She is the symbol of the mysteries and misinformation surrounding the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake. Her name is at the top of the memorial stone at the Rural Cemetery, but it is not her real name. She is buried with a child who was supposedly hers, but more likely was a girl she never saw. The only person who knew her fled without telling anyone how to contact her loved ones, leaving her remains unclaimed in a mass grave.
All we know about her with complete certainty is that she died during the April 18, 1906 earthquake in Santa Rosa, California. On the death certificate she is named Mrs. Cecile Heath. On the newspapers death lists she appeared usually as “Miss Excelsa,” which was a misspelling of her vaudeville stage name; the earthquake came the morning after her second performance at the town’s tiny theater.
I’ve been seeking more information about Miss Excelsa for over five years, off and on, combing old newspaper microfilm, theatrical playbills and official documents, always drawn back by the pathos in her story and because it is the last major untold tale of the disaster. I was also intrigued because unexpected secrets and mysteries kept coming to the surface as I dug deeper.
There are three people involved: Miss Excelsa, her husband, and her stage partner. The life of one of them (Excelsa) has an end but no origins that can be traced; we know when her husband was born but have no record of what happened to him; for her partner’s story we have a middle but no beginning nor end. Never have I encountered a personal history with so many different loose and mismatched threads.
Some time ago I promised myself I would wrap up the search and write a piece once I found pictures. Well, I’ve found pictures.
With the caveat that there are still more caveats in this tale than make me completely comfortable, here is the executive summary: On the day of the earthquake her name was Mrs. Excelia George (“Cecile Heath” was provided to the coroner by W. A. Douglas, the stage manager at the Oakland theater where she had performed a few weeks earlier). The whereabouts of her husband, and whether they were still married or he was indeed living, is still unknown. Her stage partner – who left Santa Rosa quickly after the quake, leaving Excelia’s identity a mystery – was her husband’s ex-wife, having obtained a divorce several years earlier after he abandoned her for Excelia.
“FRED HEATH” is at the core of our story, having married both women and introduced them to his unusual performing act. He was born Frederick P. George in 1866 or 1867 in Pittsburgh, the son of a day laborer. His appearance as a three year-old in the 1870 census is the only official document that can be found for any of them – aside for Excelia’s death certificate with the wrong name.
(RIGHT: “Fred Heath,” National Police Gazette, September 2, 1899)
Years later, Fred told a magazine he began performing when he was only about twelve. In the theatrical trade papers the team called Heath and Latta can be spotted performing “gun spinning” and “drill exercises” in the early 1880s. It was essentially the same act that Fred would later perform with his two wives.
Gun spinning was simply a kind of baton twirling using a rifle, and the gun was probably always loaded with blanks for a bang-up finish. It was called an “Arabian” or “Turkish” act because it was introduced to America by acrobatic troupes from the Middle East (usually Morocco, Syria, Algeria or Lebanon) performing in circuses, amusement parks and vaudeville programs – you can see it on YouTube in the 1899 “Arabian Gun Twirler” short film. The performance also usually included a sword fight.
Besides gun spinning, the act performed by Fred and his wives likewise included mock combat with swords and rifles with bayonets. While their performance evolved over time to include comedy, it remained identified as an “Arabian” novelty act; the Oakland Tribune used the shorthand of “Arabians” to describe Excelia and her partner just a month before the 1906 earthquake. It’s also possible they routinely darkened their skin or used makeup to appear more “Middle Eastern” in sync with American racial presumptions.
The Heath et. al. act also included a Zouave drill, which continued their military-Arabian theme. Many kinds of 19th century infantry regiments were called “Zouave,” but in the popular imagination of Fred’s day it specifically meant the Algerian Arabs who wore elaborate colorful uniforms. The Zouave drill was a high speed, high precision rifle drill – there’s a period film of Zouaves in Buffalo BIll’s Wild West Show also available on YouTube. For Fred and his partners it provided an excuse to have a great costume as they did more stunts with their firearms.
