Katy Mayhew, a Chicagoan, began her stage career as a juvenile in McKee Rankin's Company. When Rankin occupied Hooley's Opera House in St. Louis, he featured Mayhew and her sister in song and dance routines during the 1870 and '71 seasons. This prepared her for her next incarnation as a dancing girl in the Niblo's Garden summer burlesque, "Koomer" (1873). She played at Ford's in Washington, D.C. in the following year, but did not make a hit as an actress until her appearance in 1875 playing "Fanchon, the Cricket," at San Francisco's Maquire's New Theatre.
Katy Mayhew acted intuitively and artlessly, a forgiveable approach when playing tomboys. It would restrict her leading roles to a scant three. As comedienne in Frederick Bert's stock company, she toured the Western theatrical circuits playing Fanchon, "M'Liss" and "Our Boarding House." In 1878 when the editors of The Argonaut called Mayhew "a charming blackguard," they were beaten up by her husband, Henry Widmer.
Most of the years 1877 to 1879 were spent in a running battle with Annie Pixley arguing which actress had the right to perform the title role in Bret Harte's "M'Liss." Mayhew put her version before a Broadway audience at the Standard Theatre in winter of 1879. Pixley who had played the role in Philadelphia and Boston, brought it to Manhattan in 1880, and her version prevailed in the eyes of both critics and audiences.
Mayhew's career faltered, for she was a better singer than actress, and had difficulty learning new material. Her career in the 1880s and 1890s was spent as an entertainer in vaudeville. She last appeared in New York on November 29, 1896 at a benefit at the Fourteenth Street Theatre. David S. Shields/ALS