Born Lavinia Gardiner in Cinncinatti to a Philadelphia family with a strong history in the theater, this star of the 1870s extravaganzas spent her girlhood learning ballet in Pittsburgh, and debuted as a dancer with Mrs. Parks' dance company on the New York stage. Struck by her beauty and her pleasant voice, the theater managers converted her into a singing soubrette. They also bestowed her stage name Venie Clancy.
Clancy's reputation was made when Edward Rice cast her in the title role of the extravaganza "Evangeline," replacing Eliza Weathersby. She was sixteen. She played the piece three years, scoring an equal success as Josephine in the American run of Gilbert & Sullivan's "H.M.S. Pinafore." She became in the late 1870s something of a specialist in Gilbert & Sullivan roles before finding another vehicle, "Hobbies" in late 1879.
Clancy married the next year, but could not abandon her will to perform. She hired on as leading lady in Frank Mayo's touring troupe, set out for the California circuits, and sometime in 1881 contracted tuberculosis. She died in winter of 1882 at the age of twenty-one.
Throughout her career she elicited admiration for her features and her graceful manner on stage. She did not possess a voice sufficiently forceful to fill a theatre with song, but delivered lyrics elegantly. Never considered a first-rate talent, she nevertheless enjoyed immense celebrity because she was so photogenic. Her sister Laura, also an actress, would die of tuberculosis at age 22 in 1884 while working with Frank Mayo. David S. Shields/ALS