The partnership of Heath and Latta broke up in 1884, when Fred was about eighteen (nothing at all can be found about Latta’s gender or age). The new team of Lynch and Latta called themselves “Champion Zouave Drill Artists of the World” with the male-female partnership of De Rossett and Heath continuing the drill and bayonet combat routine. All four worked together for a couple of years in the touring stage spectacular “Michael Strogoff,” which was a popular adaption of a Jules Verne potboiler. A biographical sketch claimed Fred married in 1885, which is about the time he was first mentioned in the trade press along with Marie de Rossett.
MARIE DE ROSSETT was Fred’s wife and longest stage partner, but nothing can be found about her before they teamed up to twirl. If this was her introduction to showbiz, it must have seemed an appealing way of life; for the next five years they had steady work with established touring companies. After the Michael Strogoff troupe they performed with an opera company; in 1889 they even ventured to form the “Humpty Dumpty Specialty Company.”1
(RIGHT: “Marie De Rossett” Boston Sunday Post, October 27, 1907)
The next major sighting of the pair appears in “Old Slack’s” theatrical memoir, where he mentioned Heath and DeRossett were part of The Sam T. Jack Creole Company, a famously all-black burlesque show.2 Their involvement with the group seemed to be evidence one or both of them were African-American – and most likely Caribbean, because Sam T. Jack had prominent Cuban connections. But newspaper reviews mentioned there was an “Egyptian pastimes” portion of the show, where Marie and Fred were presumably wearing “Arabian” makeup on stage. (The memoir also includes a fun description of the couple using their rifles to guard the entrances to the owner’s private railway car while a hot poker game was underway.)
But the easy life was coming to an end. They were hired for a few weeks to be part of “Pain’s Last Days of Pompeii,” an outdoor pyrodrama with fireworks in Harrisburg, PA (more about the spectacle here) followed by a few months as part of the Night Owls Beauty Show. That was a true burlesque show, which in that era was a cross between the American minstrel show and Parisian follies, featuring women who flashed a bit of petticoat or stocking and performed some form of can-can dance. It also included women dressing up as men – particularly as soldiers – which was popular in 1890s burlesque because it provided a reason for them to wear tights on stage; there’s a poster of a Night Owls performer in a military costume much like the kind worn by Marie and Excelia.
Thus far it was easy to chase the pair at their various engagements because they were frequently mentioned in the press, at least in passing. But in the spring of 1892 a year-long gap began. Did Marie have a baby? Was someone ill? No, a large ad the following year announced they had experienced a “grand success” in Europe. (Most vaudeville performers didn’t bother with actual continental tours and only lied about appearing before kings and queens – which if all were true, the poor royal dears would not have had time for a wink of sleep.)
The billing for 1893 was reversed: Marie was now the “first and only female soldier in the world,” and assisted by Fred. They apparently expected to make quite a splash; they were quite wrong. They appeared in New York but were listed far down on the vaudeville bills, and then toured smaller cities such as Milwaukee and Buffalo. For the next two years they disappeared again from mention in the trade press – possibly they resorted to working the Humpty Dumpty shows, or other productions that required soldiering. Then in 1895, a small classified ad appeared in the top vaudeville newspaper: “WANTED An Expert Gun Driller for Partner.” The ad was placed by Fred Heath. He never performed with his wife again.
Marie De Rossett returned to vaudeville as a solo act. From the reviews we find her doing the same stuff – Zouave drill, gun spinning and bayonet work – only now she was doing them alone. She was a member of at least two burlesque companies and may have done some chorus dancing and singing (she was called a “Soubrette” by the reporter covering the divorce). But mainly she was a two-bit performer in two-bit theaters. She had fourth billing of ten novelty acts at the Tuxedo Club in Newark. At another place she had fifth billing, below “Prof. Kreisel’s Dogs, Monkeys and Cats.” On some bills she was not featured at all, just another nobody listed down at the bottom of the ad in tiny print.
Then in 1897 a theatrical bill appeared with a name not seen before: “Excelia, gun juggler.”
