Nan Halperin

1898 – 1963

by Lori Finkelstein

Nan Halperin rose to fame as a star of the vaudeville stage. Her comedic musical numbers and her ability to change quickly into many elaborate costumes during a single act earned her the appellation “The Wonder Girl.”

Nan Halperin was born in Odessa, Russia, in 1898 and moved to the United States in 1900. She was the daughter of Samuel Halperin, a confectioner, and Rebeka Rose Halperin. She had two brothers—Hal Halperin, manager of the Chicago office of Variety, and Max Halperin, a Chicago agent—and two sisters—Sophie Halperin, who sometimes accompanied Nan on her tours, and Clara Halperin.

Halperin grew up in Minneapolis and began her stage career during summer vacations. Her first acting part was at age six in Little Black Me. As a child she also appeared in local productions as Little Lord Fauntleroy, as Sir Joseph Porter in HMS Pinafore, and in the starring role in Alice in Wonderland. Following her graduation from Holy Angels Academy, a Catholic school in Minneapolis, Halperin performed in stock companies throughout the western United States and Mexico. Her most notable performance was in the vaudeville number “Nan Halperin and Her Suffragettes.”

Halperin first appeared on Broadway with Emma Carus in A Broadway Honeymoon. Between 1914 and 1915, she gained increasing attention as a vaudeville star. Her big break came in early 1915 when she headlined at New York’s Palace Theatre. Halperin credited her fame to her talents as an actor and to her business acumen. “Many really talented performers do not get ahead because they do not know how to push themselves ahead,” explained Halperin in a 1915 magazine interview. “On the other hand,” she added, “too much temperament means too little business opportunity.”

Coinciding with Halperin’s vaudeville success in 1915 and 1916, newspapers publicized the story that her family was less persecuted than other Russian Jews. Her grandfather was a baron and member of the czar’s court who gained his title because a relative had offered money to aid the Russian emperor during a war. The veracity of this story is uncertain. Its circulation was possibly a publicity stunt to heighten the allure of Halperin, then a rising celebrity.

Among the most famous of Halperin’s musical numbers were her two burlesque “song cycles.” The first of these, which she began to perform in 1916, depicted five stages of girlhood. Halperin would grow before her audience from the youngest child in a family to a mischievous high school valedictorian, a comical bridesmaid at a friend’s wedding, a bride and, finally, a “blasé divorcée.” In her second song cycle, originally performed in 1919, Halperin played an amusing young girl who becomes an indignant debutante and complains that her parents force her to wear “too many swell clothes … all to catch just one lone man.”

In 1916, Halperin became the first performer to secure a three-year contract with the United Booking Offices, the central agency of B.F. Keith and E.F. Albee’s vaudeville monopoly. By 1919, at age twenty-one, she commanded a salary on a par with vaudeville’s highest-paid female performers. This secured her place in what was then called vaudeville’s “Big Time.” That same year, Halperin also acted in productions outside of vaudeville: She was the female lead in the musical comedy The Frivolities of 1919, and she starred in the drama The Girl in the Stage Box.

Other notable shows in which Halperin appeared were Make it Snappy (1917) and the musical Little Jesse James (1923). Halperin continued her acting career into the 1930s. In 1932, she headlined at Los Angeles’s Orpheum Theater. The next year, she appeared in a variety performance at the Fox Theater in Brooklyn. Around the same time, she also starred in a Works Progress Administration production of Personal Appearance, which toured several theaters in Long Island, New York.

Behind the scenes of Halperin’s theatrical success was the talent of her husband, William Barr Friedlander, a Chicago composer who wrote the songs for her acts. Halperin later wed Ben Thomson, on December 21, 1927, and after Thomson’s death married Edward D. Gould on January 4, 1934, who died in 1945.

Halperin ended her professional acting career in 1934. She subsequently turned increasing attention to local Jewish and nondenominational charities in Kew Gardens, New York, where she had been residing since at least 1920. Nan Halperin died in 1963.


