MOLLY SPOTTED ELK: A Penobscot in Paris by Bunny McBride

MOLLY SPOTTED ELK: A Penobscot in Paris

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The absorbing story of a Penobscot Indian who achieved some fame in vaudeville, dancing, and the movies in the 1920s and '30s. Molly Nelson was born in 1903 on Indian Island in Maine. The eldest of eight children, she became a surrogate mother to her younger siblings, and when she was only a child she contributed to the family finances by cleaning floors, selling trinkets, and performing for tourists. She eventually went professional, billing herself as Princess Spotted Elk with various vaudeville and Wild West shows, in between attending high school and the University of Pennsylvania. Throughout the 1920s, Molly supported herself by dancing and singing in speakeasies and modeling for artists. In 1929 she was offered the lead in The Silent Enemy, a movie that attempted to counter the savage caricature of then-popular Westerns. But though it was a critical success, talking pictures had become all the rage, and The Silent Enemy's silence was its downfall. Molly soon traveled to France with the US Indian Band for the 1931 Colonial Exposition in Paris. Impressed by the French people's egalitarianism and by their interest in her native culture, she chose to remain in France, becoming a sort of minor Josephine Baker (though considerably less notorious). She had a daughter with French journalist Jean Archambaud, whom she later married. Unfortunately, while Molly and their daughter escaped German-occupied France, Jean was unable to obtain an American visa and died in 1941, an ocean away from his wife and child. Molly lived until the age of 73, but she never recovered the joie de vivre that had once been her signature. Enriched by Molly's diaries and by freelancer McBride's interviews with those who knew her, this is a first-rate telling of an unusual life story.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0806129891
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Univ. of Oklahoma