Rose “Rosie” Dolly (October 25, 1892 – February 1, 1970) and Jenny Dolly (October 25, 1892 – June 1, 1941) and Janka (later known as Yansci or Jenny) Deutsch were twins born on October 25, 1892, in Balassagyarmat, Hungary. Their family came to America in 1905 and they both began to study dance, becoming prolific at tandem dancing, that is, mo
ving simultaneously. They used mirrors to create perfect synchronized movements and wore identical costumes.
They debuted on the Orpheum Circuit in 1909 in vaudeville and then switched to the Keith Circuit. They then appeared, in 1911-1912, in the Ziegfeld Follies which their popular song Bumble Bee and frequent fast costume changes launched them to a national audience as paragons of elegance, beauty and fashion. Their appearances were also augmented by the circulation of rather explicit photos showing the girls in various stages of undress. The Dollys were also largely responsible for transforming the look of beauty in America from the heavier look of vaudeville stars such as Lillian Russell. This slender, sleek look with short-cropped hair combined with numerous costume changes and mirror-image type dancing scored an enormous success with the American and ultimately also European public.
The Dollys’ well-publicized affairs with the rich and famous made news across all of western civilization and they along with Evelyn Nesbitt and Gaby Deslys and later Mistinguett were among the first theater and vaudeville celebrities in America whose escapades outside the theater or vaudeville house were chronicled regularly and which acted as a major draw for their performances. In short, long before there were Kardashians, they were famous for being famous. People went to see the Dollys not so much for their great acting or dancing ability but to see what they were wearing…or just to actually see such a famous duo in person.
From 1913 to 1916 the sisters split up as a team. In 1912 Jenny married another dancer, Harry Fox, who took credit for inventing the musical form known as the fox trot. Together they toured in vaudeville but not with the same success as the sister act. In 1913 Rosie married hit-making composer Jeannot Schwarz or Jean Schwartz as he gradually became known, and Schwarz immediately ceased his 13 year collaboration with William Jerome, perhaps as a result of this union. Schwarz had much in common with Rosie since both had been Hungarian emigres to America early in their lives. Schwarz was a hot property, largely due to his enormous hit song Chinatown, My Chinatown in 1910. As the Dollies began to slip a bit in popularity since being separate performers, they reteamed under Florenz Ziegfeld who had brought them their first giant success. In the Ziegfeld Midnight Frolic in 1916 they were again on top and made a film together in 1918 entitled The Million Dollar Dollies, which was a thinly veiled reference to the tremendous wealth amassed by the Dollys through their multiple marriages and affairs.
In 1918 the Dollys and Rosie’s husband Harry Fox all starred together in a Broadway show called Oh, Look! which only lasted 68 performances but contributed a song which became a great American standard: I’m Always Chasing Rainbows and became identified with Harry Fox. In 1918 following the closure of the Broadway show, they moved to France, but continued to perform and lived in a magnificent chateau, while being courted by the rich and famous of Europe including heirs to the throne of various countries. Continuing their success even into the 1920s, they were receiving over 1000 dollars for a single performance. The marriage to Harry Fox fell apart in 1921 and Harry struggled subsequently, eventually having to leave show business as his old-fashioned hat and cane style of vaudeville faded in the 1930s. He lived the rest of his life in obscurity and near poverty.
The sisters however, having moved on after discarding Harry, continued to make international headlines with their gambling binges and horseracing interests, and Jenny’s fabulous jewelry collection. Their performances continued to become major events in France while the headlines continued in America about the wild pair who had become symbols of the decadence and excess of the Jazz Age. At a time when the American public could barely think of someone having millions of dollars, the Dollys had so much money and so many gifts come their way that it was very difficult even for them to comprehend their good fortune. By the end of the 1920s as they were getting beyond their flaming youth, there was less demand for their performances and newer stars had emerged to take over the spotlight. But there were still those for whom a Dolly was the ultimate trophy wife, even in their forties.
