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Nora Bayes

A talented and popular vaudeville star, Nora Bayes became an example of the limits of women’s power and independence in the early twentieth century when her attempts to command respect from producers backfired. Bayes performed in small vaudeville venues for several years before opening the billing at the Palace Theatre in London in 1905 and becoming part of the Ziegfeld Follies in 1907, which launched her career. Her higher salary and imperious attitude led to friction in her marriage and her growing confidence in her popularity led Bayes to challenge producers, walking out of the Follies in 1909 to protest Sophie Tucker’s performance in the show and causing Florenz Ziegfeld to bring an injunction for breach of contract that kept Bayes from performing for months. She earned success again on the Keith vaudeville circuit in 1914 before her fights with Keith caused her to break her contract. Despite these blows to her career, Bayes was still in demand, with George M. Cohan requesting her to make the first recording of “Over There” in 1917. She launched a one-woman show later that year, starred in Ladies First the following year, and continued to perform in vaudeville until 1927.

Bayes, Nora - still image [media]
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She was a performer who changed names and husbands, broke contracts and changed producers, and joked about her Jewish background and the many husbands. Ultimately, Nora Bayes was a free spirit whose main allegiance was to the public that adored her. This photo shows Bayes and her children (from L to R: Norma, Peter and Lea) in 1924 on their return journey to the United States aboard the S.S. Leviathan.

Institution: U.S. Library of Congress

Date of Birth
1880
Date of Death
March 19, 1928
Occupations

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Nora Bayes." (Viewed on September 2, 2014) <http://jwa.org/people/bayes-nora>.

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