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charlotte hurdus

charlotte, 1912

charlotte, ca. 1918

A few months ago, I found two job wanted ads that my great-grandmother Charlotte placed in the New York Herald in 1910. I only found two ads for consecutive weeks in May, and so I assumed that she must have found an ideal situation and had no need to keep advertising.

It turns out I was right to assume this: in October 1912, her second anniversary of working for vaudeville manager Paul Durand gets a mention in Variety:

Variety, October 14, 1912

Mr. Paul Durand represented and managed vaudeville talent from his offices in the Palace Theater, the midtown Manhattan home of the Keith-Albee vaudeville circuit. A Belgian immigrant (he arrived in New York only 6 years after his future secretary did), it seems that Durand worked as a theatrical agent from at least 1909 through the 1920s, though I am unable to find any traces of him after about 1922.

Paul Durand, photograph from his 1924 passport application

My grandfather says that his mother Charlotte used to tell him stories of her time working in vaudeville, but that he’s never been sure if these stories aggrandized her actual job. She used to tell him about how she would actually make the bookings when certain acts were requested — if someone called and needed an elephant act, she would find the elephant act and book them. Similarly, she would tell stories about getting phone calls from performers stranded on the road and how she would get them back onto the performing circuit.

I would be inclined to agree with my grandfather that his mother was inflating the truth a bit, but for the fact that the other people mentioned on the short takes page along with the above notice are actors, managers and theaters, not stenographers. This does not seem like the place for a stenographer’s two year anniversary in an office to be commemorated, so perhaps she really was more than a simple stenographer and secretary — maybe she really did book the elephant acts just like she said she did.

It is also possible that she gained some prominence simply through the strength of her personality and sense of humor.

Variety, July 12, 1912

The above notice was printed in Variety in July 1912, several months earlier, and (apart from being an amazing piece of sass) it indicates that she must have already had friends on the Variety staff, or that she was in the process of making them by submitting things like this.

I wish I had known this Charlotte, who had no qualms about cracking wise in a major trade periodical.

Charlotte Hurdus Fenning (1893-1989)

* notices from Variety, October 12, 1912 (Vol. XXVIII, No. 5), p. 9; and July 12, 1912 (Vol. XXVII, No. 6), p. 7. Accessed at Old Fulton Postcards (specific URLs linked above), January 24, 2012.

* photograph of Paul Durand from his passport application, no. 405910 (1924), Passport Applications, 1795-1925, Roll 2497, National Archives and Records Administration; Ancestry.com, accessed January 24, 2012.

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