Such a man was American Harry Gordon Selfridge, an independently wealthy businessman who established his greatest wealth in London as he revolutionized the department store concept there at Selfridge’s and became famous for catering to women’s beauty needs and for providing instantaneous service with the catch-phrase he invented: “The customer is always right.” In his personal life he gravitated towards independent, famous, spectacular women, among them the ballerina Anna Pavlova who had introduced all of American to ballet in the 1910s and Isodora Duncan, the pioneering dancer. Another consuming passion was the French demi-monde star Gaby Deslys, yet another famous international dancer from Marseilles. He was particularly attracted to muscular dancers with magnificent figures and he offered Rosie ten million dollars to become his wife. She was however continuing to date and receive gifts from other wealthy men at this time. Selfridge owned a huge department store which reaped enormous profits but he was obsessed with Jenny and kept giving her gifts, eventually bankrupting himself. He was 36 years older than his beloved, a factor which kept Jenny from tying the knot with him, especially when other younger, more attractive suitors were still lining up to be with her.
While on holiday in Bordeaux with Max Constant, a famous French pilot, she was in a major car accident with him at the wheel that left her disfigured and seriously crippled, undergoing numerous operations and putting an end to the devil-may-care lifestyle she had been leading. With their careers basically over at this point, Rosie returned to Chicago with a new husband in tow and invited the recuperating Jenny to go with her. But Jenny never overcame her depression or the devastation of her legendary beauty or the fact that she was now nearly broke and forced to sell her treasured jewelry collection. For someone who had made her fame on the strength of her beauty and the flawlessness and statuesque quality of her form, a life of disfigurement was the ultimate irony and cruelty, and eventually she hanged herself in 1941 in her Hollywood apartment.
Nor was life easy now for Rosie who suffered from a number of illnesses including complications from late-in-life appendicitis and she tried to console herself by doing charity work for children in Hungary. She was still alive to see a Hollywood movie story about her life called the Dolly Sisters and starring Betty Grable (Jenny) and June Haver (Rosie) as the Dolly Sisters. John Payne played Harry Fox but the film did little to illuminate the public about the real Dollys and it ended before the divorce from Harry Fox and the tragedies that befell Jenny. More recently and more accurately the British ITV television series Mr. Selfridge (starring Jeremy Piven in the title role) has provided a more accurate view into the lifestyles of these unique entertainers.
The University of Arizona has a large collection of rare original sheet music featuring the Dolly Sisters in some of their famousBroadway shows of the 1910s:
Bumble Bee 1911 – by Havez, Donnelly and Blyler. Cover THE DOLLY SISTERS in the ZIEGFELD FOLLIES OF 1911: JARDIN DE PARIS, atop New York Theatre. See above upper right.
That Swaying Tango Dance Argentine 1912 – by Nat D. Ayer. Cover THE DOLLY SISTERS
Valse Dainty Hesitation 1914 – by E. M. Rosner. As danced by the famous DOLLY SISTERS.
There Was A Time 1914 – by Harry Carroll, Alfred Bryan. Cover HARRY FOX AND YANCSI DOLLY in the Big Winter Garden Production MAID IN AMERICA. See above upper right side.
Underneath the Stars 1915 – Herbert Spencer. Danced by the DOLLY SISTERS ROZSILCA AND YANCHI in ZIEGFELD MIDNIGHT FROLIC.
Beware of Pink Pajamas 1916 – by Joe Young, Sam M. Lewis, Jean Schwartz. Cover THE DOLLY SISTERS in HIS BRIDAL NIGHT. Musical show produced by A. H. Woods.
His Bridal Night 1916 – by Eugene Salzer. Cover THE DOLLY SISTERS in HIS BRIDAL NIGHT
Dance O’ The Dollys 1916 – Milton Ager. As introduced by the DOLLY SISTERS ROZSIKA AND YANCZI in Al H. Woods’ production HIS BRIDAL NIGHT
My Isle of Golden Dreams 1919 – by Gus Kahn, Walter Blaufuss. Cover DOLLY SISTERS in OH, LOOK! See above, upper right side.
Tell Me Why 1920 – by Richard Coburn, Vincent Rose. Cover THE DOLLY SISTERS in OH, LOOK!, presented by Elliott, Comstock and Gest.