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NEW BOOK: Babe Egan and The hollywood redheads


by Jeannie Gayle Pool

Violinist and bandleader Babe Egan was a vaudeville superstar. In 1929, she was one of the highest paid women in vaudeville, earning $50,000 that year (equivalent to $880,000 today). She performed for tens of millions of theatergoers in the US, coast-to-coast, in Canada, and in Europe, and her band was regularly featured on radio. The Hollywood Redheads appeared in the first German talking picture, as well as on its soundtrack. They were booked solid from 1924 until 1933, doing two, three, or four shows a day. Today Babe is completely unknown and lost to jazz history. How could this be?

The story of Babe Egan’s life provides provocative insights into the history of vaudeville, jazz, radio, the recording industry, and film production. It reveals how these branches of the early entertainment industry intertwined and formed the basis of our present-day global mass media. This book examines the interdependence of the music/theater/film/radio businesses the 1920s and ’30s, integrated as they developed into our present monopolistic marketing machine.

Babe Egan and Her Hollywood Redheads were unmarried women jazz instrumentalists, traveling by train, bus, car, and ship. They blazed a trail for the modern free-spirited American women of the twenty-first century. Born Mary Florence Cecilia Egan (1897–1966), and nicknamed “Babe,” she hailed from a Seattle, WA, family of newspaper reporters and entrepreneurs. The granddaughter of Irish immigrants, she began her career accompanying silent films in movie theaters and on Hollywood studio production sets.

Before she was even 30, she was a virtuoso ragtime violinist, bandleader, and intrepid businesswoman. Babe was the quintessential exponent of female independence at a time when most women were simply expected to keep their homes and raise families. The Roaring Twenties were roaring, America voted dry and drank wet. Flappers, speakeasies, and bathtub gin surged society forward during Prohibition. The Redheads became vaudeville superstars during one of the most dynamic periods of economic, technological, and social change in American history, which ended with The Great Depression.

Photographs of this beautiful nearly-six-foot redhead—leading her all-girl orchestra while playing her violin—graced newspapers across the United States, as well as in the capitals of Europe, where they entertained royalty and had a frightening dust-up with the Nazis in 1932. The Redheads were consummate professionals and Babe’s leadership was a major contribution to American jazz. Inspired by the extravagant lifestyles of glamorous femme fatale Hollywood silent film stars, The Redheads forged their own paths, while fending off unsolicited advances by unscrupulous promoters.

This biography, researched for more than three decades, includes a chronological account of the adventuresome lives and times, culled from personal anecdotes, diaries, interviews, scrapbooks, and extensive press coverage. These stories recount the successes that brought riches and praise to an American pioneer of “Le Jazz Hot.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen! Miss Babe Egan and The Hollywood Redheads!”

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