Trixie Friganza: Bold and Brassy Vaudeville Fun by Robin Williams

Trixie Friganza was born Delia O’Callahan (Brigid O’Callaghan) on November 29, 1870 in Grenola, Kansas, U.S.  She died on February 27, 1955 in Flintridge, California.  In her 84 years, Trixie made her mark on Vaudevillian history with her flamboyant attitude, light-hearted comedy, and her always handy catchphrase “You know Trixie with her bag of tricks”.  She was also a devoted activist for civil rights, particularly the Suffragist movement, and promoted personal acceptance.  Delia O’Callahan never liked the name Delia, instead adopting her childhood nickname ‘Trixie’ as her stage name.  She also took her mother’s maiden name, Friganza, a name she liked and kept throughout her three marriages.  Though married, and divorced, three times, Friganza never had any children. 

            Friganza’s first foray onto the stage was in 1889 in The Pearl of Perkin as a chorus girl.  Her main reason for beginning a career in performance was the opportunity to be a better provider for her family; she was the oldest of her sisters.  Developing her natural talents in singing and acting made it possible for her to earn a larger salary than she had been able to from her earlier store clerk jobs.  After a few smaller roles on the stage, Friganza found her strength was in comedic performance.  She spent the early part of her career in comedic musicals including A Trip to Chinatown from 1896-1897, The Belle of Bohemia in 1900-1901, and was offered the lead role in The Little Joker in 1894-1895.  Friganza would go on to perform in many other musicals over the course of her career.  Much of what made her early career on the stage was her willingness to take on roles of those who could not perform due to illness.  She would be an understudy, and got many of her early roles this way.  Though appearing in shows and musicals began her career, her real talent shined in the comedic acts of Vaudeville.  Here, Friganza was known for her fun, clean acts and light humored nature.  Many of her acts incorporated song and dance accented with the use of props and numerous costume changes.  One of her signature acts included coming on stage with multiple costumes and performing a mock striptease by removing each costume to reveal yet another layer underneath.  She did not lament but rather embraced her larger figure, using this to her advantage in her acts and jokingly describing herself as ‘a perfect forty-six’.  During her career she gained many nicknames, these included: “The Perpetual Flapper”, “Broadway’s Favorite Champagne Girl” and just “The Champagne Girl”.  Some of Friganza’s most famous songs were “No Wedding Bells for Me” and “The Sweetest Story Ever Told”.  In 1903 Friganza starred as Sally in one of her most successful musicals, a comedy called Sally in Our Alley.  She also played lead roles in The Orchid in 1906-1907, The Girl from Yama also in 1907, The American Idea in 1908, and The Sweetest Girl in Paris from 1910-1911.  She was a star in The Passing Show of 1912, and later in Canary Cottage in 1917.  One of Friganza’s most memorable Vaudeville acts entitled “My Little Bag o’ Trix” is where her catchphrase originated and where she presented many of her most notable and memorable performing characteristics. 

            Friganza continued to be a star during the early years of film.  She performed in silent pictures with other stars and also in short films with sound where she recreated some of her earlier Vaudevillian stage routines including song and dance.  In 1930 she performed in the film Free and Easy.  In her later years, after severe arthritis ended Friganza’s acting career, she continued to teach acting and advised aspiring comedians.  She was also fond of baseball and sports. This fondness led some to believe that the song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” written by Jack Norworth, might have been inspired by Friganza.  The seldom heard introductory verses of the song refer to a baseball loving woman and her date.  Additionally, the sheet music for this song frequently displayed a portrait of Friganza on the cover.  There was also a known relationship between Friganza and Norworth at the time the song was written. 

            Friganza began her career thin, with the ‘hourglass’ shape typical of the time.  Through her career, as she gained her own style, she also gained in figure.  This did not hamper her in anyway; instead it gave her yet another avenue of entertainment in her acts.  Regrettably, much of Friganza’s work was not recorded for posterity, nevertheless her life and career made an important impact on those who followed.  Most notability, future female stars with larger figures.  These would include singer Cass Elliot who evoked Trixie Friganza, and others, in her work in the 1960’s.  Trixie Friganza was a provider to her family, and a hardworking performer.  She was also a steadfast activist and made bold statements for her time.  In Vaudevillian history she is remembered as a strong female performer who could hold her own but also a light-hearted comedienne who did not take herself too seriously. 

     David Soren Collection     Here's a rare short subject featuring Trixie:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6LCXg_nhVM

Works Cited

Bordman, Gerald Martin., and Thomas S. Hischak. The Oxford Companion to American Theatre. New York: Oxford UP, 2004. Print.

D., Trav S. No Applause: Just Throw Money, Or, The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous. New York: Farrar, Strausse & Giroux, 2005. Print.

Derrick, Patty S. "Friganza, Trixie." American National Biography Online. Oxford University Press, Feb. 2000. Web. 27 Dec. 2016.

Knipfel, Jim. "A Perfect 46: Trixie Friganza." The Chiseler. The Chiseler, 02 June 2014. Web. 27 Dec. 2016.

Roberts, Sam. "A Woman in Baseball, at Least in Song." The New York Times. The New York Times, 2 Apr. 2012. Web. 27 Dec. 2016.

The University of Arizona School of Anthropology Vaudeville Collection contains the following sheet music from Trixie Friganza:

NO WEDDING BELLS FOR ME 1906 - by Seymour Furth, E. P. Moran, Will A. Heelan. Inset photo of TRIXIE FRIGANZA. "The Comic Song Success"

 

Trixie Friganza - Early life