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Nan Halperin

Biography: 

(1898-1963)

If determination to succeed were the sole requisite of stage glory, Nan Halperin would have been one of the resonant names of 20th-century American theater. Answering an ad for would-be performers by ex-minstrel man Raymond Teal, Nan and her sister Sophie appeared in a sister act so green that it was only allowed to air because Teal thought it could be used at the end of the bill to clear the house. Nan jettisoned her sister and started performing character songs. She found that these songs worked better if they were framed by a story. So crafting monologues interspersed with song, she crafted a unique act. She worked with her husband W.B. Friedlander, refining her material, fine tuning her timing, upgrading her costumes, until she became in 1916 a Palace headliner. She was among the first to cut her hair into a bob and wore high heels to make her five-foot, two-inch height seem standard on stage.

Halperin finally broke into musicals in the 1922 revue "Make it Snappy," had a brief run in the summer entertainment "Spice of 1922" before securing the lead in "Little Jesse James," a 1923 smash by Harland Thompson and Harry Archer. She returned to vaudeville, and became a regular presence on radio. She became famous for assuming in song and voice the characters of famous women through the ages, from Lucretia Borgia to Martha Washington. When vaudeville died in 1930-31, she continued to do her well-honed routines (for instance, her song-cycle "Tell You-bout Women") as a between-feature live act at metropolitan movie theaters well into the 1930s. David S. Shields/ALS