(RIGHT: “Mlle. Excelia,” National Police Gazette, December 23, 1899)
EXCELIA was an unusual woman’s name, found mainly in the late 19th century with women who were French or French Canadian. We can’t be positive that was really her name because no records at all can be found, but it was the name she consistently used onstage until just a year before her death. She was supposedly born in Paris (see the Police Gazette bio) in 1876 (death cert.) but without knowing her full maiden name there’s no way to find her immigration documents; most likely the clerk didn’t know what to do with a name like hers and either shortened it to “E.” or badly misspelled it.
And like Fred and Marie, she also can’t be found in the 1900 U.S. census. Knowing the stage manager thought she was called “Cecile,” I looked under all the rocks for that name and stumbled over an assortment of nearly matching Heaths and Georges named Cecelia, Cecilie, Cealea and other variations. Considering the search was not for a John Smith-type name, there were a remarkable number of close calls – there’s even an Excelia married to a Fred at about the right time, but he was a Massachusetts leather cutter and she lived to a ripe old age.
According to the newspaper story about Marie’s divorce, Fred and Excelia began living together in 1897, the same year she appeared on stage as a gun juggler. “Mrs. George charged that he had conducted himself improperly with another young actress at a Third avenue theatrical boardinghouse. He won this gay soubrette for his own, and made her his stage partner.” No mention was made of when Marie and Fred separated, but he began performing with Excelia just a few months after her juggling debut.
Fred and Excelia’s act was more than Zouave drill and twirling; now they were promoting themselves as comics and sharpshooters. Reviews can be found praising their “transformation scenes” and her marksmanship, but the comedy aspect was not described. Given vaudeville’s fondness for slapstick, it’s easy to imagine the scenario might have involved him portraying a gruff drill sergeant while she was the insouciant private, similar to the opening of Charlie Chaplin’s 1918 comedy, Shoulder Arms.
Marie’s divorce was granted, and later in 1899 the Police Gazette – sort of the National Enquirer of its day – ran the photos of Fred and Excelia shown here, along with a thumbnail bio of them. Due either to the reporter’s incompetence or Fred’s guile, all mention of Marie was replaced by Excelia. It has them marrying in 1885 (when Excelia would have been nine) and Excelia performing with him in all the touring companies mentioned above. The newspaper article on Marie’s divorce is equally flawed; it’s claimed she was then 21, which would have meant she was only six years old when she and Fred first teamed up to spin guns.
By 1903 the team of Excelia and Heath had been together for a half-dozen years. There’s no question they were more successful than Fred’s partnership with Marie, but that may be due to the steadily increasing popularity of vaudeville. But then in the autumn, they disappear from all mention. Like the situation with Marie exactly a decade earlier, we don’t know if they anonymously joined a touring company, decided to quit, or someone fell sick – or maybe died. The trail of Frederick P. George, AKA Fred Heath, abruptly ends after an appearance that October.
It was an odd couple that first appeared on stage during July, 1905 in a little theater in Connecticut. “DeRossett” was Fred’s first wife, her name slightly altered; her partner was “Excella,” his second.3 Fred was nowhere to be found; perhaps he had moved on to wife number three and quietly retired. Like with the women in this story, research turned up many Fred Heaths and Fred Georges who almost-but-not-quite fit his shoes.
(RIGHT: Novelty Theatre ad, Santa Rosa Republican, April 17, 1907)
DeRossett & Excella apparently reverted back to the old act Marie did with Fred. The few small reviews that exist describe gun spinning, juggling and mock combat – no more mention of comedy and shooting. They called themselves the “Girls Behind the Guns” which adds to the confusion because there was another act, “Clinton & Beatrice lady sharpshooters” which also used that nickname.
Through the theatrical calendar in Billboard magazine we can follow their travels west, ever drawing closer to Santa Rosa: Cleveland before Thanksgiving, South Bend before Christmas, Minneapolis at New Years’. They reached the West Coast two months before the earthquake.
