Buddy Wade: An Overdue Tribute
A Missive from Miss Mina Murray
A cursory mention of the tragic demise of burlesque chorine, Buddy Wade, sparked my interest, but more details about her life and her death proved elusive. Down the rabbit hole I went, to finally share her heroic story and give her the tribute she deserved.
The afternoon of Friday, January 10, 1936, was an ordinary one at the Old Howard, the famed burlesque theatre in Boston’s Scollay Square. The Merry Maidens burlesque revue was booked for the week before going on to perform in Union City, New Jersey. The audience looked forward to seeing Countess Vanya with her “Dance of the Bats”, Chang Lee in “Dance of the Chinese Lamps”, and comics Harry “Hello Jake” Fields and Hap Hyatt.
One of the chorines in the Merry Maidens was Buddy Wade. Born Mary Wandzilak in 1912, a miner’s daughter from Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, she started in burlesque in Philadelphia. The chorus was about to go on for a ballet number, after Margot Lopez performed. A spark fell from an arc light onto Buddy’s tulle skirt and began to burn. Rather than panic and run past her fellow dancers in their tulle skirts, she pressed against the brick wall of the proscenium and headed backstage to a place without anything flammable. With burns over most of her body, she was taken to Haymarket Relief, an outpost of Boston City Hospital. Unfortunately, she succumbed to her injuries. Before she died on January 12, she spoke to Boston Post reporter Allen Lester and supposedly asked him if she had spoiled the show.
Theatre fires were terrifying. In 1903 about 600 people were killed at the Iroquois Theatre in Chicago when an arc light sparked, igniting a muslin curtain. Presumably, the management of the Old Howard had no interest in having their audience know how close they came to a theatre fire and there is no mention of the incident in the local papers. In stories found in out-of-town papers theatre management claimed the spark came from another performer’s cigarette, not faulty lighting. Allen Lester sent Buddy’s story to popular entertainment columnist Walter Winchell to make sure people knew of her heroism. Buddy Wade’s sacrifice may have prevented a terrible tragedy in Boston, but her story was lost for close to a century.
For more about the research that led to the discovery of this tragic story, you are cordially invited to visit me at Miss Mina’s blog.
Images courtesy of The American Burlesque Collection
Check out Miss Mina Murray’s performer listing here: Miss Mina Murray – Burlesque Galaxy