Elise Cavanna

Elise Cavanna (January 30, 1902 – May 12, 1963) was an American film actress, stage comedian, dancer, and fine artist. She went by the following names: Elise Seeds, Alyse Seeds, Elise Armitage, Elise Cavanna, and Elise Welton.[1]

Elise Cavanna
Elise Seeds

(1902-01-30)January 30, 1902
DiedMay 12, 1963(1963-05-12) (aged 61)
OccupationActress, comedian, dancer, artist
Years active1926-1945
Spouse(s)Merle Armitage
James Welton

Stage and film career

Born Elise Seeds in Germantown, Pennsylvania, to Sally D. Burk and Thomas M. Seeds.[2][3] She attended the Pennsylvania Academy and studied dancing with Isadora Duncan in Berlin, Germany.[2] Cavanna was 6 feet tall and very svelte.[4] She gave dance recitals in New York City until she began to dislike it. Then she became a dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies.

Cavanna was a comedian with Joe Weber and Lew Fields before she entered motion pictures in 1926. Her first film was Love 'Em and Leave 'Em (1926) with Louise Brooks and Evelyn Brent. Next she performed as an "early morning customer" with Brooks and W.C. Fields in It's the Old Army Game (1926). She worked with Fields in four other of his films, most notably The Dentist, where her scenes as a writhing victim of the brutal dentist (Fields) were deemed so risque that they were edited out for television broadcast decades later.[5] Her on-screen interplay with Fields was compared by film historian William K. Everson to that between Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont.[6] Cavanna remained in films until the late 1930s, compiling more than twenty screen credits.

In 1932, while living in Los Angeles, she met and married Merle Armitage (1893–1975),[7] a writer, book designer, musician, and WPA administrator.[8][9] She became more interested in visual art and art social circles after her marriage.[8]


In September 1933, Cavanna presented six abstract lithographs at a showing at Stendhals in Los Angeles, California. A newspaper review commented on the "cool precision of her lines and spots of tone."[10] The art was best appreciated through the "mind's eye" rather than the eye itself. Cavanna's art was shown in October 1949 as part of the contemporary section in the California Centennials Exhibition of Art at the Los Angeles County Museum, Exposition Park. Oils, water colors, and prints from 20th-century artists were presented along with a historical section, which assembled early art. It displayed life in California from 1800 through 1870.[11]

In 1937, Cavanna completed the 16′ x 6′ oil on canvas painting "Air Mail" for the Oceanside, California post office.[12] The painting depicts a realistic but stylized airplane flying over a landscape that looks similar to California.[12]

The Los Angeles Art Association exhibited Cavanna's work in a 1954 showing at 2425 Wilshire Boulevard. The four artists whose work was shown were known collectively as Functionists West. They were Stephen Longstreet, Helen Lundeberg, Cavanna, and Lorser Feitelson. By then the former actress signed her name simply, Elise. Cavanna and Feitelson presented only nonobjective paintings, though each worked in representational modes. Both artists were similar in "using only flat-colored, near geometrical forms", which either opposed or complemented each other.[13] Cavanna was one of the first nonobjective painters in southern California. Each one of her pictures was brightly colored, filled with energy, and could be viewed as a separate portion of a frieze. Feitelson and Lundeberg wrote a manifesto in 1934, describing their art as post-surrealism. Their desire was to use art to communicate the connection between the conceptual and the perceptual.

Later years and death

In 1961 Cavanna and her husband James Welton co-authored the book Gourmet Cookery for a Low Fat Diet, which contains 200 recipes for making fatless meals.[14]

Elise Cavanna Welton, at age 61, died of cancer in Hollywood, California, on May 12, 1963. Her gravesite is located at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.[3]


Year Title Role Notes
1926 Love 'Em and Leave 'Em Miss Gimple
1926 It's the Old Army Game Near-sighted woman Uncredited
1931 A Melon-Drama Alternative title: Broadway Headliners: A Melon-Drama
1932 The Dentist Patient (Miss Mason)
1933 Infernal Machine Bit Role Uncredited
The Pharmacist Mrs. Dilweg Alternative title: The Druggist
The Big Fibber
The Barber Shop Mrs. O'Hare
Beauty for Sale Hat Saleslady Uncredited
Static Radio Store Customer Uncredited
Day of Reckoning Gertie Uncredited
1934 Hips, Hips, Hooray! Miss Pilot, Radio Announcer Uncredited
You're Telling Me! Sarah Smith, female gossip Uncredited
Have a Heart Genevieve, the Pianist Uncredited
1935 Times Square Lady Hosiery Saleslady Uncredited
Air Hawks First Nurse Uncredited
I Dream Too Much Darcy's Secretary Uncredited
1936 Old Hutch Travel Agency Clerk Uncredited
1938 Everybody Sing Colvin's Music Teacher Uncredited
Having Wonderful Time Office Supervisor Uncredited
Three Loves Has Nancy Third Woman on Autograph Line Uncredited
1939 Naughty But Nice Pansey, Hardwick Maid Uncredited
1946 Ziegfeld Follies Tall Woman Uncredited


  1. "Elise". LACMA. Retrieved 2016-03-16.
  2. "Elise Cavanna Elise". AskArt.com. Retrieved 2016-03-16.
  3. "Elise Cavanna Welton". Find A Grave. Retrieved 2016-03-15.
  4. "Elise Cavanna". IMDb. Retrieved 2016-03-16.
  5. The Age of Comedy: W.C. Fields Shorts 1930 - 1933 Archived 2013-02-03 at Archive.today, retrieved August 26, 2012.
  6. Everson, William K. (1967). The Art of W.C. Fields. New York: Bonanza Books. p. 81. ISBN 0-517-01232-4.
  7. "Obituary, Armitage". Desert Sun Newspaper. 1975-03-18. Retrieved 2016-03-17 via California Digital Newspaper Collection (CDNC).
  8. "cavanna, elise untitled". www.sothebys.com. Retrieved 2016-03-16.
  9. "Elise Seeds 1905-1963". Tobey C Moss Gallery. Archived from the original on 2016-03-20. Retrieved 2016-03-16.
  10. Los Angeles Times, "Two Pairs of Painters and Some Singles Offer Shows", September 17, 1933, Page A5.
  11. Los Angeles Times, "Art Trends Traced at Centennials Show", October 2, 1949, Page D4.
  12. "Post Office Mural - Oceanside CA - Living New Deal". Living New Deal. Retrieved 2016-03-16.
  13. Los Angeles Times, "Functionists' Work Hailed As Brilliant", January 17, 1954, Page E7.
  14. Doylestown Daily Intelligencer, "Book Briefs", July 3, 1961, Page 1.
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