In California they joined the Novelty Circuit, the smallest of all vaudeville chains in the state, with just six theaters. As discussed here earlier, the acts who appeared at Santa Rosa’s Novelty Theatre were usually has-beens or wanna-be’s, those whom were somewhat popular entertainers long ago and those whom were popular entertainers last summer at parties back home. With Marie at the top of the bill and them apparently performing an act that was considered stale a dozen years earlier, they were definitely in the classic-oldies category.
And then this happened: April 18, 1906.
Excelia was instantly killed in the earthquake, a man named Eugene West wrote to one of the vaudeville papers, and Marie was severely injured. Who Mr. West was, and how he came to know these details, is unknown – he was not one of the performers here at the time.
No mention of Marie appeared in the post-quake Santa Rosa papers, so her injuries were apparently not serious enough to delay her from escaping town as fast as possible, leaving others to deal with Excelia’s body and puzzle out her identity. (Even in the chaotic days following the earthquake, some remains were shipped out of Santa Rosa.)
Like the rest of the press, the theatrical newspapers were hungry for any details about the great disaster on the West Coast and as performers fled eastward, they published every scrap of information available. Almost all of the news came from people who experienced the quake in San Francisco. Santa Rosa was ignored except for a letter from Fred Gottlob – another player on the bill with Marie and Excelia – who told his tale of being trapped under fallen beams in the Grand Hotel for several hours.
But while these trade papers churned out lists of every player of every company that was in San Francisco at the time, Excelia’s death merited only a couple of lines in a couple of papers. Her real name was not given; probably no one at the papers knew anything about her, and likely anyone who did know her didn’t see the itty-bitty notices. This may be the greatest surprise in the whole story; the theatrical world was exceptionally clannish, with every sneeze and hangnail reported. (Literally so – while Fred and Marie were in Europe, one of these papers had an item about her tearing off a nail during a performance.) For a member of their fraternity to violently die while on tour and not be memorialized in some way is a shocking oversight.
Our story doesn’t quite end with Excelia’s unmourned death. Most important of what is still left unresolved is the matter of the little girl who came to be associated with her. Was Excelia her mother?
(RIGHT: “Mlle. Excelia,” National Police Gazette, September 2, 1899)
“Miss Excelsa” appeared on the April 19 casualty list, so it was immediately known she had died – but it was never mentioned where it happened. Then on April 21 this item appeared: “The remains of Miss Excelsa, the Novelty actress, and a little girl, identity unknown, were found this morning and taken to the morgue. The body of the latter was taken from the ruins of the Ramona lodging house” (south side of Fourth st. between Exchange avenue and B street). As discussed in a previous article:
|In the casualty list that appeared in the same edition, there were separate entries for “Excelia, Miss, Novelty actress,” and “Little girl (unknown), Ramona Lodging House.” But the following lists counted the child twice – both as “Little girl” and as part of “Excelsa, Miss, Novelty actress and child.” Apparently everyone forgot that the only connection between the two was that they were found on the same day.
The only possible way to tie them together would be to demonstrate Excelia was also staying at the Ramona, and would have been very unlikely. Vaudeville players and other traveling entertainers religiously followed “route books,” which were pocket-sized references that guided them from town to town. They listed important details about the theaters such as size of the stage and what electricity was available (they were divided between AC and DC back then). They told you where to get your clothes washed and where to get your handbills printed. They told you where to stay – and that was almost always a hotel and not a boardinghouse. The 1906 theatrical guide lists the Occidental and Grand hotels, both of which collapsed in the disaster and together caused the majority of fatalities. When fellow performer Fred Gottlob and his wife were trapped under timbers, they were staying at the Grand. Excelia was probably there, too.
Comment is also needed regarding the strange circumstances that came to bring Excelia and Marie together here that fateful morning. For Excelia to form a partnership with her husband’s ex-wife (or maybe, her ex-husband’s ex-wife) seems as if it might have been a mite awkward, particularly since she was named as “the other woman” in bitter divorce hearings. And don’t forget, we’re not talking about two people running a bakery – the partnership in question involved high precision, high speed handling of real guns and real swords. It was a situation where you would not want to have the most fleeting concern the other person might harbor unresolved anger issues.
