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Molly Spotted Elk: A Penobscot in Paris

Overview

This biography chronicles the extraordinary life of twentieth-century performing artist Molly Spotted Elk. Born in 1903 on the Penobscot reservation in Maine, Molly ventured into show business at an early age, performing vaudeville in New York, starring in the classic docudrama The Silent Enemy, then dancing for royalty and mingling with the literary elite in Europe. In Paris she found an audience more appreciative of authentic Native dance than in the United States. There she married a French journalist, but she...

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Overview

This biography chronicles the extraordinary life of twentieth-century performing artist Molly Spotted Elk. Born in 1903 on the Penobscot reservation in Maine, Molly ventured into show business at an early age, performing vaudeville in New York, starring in the classic docudrama The Silent Enemy, then dancing for royalty and mingling with the literary elite in Europe. In Paris she found an audience more appreciative of authentic Native dance than in the United States. There she married a French journalist, but she was forced to leave him and flee France with her daughter during the German occupation of 1940. Using extensive diaries in conjunction with letters, interviews, and other sources, Bunny McBride reconstructs Molly’s story and sheds light on the pressure she and her peers endured in having to act out white stereotypes of the "Indian."

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Editorial Reviews

American Indian Culture and Research Journal
A first-rate documentary in a neglected area of Americna Indian studies, that of Indians in show business.
Cath Oberholtzer
Writing with the poetic cadence of native expression enriched by the expertise of the scholar, author Bunny McBride adroitly choreographs the multifaceted life of Molly Spotted Elk into an engaging tale. Drawing from Molly's numerous diaries, letters, writings, photographs and collection of newspaper clippings, enlivened by interviews, McBride presents a novel-like biography thoroughly researched and grounded by extensive documentary footnotes. . . . The universality of this book will appeal not only to those fascinated with native history, biography and performance, but also to those readers who possess an interest in the crossing of physical, cultural and intellectual boundaries.
Ethnohistory
Helen M. Bannan
McBride succinctly yet evocatively provides the complicated cultural and historical contexts that readers need to understand the significance of Molly's experience. The book is a pleasure to read, demonstrating that complex issues of representation and identity can be addressed without the postmodern jargon that so often obscures academic prose.
American Indian Quarterly
Sandra Varney MacMahon
This well-documented biography slashes stereotypes and inspires even as it displays the racism and discrimination that intrude Indian lives.
New Mexico Historical Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Born on the Penobscot reservation in northern Maine, Molly Spotted Elk (1903-1976) was the oldest of eight children. Because her family was poor, she worked as a domestic helper from the age of 11 until her talent for dancing and singing earned her a place in an Indian performing troupe. Drawing on Molly's diaries (numerous excerpts are printed here) and interviews with family members, McBride, a freelance writer who specializes in cultural survival, provides an engrossing account of Molly's adventurous life. Although she was a successful vaudeville dancer and appeared in the silent film The Silent Enemy (1930), the discrimination she suffered because she was Native American led her to pursue a dancing career in Paris, where she met Jean, a French journalist with whom she had a daughter and whom she eventually married. McBride documents Molly's escape from France during WWII and the suffering she endured after Jean's death. A moving life of a Native American. Photos. (Sept.)
Library Journal
From 1494 on, Native Americans have held a niche in show business while facing special trials. Here, journalist/ anthropologist McBride (Our Lives in Our Hands, Tilbury House, 1991) empathetically reconstructs the life of famed "Indian entertainer" Molly Spotted Elk, using the rare first-hand source of the dancer's own diaries. "Being appreciated on stage did not translate into being appreciated as a friend," writes McBride of the predicament facing Spotted Elk, an independent, ambitious artist whose life was filled with success, illness, and tragedy. Her biography reveals a woman who entered vaudeville at age 14, appeared on Colliers's cover (April 1927), and was a Texas Guinan dancer and docudrama star of The Silent Enemy (1929). (The discussion of this filming is a highlight.) She found her greatest happiness in Paris in the 1930s through acceptance of the authentic Native dances she preferred over vaudeville and in life with her journalist lover, a period that ended in 1940 with a harrowing forced exit from German-occupied France. An intriguing work on a subject that has received little attention; recommended for both lay readers and specialists.-Margaret W. Norton, J. Sterling Morton H.S., Berwyn, Ill.
Bob Diebold
An excellent, well-written, well-researched, engrossing and important book.
The Penobscot Times
Joann W. Kealiinohomoku
The stunning result [of McBride's research] is a model for effective scholarship and felicitous writing. She skillfully incorporates critical theoretical and political issues. Among other things, she indicts the effect of colonialism. But McBride accomplishes these matters gracefully, never breaking the narrative flow. . . . Anyone who likes a gripping tale well told will enjoy this book.
Dance Research Journal
Lisa A. Mitten
This wonderful biography will be invaluable to library collections in the area of Native American Studies, Women's Studies, Performing Arts, and pre-WWII French society. A truly unique book that is highly recommended.
American Indian Library Newsletter
William David Barry
In sharing Spotted Elk's life with us, Bunny McBride tells us much about Penobscot family life and American popular culture while giving an extraordinary Mainer a secure place in history.
Maine Sunday Telegram
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806129891
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/1997
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 1,448,273
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.54 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

Bunny McBride, a writer with an M.A. in anthropology from Columbia University, is an adjunct lecturer at Kansas State University and the author or coauthor of numerous articles and books.

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