Little Lotta Crabtree— a red-haired, merry-eyed child blessed with an irrepressible laugh— became a box office attraction in gold rush California before she was eight. Lotta charmed lonely gold miners, and everyone else, with her singing, dancing, and comedy. She learned some of her Irish songs and dance steps from the infamous entertainer Lola Montez, the Crabtree family’s neighbor in Grass Valley. It is said Lotta’s career began the day Lola stood the child on an anvil at a blacksmith’s shop in Rough and Ready, a mining camp, and had her dance before a small crowd. Soon thereafter, she made her first scheduled performance in Mart Taylor’s tavern in Rabbit Creek. Taylor, who also owned a little log theater and dancing school, added jigs and reels to Lotta’s dancing repertoire, and she also mastered the banjo. By age 12, she was a favorite performer in San Francisco. Having made a name in California, at age 16 she played to standing-room-only crowds in New York, where her stage career bloomed. Lotta preferred melodramas with simplistic plots, which afforded wide opportunity for her song and dance routines. In the late 1860s, the “Lotta Polka” and the “Lotta Gallup” was the rage across America. During the 1880s, she was the highest paid actress in the nation; then in 1891, when she was 45, Lotta retired from the stage. The book seller’s daughter who was born in New York as Lotta Mignon Crabtree to English immigrants, died September 25, 1924, leaving a golden thespian legacy and an estate worth four million dollars. March is National Women’s History Month.
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