What they shared – besides a history with Fred – must have been their certainty that this was their best available option. They were mature women, Excelia about thirty and Marie probably a little beyond forty. It was 1906 America, when employment opportunities available to women were hard, menial (usually, both) and certain not to pay very much. But they had mastered this weird skill and already had the props, the costumes, the scenery. So, what the hell. But by the time they reached Santa Rosa, the tour had a depressing familiarity. Fred and Marie were ultimately a flop; on her own Marie was an even greater failure. And here they were on the other side of the continent, playing the smallest hall in the smallest theatrical circuit in the state. Next stop: Mining camps?
Excelia’s death ended their failing partnership, but Marie still did not retire. In 1907 Marie de Rossett, the “Military Maid” and “the Girl Behind the Gun” was again spinning rifles. Her last known booking was September, 1908, at a regional fair in Canada. Then she finally stepped offstage into deeper shadows, which we cannot follow.
|1 Shortly after the Civil War, producers discovered it was much easier to sell out all the seats in theaters by offering vaudeville-like shows aimed at children. “Humpty Dumpty” was the first and most famous of these productions, with Mother Goose characters singing, dancing and pantomiming a story loosely based on nursery rhymes. Featured were spectacular stage effects and crowd-pleasing novelty acts (trick roller skating! dancing monkeys!) plus lots of broad slapstick humor with sly topical jokes slipped in to amuse the parents. The show was an immense money-maker that was revived every few years through the turn of the century, followed by spinoffs such as Humpty Dumpty Abroad, Humpty Dumpty’s Dream and so on. The original play included a Zouave drill and bayonet combat and presumably Fred and Marie were offering a slick drop-in for that segment of the show to theater companies planning to stage Humpty Dumpty.
2 The Sam T. Jack Creole Co. was particularly famous for popularizing the cakewalk and being the first company to present African-American performers not wearing burnt cork on their faces. Multiple references state the company was all black, which was not true; besides occasional white performers such as Heath and De Rossett, the troupe sometimes included Egyptian women who performed “Scenes of Oriental Splendor.” But curiously, the Creole Co. was unable to perform in Louisiana because the troupe contained no actual creoles. One Louisiana paper called for them to stay away because the show’s “‘creole beauties’ is in reality composed of mulatto women and negroes.”
3 We can only guess Excelia tweaked her unusual Christian name to Americanize it for easier pronunciation (was it ExSEElia or Exehluh?) and spelling. If so, it was a mistake; “Excella” was spelled with one L about half the time and then became “Excelsa” in the newspapers casualty lists. Not a single misspelling of “Excelia” could be found during the years she used that as her stage name. It should also be noted that she was identified as Excelia on the April 21 casualty list in the Democrat-Republican. Perhaps this shows there was someone in Santa Rosa who knew her correct name; but as it was so badly misspelled otherwise, it could be a “broken clock is right twice a day” coincidence.
At the Novelty This Week
The program at the Novelty theatre this week proved its popularity Monday evening by the repeated encores given the various participants. The overture by M. R. Samuel was a medley of popular song successes, Colonial Intermezzo, “Prescilla.” This was followed by the moving pictures showing the latest mystery of the “Missing Jewel Casket.” L. Blanche Gilman in the monologue act, “An April Fool,” is a former Santa Rosa girl. She was encored. Dave Yoder was recalled twice to repeat the chorus of “Goodbye Sweet Marie,” as an illustrated song. De Rosette and Excella, the girls behind the guns, gave some sensational work as gun jugglers and fencers. Dainty little Pearl Hickman, in her singing and dancing act as a soubrette, was given a hearty encore. Mr. and Mrs. Gottlob & Co., present their rural comedy sketch, “Government Bonds,” which is a real New England home scene, in a manner to delight all. The closing feature is another set of moving pictures, showing “The Critic at a Vaudeville Show,” which are very entertaining.
– Press Democrat, April 17, 1906
Mr. and Mrs. Gottlob, who were playing at the Novelty theatre the week of the disaster, are safe at Denver. Joe Cowen has received a letter from them written from that place.
