Roguish, tantalizingly feminine, and altogether lovable - that is how critics characterized Sadie Martinot, a soubrette who rocketed to fame playing the barmaid lead in the operetta "Nanon." Indeed, it was one scene that made her reputation, in which she seized the cheeks of her stage boyfriend and planted a full-mouth kiss on him so wholeheartedly affectionate that it stopped the show. Her dash and a "sweet low voice as flawless as silver" insured her a favored place on the comic opera stage in the final decades of the 19th century.
Martinot played the standard roles for her type - Hebe in "H.M.S. Pinafore," "Mme. Pompadour." She emerged onto the musical comedy stage from burlesque. Her first jobs were as an extra with vaudevillian Josh Hart in 1876. When leading lady Maude Branscombe became ill, Martinot was thrust into the lead role, a place she found comfortable. She refined her vocal technique touring with Marie Aimee, the French soprano, secured the part of Cupid in "Chow Chow," an extravaganza, and on the strength of her performance secured a place with the Boston Museum Theater Company, playing second lead in "Sancho Pedro." In this show she displayed one of her hallmark skills, an ability to imitate the vocal style of any other female singer.
After a season spent in England in Planquette's opera "Rip Van Winkle," Martinot yearned for New York, returned, and became the leading lady at the Casino Theatre and winning fame in "Nanon." The stress of nightly performances of that hit caused a mental breakdown that led to a three-year retirement. She returned to the stage in "The Mascot."
Martinot's voice began to fray, so she transitioned from musicals to stage comedies, where she excelled in "The Second Mrs. Tanquery," "His Excellency the Governor," "Mary and John," and "The Voyage of Suzette." Her last leading parts date from the 1908-09 season, after which she descended into vaudeville, and then into madness. She was discovered disoriented wandering the streets of Washington, D.C. unable to recall her name. The last years of her life were spent in the Ogdensburg Insane Asylum in New York.
NOTES: "Martinot's Farewell Performance," Dallas Morning News (Apr 12, 1923), 5. "Sadie Martinot and Her Ways," Boston Journal (Jun 9, 1901). David S. Shields/ALS