Gertrude Hoffmann made her name in the early twentieth century as an imitator, copying highbrow performances from 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 figures 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.
“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