– Santa Rosa Democrat-Republican, May 2, 1906
Mr. and Mrs. Fred Gottlob, who were playing in Santa Rosa, state: “We were buried for nearly three hours beneath timber and plastering. The suffering of my wife and myself while waiting for someone to dig us out was indescribable. We were pinned down so that we could not move hand or foot. We were in the Grand Hotel, a three story brick structure, and had been asleep several hours when the shock came. My wife was thrown out of bed into the middle of the floor, but I managed to keep in. The roof and whole building fell in, burying everyone. The timbers and beams were within an inch of my face, and I nearly smothered. My wife, a few feet away, spoke to me, and asked if I was hurt. All about, people were groaning and calling for someone to dig them out. After a time men began digging over us, telling me to keep up courage and that we would soon be safe. The earthquake occurred about 5 o’clock, and it was 8:15 before we were finally taken out. We were not injured except for several bruises, but I never want to go through such an experience again as long as I live. My wife was in a very nervous state, and we had to leave town in avery short time. Before leaving someone took us to a Mr. Carrington, a real estate man of that city and he gave us clothes (for we had on only our night robes) and gave us something to eat. Several hours after the ‘quake, a newspaper was issued in the middle of the street, from one of those little presses. The papers sold like hot cakes. I procured one and will have it framed.”
– New York Clipper, May 5, 1906
Eugene West, of West and Henry, writes: …Miss Excela, of De Rossett and Excela (gun spinners), who were playing the Novelty Theatre at Santa Rosa, was instantly killed, while her partner and Pear Hickman (Soubrette) were severely injured at Santa Rosa.
– New York Clipper, May 12, 1906
DEATHS IN THE PROFESSION
MISS EXCELA, of the team of De Rossett and Excela, female gun spinners, was killed at Santa Rosa Cal. on the morning of the earthquake, April 18. The team was playing the Novelty Theatre in that city.
– New York Clipper, May 12, 1906
Santa Rosa suffered very much by the earthquake and fully two hundred and fifty people were killed or injured. Miss Excella, a performer playing at the Novelty Theatre, was among the unfortunate ones. She was on the team of DeRossett and Excella, and did a gun-spinning act.
– Billboard, May 12, 1906
Pearl Hickman, Santa Rosa–Safe. 855 Grove
– Watertown Daily Times, May 3, 1906
HEATH AND LATTA
…Heath and Latta in drill exercises…
– NY Dramatic Mirror, 1881
…Heath and Latta…
– New York Clipper, January 5, 1884
…Lynch and Latta, in their well-executed zouave drill…
– New York Clipper, January 12, 1884
…Heath and Latta…
– New York Clipper, April 26, 1884
LATTA and LYNCH, The Champion Zouave Drill Artists of the World. Past two season, Andrews’ “Michael Strogoff” Co., assisted by DE ROSSETT and HEATH, Engaged last season as special attraction C. D. HESS ENGLISH-OPERA CO., in Musket and Bayonet Drills, Bayonet Contests, etc., etc. The equal to which haa never yet been placed before the American public.
– New York Clipper, March 12, 1887
HEATH AND DE ROSSETT
Heath and De Rossett and T. G. Scott have organized a new “Humpty Dumpty” Specialty Co., which with twelve people and a uniformed brass band, will take the road Jan. 20 opening in New York or New Jersey. The principals will be Heath and De Rossett and the Scotts (Tom and Lillie).
– New York Clipper, December 28, 1889
The Sam Jack Creole Co., out of Boston in 1890 had the following people: Heath and DeRossett…Old Slack happened to drop into Sam T. Jack’s Creole Car while enroute to Chicago not long since. I had a hard time effecting an en- terance as Heath and DeRossett, with gun and fixed bayonet, guarded both doors, but as they thought I was the subject that was to be sacrificed for the Sun God, at the next stand they let me in.
– Old Slack’s Reminiscence and Pocket History of the Colored Profession from 1865 to 1891
Heath and De Rossett are in their seventh week with Pain’s fireworks at Harrisburg, Pa.
