THE DUNCAN SISTERS
There is a photo which has recently been unearthed that was given to Mabel Normand while she was in
The Duncan Sister sailed home to 101 Kingsbridge Road in Mt. Vernon, New York on October 25, 1922.
It was a year later that the Duncan Sisters became the toast of Broadway in Topsy & Eva’, a version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin with music and peppy ballet, chorus, dancers stepping the Charleston to the crack of Simon Legree's whip all very modern and with a happy ending; the play was carried by the personalities of Rosetta and Vivian. Rosetta was the black face Topsy and Vivian played Eva. The words & music for the play were by the "Duncan Sisters" and published by none other then Irving Berlin, himself in 1923.
It was such a hit that these two vaudeville stars ended up making a film version of Topsy & Eva which had its World Premiere at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre Hollywood
There is no record of Mabel going to the Egyptian to see her friends; who throughout the run of "Topsy and Eva" appeared twice daily with Mr. Grauman's prologue with “their inimitable musical numbers and incomparable wit”. Mabel had been in the
In an article from August 1927:
“Mabel Normand is back home and well again after the long siege of illness she suffered. To celebrate her return -- both to health and home -- the rollicking Mabel and her equally fun loving husband, Lew Cody, "threw" a party in their Beverly Hills home recently that proved to be more than a mere party -- it was a glittering social event. Filmdom's entire Who's Who, it seemed was present at the affair -- and then some. Look at some of the guests! Anna Q. Nilsson, Fannie Ward, Ina Claire, Ruth Roland, Ben Bard, Fannie Brice, Nellie Revell, Edwin Carewe, Hunt Stromberg, Harry Rapf, Lottie Pickford, Eileen Percy, Allan Forest, Kathleen Clifford, Gertrude Olmstead, Robert Z. Leonard, Diana Miller, George Melford, Marcel de Sano, Helen Delaine, Belle Bennett, Monte Blue, Gertrude Astor, Clarence Brown, George Pallay, and many, many others. A continuous houseful until dawn, in fact. Somebody asked Lew if he had ever played in the stage version of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Whereupon Mabel, overhearing the query, piped up, "Of course, he did -- he played one of the twelve Apostles."
Sadly, she was readmitted to
Rosetta and Vivian were the Duncan Sisters, no relation to Isadora but there was a third sister not part of the act who did appear in Peer Gynt (1915) named Evelyn Duncan b.
Vivian was married to the very handsome Nils Asther, the Swedish silent film actor for a very short time (1930 to 32) and there union produced a little girl they named Evelyn in 1931. Nils was a friend and co-star of Greta Garbo. The Duncan Sisters made a few other films including “It’s A Great Life” (1929) but nothing as significant as Topsy and Eva. In 1930 Rosetta was living at 60 Ocean Way, Los Angeles with a private secretary, personal maid, companion and a butler named Gower; next door were the actor William Harrigan and his wife, Grace and the Irish actor Grorge Nolan. In 1938 Vivian and Rosetta took the 9 year old, Evelyn along with a large staff to South Aftica on the Empress of Britain returning to New York from Capetown in April 1939.
During the latter part of their lives they opened The Duncan Sisters Dance School located in a large compound located on the SE corner of El Camino & Floribunda, in Burlingame, California; they are both noted as residing in Burlingame, California in 1950. Although the
The Burlingame Historical Society has two interesting newspaper articles about Vivian Duncan (1) From 1930 when actor Rex Lease was fined $50 for blacking Vivian's eye but Lease found himself on the receiving end of Hal Duncan's (Vivian's 28 year-old brother) blow to his eye. The second newspaper article dated 1931 states that Vivian had been told that childbirth would be fatal to her but she goes to
Rosetta, the comedian of the pair was killed in an auto accident in December 1959 in
There are a couple of wonderful websites where the music of these playful woman’s voices can still be heard:
Words & Music by the "Duncan Sisters"
(New York: Irving Berlin, Inc.,
Music Publishers, 1923)
You say you're leaving me,
My heart is grieving,
See how it is aching,
Just nearly breaking,
Well, when you're far away,
With other hearts you'll play,
Remember, dear, what I say,
Remember the times we've had, dear,
Remember our vows so true,
Remember our kisses sweet, dear,
And don't forget that I love but you,
Remember my arms are aching,
To hold you close to me,
Rememb'ring is all I'll do, dear,
So try and remember too.
I'll remember you.
The picture that the Duncan Sisters gave to
Mabel was from the musical called "The
Heavenly Twins" and in the essay by John
Sullivan (he knows just everything about the
career of these lovely ladies) he tells that the
girls taught the Prince of Wales to dance!
BY JOHN SULLIVAN,
Fragments of their vaudeville act remain in newspaper accounts and in rare interviews. It seemed to feature slapstick, close harmony and comedy songs plus a sprinkling of satire. What ever it was that they did, joking around while singing "She Fell On Her Credenza" or tossing vegetables into the audience or mocking current musical stars, it worked. While performing in