Maude West Davis - Notable Women Ancestors
Maudie West

Maudie West
Maudie West circa 1912
Maudie West
Maude West Davis

By Sandra S. VanOrman

From the bayous of Louisiana to the mining towns of Cripple Creek, Colorado the Dan Russell Matinee Girl Musical Company was just one of the thousands of vaudeville acts that played across America's heartland.

From 1910 - 1919 vaudeville was the most popular form of entertainment, as people flocked to their local Palace theaters to see jugglers, contortionists, dancing dogs, magicians, and musical revues as vaudeville actors and actresses criss crossed the country with nothing more than a "smile and a suitecase."

My grandmother, Maude ("Maudie") West, was a member of Dan Russell's Matinee Girls, singing and dancing from town to town and entertaining everyone from common farm folks to prisoners and soldiers.

She was born April 27, 1888 in Kansas City, Missouri to James and Ida West. According the family stories, Maudie was so tiny at birth that her first bed was a shoe box. It was feared she would not survive.

Unfortunately, not much is known about her childhood. The family moved to Hutchinson, Kansas when Maudie was small, and her sister, Meta, was born there.

When Maudie was in her early teens she began playing the piano for the silent movies that played at the local Gem Theater. It was during this time, when vaudeville was in its heyday that she met comedian Dan Russell and eventually joined his Matinee Girls.

Soon her days were filled with traveling, sewing costumes for the cast members, as well as singing and dancing in the shows.

She was called the "Pet of the Matinee Girl Company" by her fellow performers which included such illustrious people as Harley Mankin, the contortionist who was billed as the "human frog." In his opening act he would slowly unfold from a giant water lily on "one of the most beautiful stage settings in vaudeville."

There was also "The Famous Dancers," Anger and Hanley, and those "funny fellows" Russell and Gross. In a theater program dated 1911 it proclaimed the Matinee Girl Company was a "big bunch of fun makers" in its seventh successful season.

The years 1911 - 1915 were happy, hectic ones for Maudie as the troupe went from town to town, performing mostly two-act plays and musical shows. Some of the plays she appeared in were: The Yama Yama Girls, which played at Hot Springs, Arkansas August 23, 1911. There was also The Man, The Maid, And the Money and Running For Office, both playing at the Arcade Theater in Lake Charles, Lousiana April 30, 1911.

Maudie's route sheet for the 1911-1912 season shows appearances from Grand Junction, Colorado, to El Paso, Texas, and finally back home to Hutchinson, Kansas, on June 10, 1912.

Dan Russell & Matinee Girls

Dan Russell (1st man on right) & his Matinee Girls circa 1912

Three years later, on September 15, 1915 Maudie West stood before the Justice of the Peace at the Galveston, Texas Court House and married Homer Sidney Davis. She had exchanged her dancing shoes for a wedding band.

Six years later, she gave birth to my father, Homer Sidney Davis, Jr., who later changed his name to simply "Ray." In 1923, another son was born, my uncle, Jack Norvell Davis.

Sometime in the mid 1930's the Davis family migrated to Long Beach, California, and in 1942 Maudie was to see both sons go off to war, during World War II.

On September 15, 1958, the girl from Hutchinson, Kansas who danced and sang across America died peacefully in her sleep in Torrance, California at the age of 70.

In the years since my grandmother died, I seem to think of her more, and I feel her spirit as I have struggled to put what I know of her life on paper. I often wonder if she ever missed those hurley burley days of vaudeville; the crowds, the jokes, and being the "pet" of the Matinee Girl Company.

I remember that she always smelled of lavender, and that she made beautiful crocheted table cloths. I still have one of her old crochet pattern books, back when they cost only ten cents.

As I browse through Maudie's memorabilia and numerous photographs, I can almost hear the music and the laughter of another age, a time of 2-act plays, and the delightful silliness of good old fashioned vaudeville.

She may have danced in and out of grateful hearts as a Matinee Girl, but she will live in my heart forever simply as Maude Mae West - my grandmother.

For any comments or questions,
please e-mail Sandra VanOrman

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