– New York Clipper, July 18, 1890
…a novel military spectacle, entitled “Blue and Gray,” which, besides parading the charms of the hand-some girls of the company, Introduced a number of good specialties. In the olio that followed there were some new features. Fred Heath and Madame De Rosett gave a really remarkable bayonet, drill and combat
– The Times from Philadelphia, November 24, 1891
[Night Owls Beauty Show] Heath and De Passette, besides appearing in “The Blue and the Gray,” gave an exhibition of bayonet and drill exercises which was remarkable.
– Brooklyn Standard-Union March 22, 1892
Miss De Rossett, of Heath and De Rossett, the rifle drill experts who have been making a successful appearance at the Middlesex, England during the past fortnight, met with a painful accident while performing at that establishment, Aug. 31. In the mimic combat with her partner, Miss De Rossett had the nail of one of her fingers torn off. A physician bound up the injured finger but the pain was so excessive that Miss De Rossett fainted twice.
– New York Clipper, September 24, 1892
…Rossett and Heath In combats….
– NY World July 9, 1893
…De Rossett and Heath, who provide a European novelty, consisting of a sensational military drill…
– NY Press July 9, 1893
…Miss De Rossett, the first and only female soldier in the world, assisted by Fred Heath, will present a very original and entertaining military novelty, with muskets, broadswords, and bayonettes…
– The Milwaukee Journal, Aug 5, 1893
Of the vaudeville artists appearing in the theater the most notable are Heath and De Rossett in their realistic military assault-at-arms, with broadswords and bayonetted muskets. Miss De Rossett’s performance is the first of its kind ever attempted by a woman. They come straight from Europe.
– Buffalo Courier, September 25, 1893
EXCELIA AND HEATH
An Expert Gun Driller for Partner
Address Fred Heath, 128 Berriman St., Brooklyn, N.Y.
– New York Clipper, September 28, 1895
(at Proctor’s 23d St.) Excelia, gun juggler…
– NY Dramatic Mirror Aug 7, 1897
…Excelia and Heath, comedy entertainers…
– Buffalo Courier, February. 6, 1898
(Comedy Company) Excelia and Heath are wonders in their transformation scenes; and the shooting by Miss Excelia is well worth seeing
– Yonkers Statesman Jan 17, 1899
EXCELIA AND HEATH.
“Fred” Heath was born in Pittsburg, Pa., and made his professional debut in the same city in 1879 as a gun spinner and juggler under the team name of Heath and Latta. In 1885 he was married and he and his wife, Excelia, who was born in Paris, France, have worked together ever since, having played a part in the “Michael Strogoff” company, Robert Manchester’s Night Owls company, “Sam” T. Jack’s company and many others, as well as the principal theatres in America and Europe. In 1893 they conceived the idea of introducing comedy into their act and it proved to be a grand success. They are at present filling summer engagements at the parks in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey.
– National Police Gazette, September 2, 1899
…Frederick and Excelia Heath…
– NY Tribune February 4, 1900
…Fred and Excelia Heath, comedy duo…
– NY Dramatic Mirror February 10, 1900
…Excelia and Heath, the sensational gun spinners with electrical rifles…
– Chicago Tribune, February 10, 1901
…Excelia and Heath, gun spinners…
– NY Dramatic Mirror January 19 1901
Heath and Excelia have a wonderful reputation for their work with firearms and during the week wil perform many seemingly impossible feats in the line of sharpshooting; also some very difficult juggling with the different weapons used in their act.
– Lockport NY Journal August 23, 1902
…Heath and Excelia…
– NY Dramatic Mirror Oct 3 1903
DE ROSSETT AND EXCELLA
DeRessette and Excella, two Arabians who also carry their own special scenery for a new novelty act, will make their first Pacific Coast appearance at the Novelty and they will no doubt be the talk of the town after their opening Monday.
– Oakland Tribune March 3, 1906
The bill opens with a great novelty act, De Rossette and Excella, “The Girls Behind the Guns,” who do some wonderful gun spinning and juggling that for women is the best seen here in many moons.
