Category: 20th century


The infamous Dutch spy Mata Hari

(August 7, 1876

October 15, 1917), real name Margarete Geertruida Zelle was an exotic dancer and courtesan who was arrested by the French and executed

by firing squad for espionage during World War I. Margaretha used her experiences in Indonesia to create a new persona in France. To sound more exotic, she took the stage name “Mata Hari,” Malayan for “eye of the day” (the sun).

Adele Astaire

(September 10, 1896 – January 25, 1981) and

Fred Astaire

(May 10, 1899 – June 22, 1987)  

Adele left show business in 1932 to become the wife of Lord Cavendish, the second son of the ninth Duke of Devonshire.

Fred said of his sister on her retirement, “She was a great artist and inimitable, and the grandest sister anybody could have.” He had followed her into dancing. When he was 5 and she was 8, their parents sent him to her dance classes so he could keep her company, but he got interested. They had a 27 year career together.

Brother-and-sister dance act Adele and Fred Astaire photographed by

Edward Steichen for Vanity Fair, dancing at the Trocadero nightclub, July 1925.


Keith Haring, William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin photographed by Tseng Kwong Chi, 1985.

The Vaudeville Actress Who Refused To Be A Stereotype

Born in New York City on Valentine’s Day in 1880, Aida Overton began her career while still a teenager as a chorus member of “Black Patti’s Troubadours.”

While performing with the group, Aida met her future husband, prominent vaudeville performer George Walker.

After their marriage, Aida began working as a choreographer for his groundbreaking vaudevillian comedy duo Williams and Walker.

Aida soon joined the act playing the female lead.

She also earned the nickname “The Queen of the Cakewalk,” after popularizing the dance of the same name. 

Williams and Walker were one of the few all-black acts allowed to perform on white vaudeville stages. 

While they did perform in black face, they refused to perform demeaning minstrel acts.

Aida refused to play stereotypical mammy caricatures.

In 1903, she played a command performance at Buckingham Palace for King Edward VII. The performance transformed her into an international star.

In 1908, Aida’s career took an unexpected turn when her husband became ill and was forced to retire. She then began touring the vaudeville circuit as a solo act performing his parts in drag.

After her husband’s death in 1911, her career went into decline. In 1912, Aida had a small comeback playing the lead in Oscar Hammerstein’s revival of Salome, at the Victoria Theater in New York City. Her performance won her critical praise. Tragically, Aida died suddenly on October 1, 1914, at age 34, from kidney failure.

(via Buzzfeed)