May 10 2011

Elsie Janis and The Broadway Show “The Vanderbilt Cup”

Tyler: "I was wondering what info you had about Elsie Janis in The Vanderbilt Cup (1906). She was from Columbus, Ohio and I am too and I am interested in automotive history and Columbus history. Any info would be great! Thank you so much!"

Tyler, thanks Tyler for the request. Here is a profile of Elsie Janis and her relationship to the Vanderbilt Cup:

By 1906 the Vanderbilt Cup was firmly woven into the fabric of popular culture of the day. A three act musical comedy Broadway play entitled, “The Vanderbilt Cup,” starring a 17 year old sensation, Elsie Janis, cashed in on the public’s new found fascination with big time auto racing.

The play ran for 143 performances at the Broadway Theatre starting January 16, 1906 through June 1, 1906. The production then toured the country for several weeks, playing in other major metropolitan areas. It returned to Broadway in 1907 for an additional 48 performances split between the New York Theatre and the Grand Opera House. This second series of performances ran from January 7, 1907 through April of the same year. This film features a medley of songs from the show as heard on the piano roll sold in 1906.

The Vanderbilt Cup production, her first Broadway starring role, was a big step in the already established career of Janis. Born Elsie Jane Bierbower in Columbus, Ohio in 1889 her parents pressed her into singing in church functions at two years old. Her mother, Jennie, was a notorious stage mother and developed a Vaudeville act where Elsie imitated well-known stage performers. She sang for William McKinley when he was governor of Ohio and again at Christmas 1899 in the Blue Room of the White House when he was president of the United States. She was only 10 years old.

The success of the Vanderbilt Cup on stage led to a long and brilliant career for Elsie Janis. She quickly followed it up with starring roles in other major stage productions, The Hoyden; The Fair Co-Ed and The Slim Princess. The latter play was produced by the legendary Charles Dillingham and allowed her to earn her first credit as a composer/lyricist featuring the song, “For the Lord’s Sake, Play a Waltz.”

The burgeoning motion picture industry beckoned her and Janis immersed herself in writing screenplays and acting for early movies such as The Caprices of Kitty; Betty in Search of a Thrill and Nearly a Lady. Among several music credits for movies was her composition, “Oh Give Me Time for Tenderness,” for 1939’s Dark Victory starring Bette Davis. Janis also had a passion for the armed services, and spent a great deal of time during World War I entertaining Allied troops. She was tireless in this effort and was known for bringing tremendous energy to her performances with the specific purpose of uplifting spirits. Applauded by General John “Black Jack” Pershing, the men of the American Expeditionary Forces gave her the nickname, “Sweetheart of the A.E.F.”


Janis wrote of her wartime experiences in one of her four books, entitled, “The Big Show: My Six Months With the American Expeditionary Forces.” She continued her stage career through much of her life, her final Broadway appearance coming in Frank Fay’s Show in 1939. Although she loved her native Ohio, she was drawn to Los Angeles to pursue her motion picture career. She died there in 1956 at age 66 with childhood friend Mary Pickford at her bedside.

Links to related posts on and the Internet:

Archives: Broadway Musical “The Vanderbilt Cup”

Elsie Janis: Highlights of a Life

Elsie Janis and the Manor House Of Philipsburg Manor


Mar 29 2015 Wayne C. Petersen 5:24 PM

VERY KOOL! Thanks to you and everyone involved with this post. keeping American History Alive.
Best regards to you & yours,
Wayne Carroll Petersen
Barney Oldfield, Master Driver of the World & America’s legendary Speed King Great Great Nephew

Sep 10 2015 william 11:08 AM

Elsie is my great grandmother
From Howard Kroplick

William, very cool!

Dec 05 2019 Art Kleiner 11:28 AM

Here’s a picture of Elsie in her real automobile stopping to talk with a horseman.  The picture was from an article in “The Automobile” titled “Woman as Drivers of Automobiles” dated April 19, 1906.  Generally very positive and encouraged women to participate in this new pastime.


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