Princess Rajah was a $1000-per-week headliner on the Keith Vaudeville Circuit in the early 1900s who got her start as a cooch dancer in Coney Island in the 1890s. Her Arabian Chair Dance, seen in this 1904 film, as well as her Cleopatra Dance, were described in rave reviews as entirely unlike anything shown on the stage. The dance was filmed by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company on May 23, 1904, at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis. Princess Rajah was a featured act in the “Mysterious Asia” concession on the Pike.
“In her Chair dance, the Princess amazes by her strength, particularly her strength of jaw. Taking between her teeth a substantial looking chair, she swirls and swings through a dance that would be intricate and difficult enough were her head entirely free,” according to a 1915 review in the Boston Daily Globe. “Never does her hand touch the chair, and the feats she performs with it are almost incredible.”
In 1909, Broadway impresario William Hammerstein “discovered” the Cleopatra Dancer at Huber’s Museum on 14th Street. “I had the greatest surprise of my career when I discovered that a genuine artist was being hidden away in a dime museum,” he told the New York Times. “In fact I am at a loss for words to describe this Cleopatra dance. She does not depend upon the undraped figure to reveal her art but uses a peculiar kind of Oriental costume that is a marvel in itself. She uses real snakes, too.”
Two weeks later the Princess, whose real name was Rose Ferran, made her vaudeville debut as the star attraction at Hammerstein’s Victoria Theater on 42nd Street. Heavyweight champ Jack Johnson was also on the bill and was reported to have leaped onto the stage and sucked the venom from her veins when a snake bit her. It sounds like an inspired bit of press agentry but in later descriptions of the Cleopatra Dance, Princess Rajah is said to clutch the snake to her bosom and allow it to bite her when she comes upon a statue of her dead lover Marc Anthony. Then follows a death fall down a flight of stairs that is a thriller, according to reviews. Alas, the Cleopatra dance is not preserved on film.
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August 16, 2011: Video of the Day: “IT Girl” Clara Bow in Coney Island