– Oakland Tribune March 6, 1906
MARIE DE ROSSETT
…Marie De Rossett gave an idea of her skill in a Zouave drill and bayonet exercise…
– Boston Daily Globe November 3 1896
…Marie De Rossett named as part of Fay Foster Company
– Trenton Evening Times November 20, 1896
…Marie De Rossett named as part of Fay Foster Extravaganza Company as part of “Grand Olio” group
– Boston Sunday Post January 10, 1897
…Marie De Rossett, the champion female gun manipulator in the world…
– Bridgeport Herald February 20, 1898
MARIE GEORGE GETS A DIVORCE
Her Husband Preferred Another Soubrette to His Pretty Wife.
NOT THE CASINO FAVORITE
George Is Now Playing in the West Under the Name of Frederick Heath.
Marie George, not the Casino favorite, but one of the “Gay Masqueraders,” now playing in Brooklyn, tripped into the Supreme Court yesterday in company with a bunch of a dozen or more lively soubrettes, and after relating a touching tale of domestic unhappiness to Justice Nash, she walked out with an absolute decree of divorce tucked away in the bosom of her sealskin cloak.
The former Mrs. George’s stage name is Marie de Rossett. She is a handsome dark-haired young woman of less than 22 years, who has made a name for herself on the variety stage through her beauty and ability to perform difficult “stunts.”
Her former husband’s name is Frederick P. George, who is professionally known as Fred. Heath. Mrs. George charged that he had conducted himself improperly with another young actress at a Third avenue theatrical boardinghouse. He won this gay soubrette for his own, and made her his stage partner.
Mr. George was not in court when the case against him was called. It was explained that he was out in Kansas City, following his profession in company with the young woman whom he seemed to prefer to his pretty young wife.
Mrs. George was the first witness examined. When her counsel asked, “Who are you?” her hat almost jumped from its fastenings as she suddenly threw back her head. Several of the soubrettes in the room began to laugh, and one of them went so far as to volunteer to tell the justice who she was.
Finally the young woman replied: “I am Mrs. Marie George. Do you think anybody else would be suing my husband for a divorce?”
“I hope not,” replied her counsel, and then Mrs. George resumed the history of her life. Again her counsel interrupted: “Who are you? What do you do for a living?”
“Well, I declare,” she smiled, “isn’t it foolish of me? Why I am a–well–I am at present a burlesquer in the ‘Gay Masqueraders.’ I was married to my husband on February 27, 1895, and he left me about two years afterward.”
Mrs. A. Fielding, who maintains a professional boarding-house at No. 363 Third avenue, testified that George had lived in her house with another woman for two years.
Mrs. George’s counsel said she did not want alimony, but the justice allowed her $20 a month, any way, and signed a decree in her favor.
Some of the young soubrettes became so deeply infatuated with the spicy proceedings in the divorce court that they remained for the rest of the afternoon.
– New York Morning Telegraph, January 19, 1899
Judge Nash, of the New York Supreme Court, granted a decree of divorce to Marie De Rosett from her husband, Fred. P. Heath, on statutory grounds. She was represented at the trial by Attorney M. Strassman.
– NY Dramatic Mirror January 28, 1899
De Rossett is introduced and she shows what a woman is capable of doing with a gun.
– Boston Post January 31, 1899
…Marie DeRossett… (4th billing of 10 novelty acts in Tuxedo Club burlesque show “the burlesque is new and not of a trashy order”)
– Newark Daily Advocate October 21, 1899
…Marie DeRossett… (5th billing, below Prof Kreisel’s Dogs, Monkeys and Cats)
– Boston Daily Globe August 10, 1902
…Marie de Rossett the Military Maid
– Boston Post, Oct. 27 1907
…Marie de Rossett, “the Girl Behind the Gun,” went through the manual like a true soldier…
– Boston Post, Oct. 29 1907
…Marie de Rossett Is certainly the champion gun spinner and her act went with great applause…
– The Billboard June 6, 1908
Marie DeRossett (Provincial Fair) Quebec
– The Billboard September 1908