Elsie Janis

Elsie Janis (March 16, 1889 – February 26, 1956) was an American singer, songwriter, actress, and screenwriter. Entertaining the troops during World War I immortalized her as "the sweetheart of the AEF" (American Expeditionary Force).

Elsie Janis
The Theatre Magazine (November 1915)
Elsie Bierbower

March 16, 1889
DiedFebruary 26, 1956(1956-02-26) (aged 66)
Other namesLittle Elsie
OccupationActress, singer, songwriter
Years active1894–1940
Spouse(s)Gilbert Wilson
Parent(s)John Eleazar Bierbower
Jane Elizabeth Cockrell

Early career

Born Elsie Bierbower (or Beerbower) in Marion, Ohio, she first took to the stage at age 2. By age 11, she was a headliner on the vaudeville circuit, performing under the name Little Elsie. As she matured, using the stage name Elsie Janis, she began perfecting her comedic skills.

Acclaimed by American and British critics, Janis was a headliner on Broadway and London. On Broadway, she starred in a number of successful shows, including The Vanderbilt Cup (1906), The Hoyden (1907), The Slim Princess (1911), and The Century Girl (1916).

Elsie performed at the grand opening of the Brown Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky on October 5, 1925.

Janis also enjoyed a career as a Hollywood screenwriter, actor, and composer. She was credited with the original story for Close Harmony (1929) and as composer and production manager for Paramount on Parade (1930). She and director Edmund Goulding wrote the song "Love, Your Magic Spell Is Everywhere" for Gloria Swanson for her talkie debut film The Trespasser (1929). Janis's song "Oh, Give Me Time for Tenderness" was featured in the Bette Davis movie Dark Victory (1939), also directed by Goulding.

In 1934, Janis became the first female announcer on the NBC radio network.[1]

World War I

Janis was a tireless advocate for British and American soldiers fighting in World War I. She raised funds for Liberty Bonds. Accompanied by her mother, Janis also took her act on the road, entertaining troops stationed near the front lines – one of the first popular American artists to do so in a war fought on foreign soil. Ten days after the armistice, she recorded for HMV several numbers from her revue Hullo, America, including "Give Me the Moonlight, Give Me the Girl".[3] She wrote about her wartime experiences in The Big Show: My Six Months with the American Expeditionary Forces (published in 1919), and recreated these in Behind the Lines, a 1926 Vitaphone musical short.

A new musical about this period of her life called Elsie Janis and the Boys, written by Carol J. Crittenden and composer John T. Prestianni, premiered under the direction of Charles A. Wallace as part of the Rotunda Theatre Series in the Wortley-Peabody Theater in Dallas, Texas on August 15, 2014.


Janis expressed no desire to have children of her own, saying she'd never meet the standards her mother set,[4] and said that her young husband could be her child.[5]

She was foster mother to a 14-year-old Italian war veteran and orphan, Michael Cardi.[6][7]

Later life

Janis maintained her private home ElJan on the east side of High Street in Columbus, Ohio. The home was across the street from what was Ohio State University's Ohio Field, the precursor to Ohio Stadium. Janis sold the house following her mother's death.

In 1932, Janis married Gilbert Wilson, who was 16 years her junior, which caused some scandal.[8] There is some evidence it might have been a bearded relationship.[9][10] The couple lived in the Phillipse Manor section of Sleepy Hollow, New York, formerly named North Tarrytown, until Janis moved to the Los Angeles area of California where she lived until her death. Her final film was the 1940 Women in War.

Elsie Janis died in 1956 at her home in Beverly Hills, California, aged 66, and was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Elsie Janis has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6776 Hollywood Blvd.

Partial filmography


  1. "Elsie Janis Is First NBC Woman Announcer" (PDF). Radio World. December 29, 1934. p. 22. Retrieved 20 August 2016.
  2. Great Stars of the American Stage by Daniel Blum c. 1952 Profile #69 (has full length version of 1906 photo)
  3. Rust, Brian, introduction to facsimile reprint of HMV catalogues 1914-18, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, ISBN 0-7153-6842-7
  4. Janis, Elsie (Nov 24, 1935). "After 'Time Out For Love' Elsie Janis Resumes Career". The Hartford Courant. ProQuest 558649486.
  5. "Elsie janis, 42, secretly marries; husband is 26". Chicago Daily Tribune. 14 Jan 1932. ProQuest 181285016.
  6. "ELSIE JANIS ADOPTS BOY". Indianapolis Star. Jul 13, 1919. ProQuest 613034786.
  7. "Youthful hero of war adopted by elsie janis". Detroit Free Press. 3 July 1919. ProQuest 566424021.
  8. Janis, Elsie (December 1, 1935). "Tale of altar gamble told by elsie janis". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 164532004.
  9. Beard, Deanna (2014). "A doughgirl with the doughboys: Elsie janis, "the regular girl," and the performance of gender in world war I entertainment". Theatre History Studies. 33: 56–70. doi:10.1353/ths.2014.0012. ProQuest 1636350677.
  10. Harbin, Billy, ed. (2007). The Gay and Lesbian Theatrical Legacy: A Biographical Dictionary of Major Figures in American Stage History in the Pre-Stonewall Era. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
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