Today: Doris Eaton Travis, who succeeded repeatedly by reinventing herself several times over her 106 year life.
Doris is most famous for being a member of the in the Ziegfeld Follies but she went on to do so much more.
From 1907 to 1931, the Ziegfeld Follies captured the public’s imagination, becoming a must see Broadway show, running for an incredible 24 years. Its elaborately staged productions featured famous actors, comedians and musicians and also the famed Ziegfeld Girls in an ever changing show.
The Ziegfeld Girls included some of the most glamorous women of the era. They wore glittering costumes or flowing gowns and head dresses created by some of the biggest designers and they performed eye catching dance routines that dazzled audiences.
In 1917, Doris Eaton became one of those dream girls, but unbeknownst to the show’s producers, she was not a woman but a physically mature 13 year old girl. In joining this famous dance troop, she dropped out of the 8th grade, and for the next three years, performed in the show.
At the age of 17, in 1921, Doris made her movie debut in a film career that prospered throughout the 1920’s and early 30’s. She also performed in various Broadway shows and acted and danced in stage plays and musicals that took her from New York to London and from Cairo to Hollywood.
Doris seemed to be living a charmed life, filled with money and fame. But there was a darker side to her life as well.
When she was 18, she married a much older man Joe Gorham, the owner of the Gorham Follies in Hollywood. Unfortunately for Doris, he was possessive and abusive, and the marriage quickly foundered. It ended six months later when he suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack.
For years, Doris’s dancing and acting career thrived. But the public’s taste changed and by 1935, the demand for her talents withered. She became just another unemployed entertainer during the Great Depression, a time when jobs of any type were scarce.
At the age of just 31, Doris was a has-been. Yet the bills kept coming in, so what was she going to do?
In 1936, 32 year old Doris reinvented herself. After considerable thought, she realized she was an outstanding dancer and that the public knew her name, so she capitalized on her fame becoming a dance instructor for the Arthur Murray Dance Studios in New York.
At first, this was a major comedown for someone of her stature. But actually it began a whole new career for Doris because not only did she teach dancing, she learned the business end of dance and she rose from teacher to dancing school owner. Eventually, she owned 18 Arthur Murray Dance Studios in Michigan.
But it’s one thing to own dance studios and another to attract students to them. Doris publicized her studios by developing a new set of skills. She learned to be a writer, specifically for the Detroit News where she became a dance columnist, which kept her in the public’s eye.
This visibility eventually led to another new opportunity, as she became the host of her own local television show, featuring dancing, something very popular on national television today.
Doris had become a successful businesswoman, actively involved in her dance studios and met Paul Travis, one of its students. As an engineer, he had made a fortune inventing car door parts, and the two of them began dating.
After an 11 year relationship, Doris and Paul married in 1949 and remained married for the next 51 years, until his passing. They never had children.
In 1968, after 32 years in the business, 64 year old Doris decided it was time to retire. She and Paul moved to Norman, Oklahoma and set-up a 220 acre horse ranch, which over time grew to 880 acres.
Businesswoman Doris ran the ranch and began raising Quarter Horses to race and to show. The name Quarter Horse comes from this breed’s ability to outrun other horse breeds in a quarter mile or less and it is a popular horse in horse shows, rodeos and as a working ranch horse. Doris had again become successful in a new field.
But something troubled her. An intelligent, highly motivated person, Doris had only an 8th grade formal education. So she decided to do something about it. In her 70’s, she went back to school and earned her high school diploma.
Doris then enrolled at the University of Oklahoma and began taking occasional classes around her busy schedule. The units accumulated and so did her outstanding grades. In 1992, at the age of 88 she graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in History, magna cum-laude, meaning she was one of the top students in her class,
Soon, she became a graduate student, well on her way to attaining her Master’s Degree, but she then set aside her classes to write her memoir, “The Days We Danced,” published in 2003.
But Doris never let go of her passion for dance. Throughout her life she kept dancing and it kept her in remarkable physical condition. Into her 90’s, she could still do cartwheels and as a dancer, she made her final public appearance in Broadway’s Easter Bonnet show on April 27, 2010.
That was less than two weeks before Doris passed away in her home on May 11th, 2010, at the age of 106. In her honor, the next night, the Broadway theaters briefly dimmed their lights to say goodbye to this extraordinary lady, who had been the last living Ziegfeld Girl.
Success Tip of the Week:
If your career is down, do as Doris did during the Great Depression and carefully evaluate your skills. Maybe you can do something similar to what you’ve done and make a new start, or you can take classes to develop the skills you need to do something new.
In the next KazanToday:
A man who made a fortune with cookies, ice cream and chocolate chips.