Century Girl

She became the youngest dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies at the age of fourteen. She met some of the world’s most celebrated entertainers and dancers. By the time she was 19, she was a widow;and by the age of 34, her professional career was over. At the age of 100, she was at the New Amsterdam Theatre again, still going strong, and still dancing. In her book Century Girl: 100 Years in the Life of Doris Eaton Travis, Last Living Star of the Ziegfeld Follies, author Laura Redniss introduces readers to a remarkable woman who has led a most extraordinary life. Doris Eaton was born March 14, 1904 in Norfolk, Virginia, the fifth of seven children born to Charles Eaton and Mary Saunders. As a child, Mary had stars in her eyes and wanted desperately to become an actress. But her strict parents forbade her to pursue her dreams, so Mary shared her dreams with her children. Mary, Pearl and Doris became dancers; in fact, they became the best in their studio. Mary excelled at ballet, Pearl enjoyed jazz and tap, but Doris preferred acrobatics, an eccentric type of dancing that involved high kicks, splits and cartwheels. They went to a show featuring ballerina Anna Pavlova, and even managed to get backstage to talk to her. Mary and Doris auditioned for roles in the Shubert play The Bluebird and began touring with the road show, eventually working their way up to the lead roles. Not everyone in the family joined in the family business. Their father Charles, and older brother Robert, had no interest in show business and were slowly squeezed out of the family. The girls danced everywhere, but Mary decided that the best place to be was New York. Pearl became a dancer and an assistant choreographer for the Ziegfeld Follies; Doris was attending summer school and dancing in the evenings. The day she finished summer school, she went home, got her practice clothes and was dancing in the chorus of the Follies that evening. She was fourteen years old, the youngest dancer there. Over the next three years, she worked with some of the best: Will Rogers, W.C. Fields, Fanny Brice, Gershwin and Berlin. She kicked a ball out of Babe Ruth’s hand while they were doing publicity pictures; she still has the ball. Doris went west, to Hollywood, to try her hand at the movies. She enjoyed the movies, but when she became a widow after a few months of marriage, she returned to New York. The Eaton name appeared all over Broadway in the 1920s, but when the stock market crashed in 1929, their careers slowly drifted away. Doris hit rock bottom and turned to Christian Science for guidance. But a golden opportunity came her way: a local dance company was looking for a teaching assistant. Doris seized the opportunity, and for over 30 years, she worked for and owned several Arthur Murray Dance Studios. In 1949, she married Paul Travis, a small parts manufacturer. They lived on a modest farm in Michigan, raising cows and turkeys, while Doris continued to manage her dance studios. But things fell apart when Castro took over Cuba, and with the birth of rock and roll. At the age of 63, Doris had to start over again. Paul and Doris moved to a ranch in Oklahoma, but Doris was restless. She never had any real formal education, and a sudden desire to learn came over her. She earned her GED, and in the fall of 1981, 77-year-old Doris became a freshman at Oklahoma University, taking two courses a semester, graduating Phi Beta Kappa eleven years later. She has outlived two husbands, her parents and all of her siblings, made a triumphant return to Broadway at the age of 100, and at the age of 104, is still living quietly on her ranch in Oklahoma. Doris says that the one question everyone asks her is her secret to longevity: “I just say I keep busy. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. I pray a lot. I just live a very normal life.” What will capture the reader’s attention is the way Doris’ story is told. It reads like a timeline, with pictures from the very scrapbooks that her mother made for all her daughters. Rich in color and details, Century Girl captures your attention and brings to life the glory years of Broadway and Hollywood through a woman who has led a very normal, yet most extraordinary life.

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