Gertrude Hoffmann made her name in the early twentieth century as an imitator, copying highbrow performances staged in Europe and popularizing them for a broader American audience. Born in San Francisco, Hoffmann started working as a ballet girl in pantomime spectacles during the Gay Nineties. She performed through the heyday of vaudeville and later taught dancers and choreographed nightclub revues. After her career ended, she reflected on how vaudeville’s history was represented in film and television.
Drawn from extensive archival research, Imitation Artist shows how Hoffmann’s life intersected with those of central gures in twentieth-century popular culture and dance, including Florenz Ziegfeld, George M. Cohan, Isadora Duncan, and Ruth St. Denis. Sunny Stalter-Pace discusses the ways in which Hoffmann navigated the complexities of performing gender, race, and national identity at the dawn of contemporary celebrity culture. This book is essential reading for those interested in the history of theater and dance, modernism, women’s history, and copyright.
About the Author
SUNNY STALTER-PACE is the Hargis Associate Professor of American Literature at Auburn University. She is the author of Underground Movements: Modern Culture on the New York Subway.
“Early twentieth-century theatrical innovator Gertrude Hoffmann gets some long-overdue recognition in Sunny Stalter-Pace’s delightful new biography. Writing with the verve that characterized Hoffmann’s dynamic performance style, Stalter-Pace takes readers on a journey through her subject’s personal and professional history as a Broadway choreographer, dancer, director, producer, and imitation artist. We meet a woman who wasn’t afraid to flout convention, challenge taboos, and assert her rights as an artist.” —Marlis Schweitzer, author of When Broadway Was the Runway: Theater, Fashion, and American Culture
“Gertrude Hoffmann’s entire career is of major importance to American dance and popular theater. Stalter-Pace has done admirable research on all aspects of Hoffmann’s life and career, making it cohesive by emphasizing Hoffmann’s understanding of how to link her performances to their audiences.” —Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, author of Ned Wayburn and the Dance Routine
“Drawing on extensive archival research and writing in lively and economical prose, Stalter-Pace reveals Gertrude Hoffman to have been a major figure in nearly every popular performance tradition of the early twentieth century, from blackface minstrelsy and Orientalist appropriation to early modern dance and the Americanization of ballet to the emergence of the white chorus line. The book will appeal to anyone interested in U.S. performance history, celebrity culture, racialized femininity, and theories of imitation.” —Anthea Kraut, author of Choreographing Copyright: Race, Gender, and Intellectual Property Rights in American Dance
"Imitation Artist paints the picture of a life spent between artforms, never becoming one thing and therefore glossed over and forgotten (even in her obituaries). It highlights the complicated nature of race politics at the time, rather than problematizing from a modern perspective. There is a balance of academic theories and critique with a delightful discursive style. It not only introduces readers to a forgotten artist but provides insights into the rapid changes in the art of performance in the twentieth century. This is an interesting and accessible text and signals the importance of more such works in the fields of choreography and female artists." —Sarah Courtis, Studies in Musical Theatre
"Imitation can be confusing. Plato condemned it as a kind of degraded reality. Aristotle defined it as an essential activity in our quest for moral virtue and creative performance. In the 2,300 years since, we have not decided who was right, and theatrical culture has been at the center of the argument. Enter Sunny Stalter-Pace’s arduously researched study of the prodigious impressionist Gertrude Hoffmann (1883 [?] – 1966), whose burlesques touched on early twentieth-century popular entertainers and seminal creators in dance and theater. Stalter-Pace views Hoffmann’s drive to produce revues featuring an array of her own performances as the last gasp of the Victorian convention of theatrical evenings filled with mixed genres. When plays and ballets opened in nineteenth-century London, rival theaters rapidly staged imitative burlettas and dance parodies. Impersonation and travesty achieved renowned appeal. By extending this appeal into the 1920s, Hoffman stood out enough to affirm her place in American performance history." —Theodore Bain, Journal of American Culture
“A meticulously researched biography of a vibrant subject.” —Jennifer Schmidt, Theatre Survey
“The research that has gone into Stalter-Pace’s book is impressive. The author makes extensive use of archival materials from a range of university and public libraries, and the book includes nineteen illustrations well chosen to demonstrate Hoffmann’s theatrical flair and versatility . . . Stalter-Pace convincingly argues for Gertrude Hoffmann’s importance to American popular theater and dance history as a pioneering woman performer, choreographer, and producer of skilled imitations.” —Rebecca Cameron, Modern Drama