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Bijou Fernandez



Groomed for childhood stardom by an ambitious music hall mother, Mrs. E.L. Fernandez, Bijou Fernandez (with her exotic Latin looks) became the most popular child model of the 1880s, retained for weekly sittings by Napoleon Sarony. Initially appearing in her mother's act, Bijou stepped into the spotlight as a star in the 1887 child drama, "Peggy, the Fisherman's Daughter." Billed as Little Bijou Fernandez, she charmed family audiences at the Lyceum theatre in New York. She was a salaried player in Augustin Daly's company throughout the later 1880s, appearing in "May Blossom" and in plays with demanding child roles.

Something of an acrobat, Fernandez distinguished herself from other girls by trapeze antics, climbing, rope swinging and other stage business. She was Daly's favorite Puck, and in trousers, she played creditable boys, as in "Marcelle." Her ambition was to become a leading lady, so she studied scripts and roles as well. Her first ingenue roles tended to be in plays of the early 1890s that were not well written, such as 1891's "The Veiled Picture," and "Lady Barter." 1892's "Soudan," a rather lurid melodrama, provided a better vehicle, though her role was not conspicuous. Her first real success was in David Belasco's "The Girl I left Behind Me" playing Fawn Afraid in 1893. In 1894 she played a supporting role in the London importation, "The Cotton King."

During this period Fernandez sought out a role model and mentor to assist her in the transition to leading parts. In 1897 she joined Minnie Maddern Fiske's company as ingenue, but found Mrs. Fiske chilly. She eventually found a congenial mentor in Amelia Bingham and toured with her company at the turn of the century. In 1902 Fernandez was the leading lady of the Herbert Stock Company and won plaudits for her performances in "Aristocracy" and "Jane."

This promising beginning then stalled: in 1903 the audience abandoned her when she was the leading lady of the Circle Theater in New York, forcing her to tour with James O'Neill in a revival of "The Two Orphans." By 1907 she had taken to the vaudeville circuits with a small company and headlined with a playlet by Edwin Arden entitled "Captain Velvet." In the early 1920s she became a Hollywood talent scout specializing in spotting young women with screen potential. Throughout most of her life she was loved by her fellow performers, who found her a willing ally, a volunteer, and an enthusiast. David S. Shields/ALS