AJYB 24:152;

Halperin, Nan. Clippings file. Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts;

Hutchinson, Ron. "The Vitaphone project. Answering Harry Warner's question: 'who the hell wants to hear actors talk?'" Film History, 14(1): 40-46.

Locke, Robinson. Collection. Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts;

Notable Names in the American Theatre (1976);

Slide, Anthony. The Encyclopedia of Vaudeville (1994);

WWIAJ (1928, 1938).


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Just a clarification-my great uncle was Edgar David Gould, the husband of Nan Halperin. His name was Edgar not Edward and he died in 1973. And he was a great lover of everything Music!

Nan Halperin married Benjamin Thomson on 21 Dec **1926**
Name Nan Halperin
Gender Female
Marriage Date 21 Dec 1926
Marriage Place Manhattan, New York, USA
Spouse Benjamin Thomson
Certificate Number36890

Source Information
Title New York, New York, Extracted Marriage Index, 1866-1937
Publisher Operations, Inc.
Publisher Date 2014
Publisher Location Provo, UT, USA
Edit Repository Repository Information

Re: "Halperin first appeared on Broadway with Emma Carus in A Broadway Honeymoon" - This show was in Chicago at Joe Howard's Theater. It opened October 3, 1913 and ran till Thanksgiving. Joe Howard himself was in the play. It never made it to Broadway. If there's evidence to the contrary I'd love to see it. Her IBDB listing is at

Always interested in information and photos of my mom's Aunt Nan.

In reply to by Linda Goodwin-…

Which of Nan's sibling was your grandparent? Nan is my mother's aunt as well.

In reply to by Linda Eklund

Nan's brother, Hal Halperin, was my mom's father. Tell me about your mom!

In reply to by Linda Goodwin-…

That is what my mother thought could be possible. My uncle, Edgar, was married to Nan. I have great memories of Nan and the home she and Edgar had with all of the memorabilia and treasures from her past. Unfortuately, everything was disposed of by Edgar next wife after Nan's death. Very sad. I got an original picture of her as a very young woman and my mother has a bronze that Nan loved. Other than tgat, the flatware she got as a gift from Al Jolson, the jug she got when she was roasted at the Friar's Club, the beautiful glass menagerie, etc. either were sold or eorse, given to the children of the second wife. It hurt the family greatly, but such is life. Anyway, so glad to hear from you. I will tell my mitger. She is 85 and still misses Nan. Any infirmation/memories I know she would love to hear. Be well. Linda

I have a photograph of Nan Halperin with her brothers Max and Hal and sisters Sophie and Clara. I would be happy to scan and e-mail it for your records. If you are interested, please provide an e-mail address.

In reply to by Pam Orlando

Thank you! The photo is most welcome.

In reply to by Pam Orlando

Hello My students and I are writing a book about Kew Gardens with Arcadia Publishing. This was the town that Nan Halperin lived for many years. We have a song sheet with her photo but would like to also add the family photo if you can scan at a high resolution. Thank you Carl Ballenas Aquinas Honor Society Jamaica Estates

In reply to by Carl Ballenas

Mr. Ballenas, JWA received permission from Pam Orlando to use her photo in our exhibit on Nan Halperin, so you will need to get her permission to use it for your project. I have written to Ms. Orlando this morning, including your message and contact email address. We hope that she will be in touch with you and your students soon.

In reply to by Stephen_Benson

Please let me know about this project that your students did! I didn't see this information before now. That is so exciting to hear!

In reply to by Linda Goodwin-…

JWA has forwarded your message to Mr. Bassett. We hope he will respond to you directly. JWA is always happy to bring people together.

In reply to by Pam Orlando

That would be wonderful, thank you.

Nan Halperin (center, front) with her brothers and sisters, from a family photo album.
Photograph courtesy of Pam Orlando.

How to cite this page

Finkelstein, Lori. "Nan Halperin." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 8, 2021) <>.


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