridge, 1991), 155, 238-39. On Baldwin's place in the development of new theories of social evolution see Robert J. Richards, Darwin and the Emergence of Evolutionary Theories of Mind and Behavior (Chicago, 1987), 451-75.

90. For an important synthesis and commentary on the ideas of the new imitation theorists written by a student of John Dewey, see Charles A. Ellwood, Sociology in Its Psychological Aspects (New York, 1912). William James's ideas on what he called "the social self" are discussed in The Principles of Psychology (1890). On William James's contributions to the notion of the social self see David Leary, "William James on the Self and Personality," in ed. Michael G. Johnson and Tracy B. Henley Reflections on the Principles of Psychology: William James after a Century (Hillsdale, N.J., 1990). See also Rosenberg, Beyond Separate Spheres: Intellectual Roots of Modern Feminism; Leys, "Mead's Voices: Imitation as Foundation, or The Struggle Against Mimesis," Critical Inquiry 19 (winter 1993): 277-307; Desley Deacon, Elsie Clews Parsons: Inventing Modern Life (Chicago, 1997).

91. On this point see Posnock, The Trial of Curiosity, 58, 165-66, 172-73, 182, 185-86; Leys, "Mead's Voices," 281-83; Jonas Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice (Berkeley, Calif., 1981), 362, 381-88.

92. George Herbert Mead, "1914 Class Lectures in Social Psychology," in ed.David L. Miller The Individual and the Self: Unpublished Work of George Herbert Mead (Chicago, 1982), 67.

93. Ibid., 70.

94. On Mead's concept of "inner stage" see Posnock, The Trial of Curiosity, 173.

95. Mead, "1914 Lectures in Social Psychology," 71.

96. Mead, "1914 Lectures in Social Psychology," 69-70.

97. Charles N. Young, "Real Impersonation Merely Self Hypnotism, Declares Miss Loftus," unidentified clipping, [1907]; "Miss Loftus on Mimicry," Unidentified Clipping, [1909] Boston Transcript, both in Loftus Scrapbook, pt. 2, vol. 313, Robinson Locke Collection. While Loftus stresses self-hypnosis as a conscious, voluntary state, much of the psychoanalytic discourse of this era concerned the patient's unconscious mimetic behavior during the process of hypnosis. See Ruth Leys, "The Real Miss Beauchamp."

98. "Miss Loftus on Mimicry," Boston Transcript, 16 Oct. 1909, clipping in Loftus Scrapbook p. 2, vol. 313, Robinson Locke Collection.

99. Loftus, "The Art of Imitation, or Imitation as an Art,"

100. Robert Howard Russell, Cissie Loftus, An Appreciation (1899) in Cissie Loftus clippings, Billy Rose Theatre Collection.

101. "Cleverest Imitators Here," New York Telegraph, 6 Jan. 1907, Loftus Scrapbook, pt. 2, vol. 313, Robinson Locke Collection.

102. Charles Horton Cooley, Human Nature and the Social Order (1902; New York, 1922), 302.

103. Mary Whiton Calkins, An Introduction to Psychology (New York, 1902), 343-44.

104. Calkins, An Introduction to Psychology, 332-33, 341.

105. Rosenberg, Beyond Separate Spheres, 67-74, 114-28, 133-34; Deacon, Elsie Clews Parsons, 35-38, 53, 113.

106. Rosenberg, Beyond Separate Spheres, 139-141, passage quoted on 141.

107. Ruth Leys, "Mead's Voices," 281, 285-87, 200, 296 ff.; on G. Stanley Hall and Morton Prince see Leys, "The Real Miss Beauchamp: Gender and the Subject of Imitation," where Leys looks at Prince's work on multiple personality and the anxiety about mimesis and the New Woman. Imitation has been rediscovered as an important theoretical issue for postmodern feminism. See for example: Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York, 1990); Elin Diamond, "Mimesis, Mimicry, and the 'True Real'," in Lynda Hart and Peggy Phelan, eds. Acting Out: Feminist Performances (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1993); Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman, trans. Gillian C. Gill (Ithaca, N.Y., 1974).

108. Caffin, Vaudeville, 134-35

109. Caffin was an active participant in the New York woman suffrage movement and was closely associated with radical feminist group known as "Heterodoxy."

110. Bruce Wilshire, Role Playing and Identity: The Limits of the Theater as a Metaphor (Bloomington, Ind., 1982), xiv, argues that the conceptual links between the on and off-stage world are largely metaphorical and neither "side" has terms that fit adequately with the other.