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Doris Eaton Travis ( 1904 - 2010 )  Category ( Businessmen_Women ) [suggest a correction]
 

Doris Eaton TravisFew people live lives as long and as full as the life of Doris Eaton Travis. During her one-hundred-and-six years she not only witnessed the massive technological developments and the changing of the American social and cultural fabric, she also met, knew, and worked with some of the greatest creative minds of the twentieth century.

She is most famous for having been the last surviving Ziegfeld girl, but she was also an actress, dance instructor, businesswoman, and author. She began her performing career as a very young child. Born in Norfolk, Virginia, she was one of seven children born to Mary and Charles Eaton. Her mother, who had chafed fiercely at her own strict upbringing, was determined to raise a family of free-spirited, creative individuals. Her father was more conservative; and, while he did not attempt to deter his wife's ambitions, he remained in the background, supporting the family financially until his performing children could take care of such matters.

Late in life, Doris reflected on how her father came to feel superfluous, and even useless, once his brood had achieved Broadway stardom. The Eaton children built a solid reputation for themselves in New York, and for more than two decades at least one of them (usually more) remained in demand in a variety of performing capacities. For example, Doris' sister, Mary, became a well-known ballerina, while her younger brothers performed in plays and other stage shows. When Doris was only thirteen years old, she followed her older sister to Ziegfeld Follies auditions. Mr. Florenz Ziegfeld, himself, took special note of Doris, and hired her on the spot. She was the youngest girl he ever hired.

She remained with the Ziegfeld Follies for several years, finishing as a principal dancer and performer. Within a year of leaving her position, she made her motion picture debut in At the Stage Door. Her stage and film career remained successful throughout the 1920s and early 1930s. She married Joe Gorham, a Broadway producer, when she was eighteen, and without the support of her family. Gorham was twice her age, and abused Eaton. Six months into the marriage Gorham died of a heart attack.

By the mid-1930s Eaton's stage and film career was waning. For a brief time she experienced poverty and depression, but rebounded when she was hired by the Arthur Murray Dance Studios. She began her second career as a tap dance instructor, but quickly demonstrated her value to the company, eventually owning eighteen franchise studios of her own. During this time she also wrote a column on dance for the Detroit News and served as host of a Michigan television show. Her time with Arthur Murray impacted her personal life as well as professional. One of her pupils, Paul Travis, fell in love with Eaton and courted her for eleven years before she consented to marriage. It was a good match, enduring more than fifty years, until Paul died in 2000. While the couple had no children, once Eaton retired from Arthur Murray the couple settled in Oklahoma and bought 220 acres of ranch land. Over their long marriage they expanded to 800 acres, focusing primarily on breeding and boarding American Quarter Horses.

Thus far, Eaton had enjoyed a long and fulfilling life. But, she was not yet finished. In the 1980s she decided to enroll in college, and in 1992, at the age of eighty-eight, she graduated cum laude from the University of Oklahoma. In 2004, when she was one hundred years old, Oakland University awarded her an honorary doctorate. By this time, the public had become fascinated once again with Eaton, and the few surviving Ziegfeld Girls. In 1997, she and three other former Girls reunited when the renovated New Amsterdam Theatre reopened. She was the only one of the four who could still dance. In 1999, she played a cameo role in the film, Man on the Moon, starring Jim Carrey. She also participated in several documentaries dealing with the Ziegfeld Follies. She wrote and published her autobiography, The Days We Danced, in 2003. Several other books have been published dealing with Eaton's life and times.

Her final performance was at the 2010 Easter Bonnet show. Two weeks later she died of an aneurysm. Broadway's lights were dimmed in her honor the evening following her death.


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