Pauline Hall starred in the greatest dramatic success in Broadway history during the 19th century, the fabled 805-night run of the comic opera "Ermine" in the late 1880s. Shortly before her death in 1919 she quit an insignificant role in "Kitty Darlin'" when she learned that it would be staged at the Casino Theater in New York, the site of her great triumphs. In an elegiac rumination on the vicissitudes of theatrical life, she sat with a newspaper reporter during her final illness and reflected on every leading lady in the last quarter of the 19th century who had won fame then died indigent or crazy. It was published days after she expired, "From Chorus Girl up the Ladder to Broadway Star and Down Again." Since Hall had saved money from her heyday, she did not follow the model. But her descent from star to side rankled.
Like many young women with good figures, Hall got onto the stage as a chorine in the burlesques, appearing as, for instance, an Indian attendant to Alice Atherton in "Hiawatha" (1880). Aspiring to be something more than a stage ornament, she took voice lessons and accepted leads with second rank units, singing "Girofle Girofla" at the lowly Acquarius in New York or the countess in "Olivette" in St. Louis. She connected with Edward Rice's ambulatory party of performers in 1880 during the decade when he pushed the boundaries of spectacle in "The Surprise Party" and "Evangeline." She assumed the trouser roles in "Evangeline" - first as Hans Wagner and eventually Gabriel. She had the requisite looks and style to work her way into the Casino Theatre company in New York, again in trouser roles. She played in Gilbert & Sullivan's "Patience" but a bad review by a New York Herald reviewer led to her departure. In 1882 she joined Haverly's Opera Company in "The Mascot."
Her career progressed by fits and starts, because she was never the most refined vocalist, but presented a splendid stage picture. In 1885 she took over for Sadie Martinot in "Nanon" and became a fixture in the New York opera world as a lead. While "Ermine" dominated her resume in the 1880s, she would show in other roles as well - as "Dorcas" in Offenbach's "Madame Favart" (1895). Never a favorite among the aficionados of European voice stylings, she nevertheless held her own thanks to a charismatic stage presence. David S. Shields/ALS