For the entertainment portion of her 101st birthday party, Doris Eaton Travis performed four dances, including an Irving Berlin number she had first danced in the 1919 Ziegfeld Follies. For a ragtime routine, she handed out lyrics to "Hello, My Baby" so that all in attendance could sing along while she and two partners floated through the choreography. Doris, who died on May 11 at 106, was a performer with great wit and panache, her stage presence mesmerizing a Broadway audience less than one month ago.
I met Doris--the last known Ziegfeld Girl--when she was 99. Doris' life was a spectacular panorama full of glitter and glitz. At 10 years old, she danced for President Woodrow Wilson; in 1920 she and new Yankee Babe Ruth hammed it up in a series of publicity-stunt photographs; in 1922 she filmed a silent movie in Egypt's Valley of the Kings just as Tutankhamen's tomb was being unearthed in that very spot. Doris also weathered great tragedy and heartbreak. At 18 she married, and by 19 she was a widow. When I told her I was thinking of writing a book on her life, she said, "Well, that's very ambitious of you, honey."
Doris was exceptionally accomplished; her years in the Ziegfeld Follies, for which she is now most often remembered, were over by the time she was 17. She went on to write a newspaper column, host a television show, raise turkeys and racehorses, and graduate from college Phi Beta Kappa at 88 years old. But she was no diva. She carried herself with humility and grace. She made her morning coffee from the previous day's grounds and considered show business a job like any other.
I asked Doris the secret of her longevity. "That's the most natural question to ask an older person," she replied. "I keep busy ... I just live a very normal life."
Redniss is the author of Century Girl, a visual biography of Travis