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Elizabeth Gilfillan, a native of northern Minnesota, made a delightful appearance on “What’s My Line?” in 1952. Bennett Cerf, Dorothy Kilgallen and the rest of the panel were charmed by the wit and energy of the 72-year-old contestant. She fooled the lot and earned $15. Her unique line of work: She taught facial exercises to men and women interested in keeping their skin supple and radiant. Fourteen years later, still radiant herself, the New York entertainer was invited to bring her act to Minneapolis. The Star published this profile on 6B, the “Women’s News” page.
|Gilfillan, 86, demonstrated one exercise, an exaggerated pout guaranteed to keep lips full and youthful. (Minneapolis Star photo by Russell Bull)|
By SUZANNE HOVIK
Minneapolis Star Staff Writer
“The rocking chair goes to and fro.
“And makes you think you're on the go.
“But keep off that ole rocking chair,
“It won't get you anywhere.”
With a toss of her head at the idea of such props for the senior citizen set, an 86-year-old New Yorker sings and dances her way through a new life she created for herself about 20 years ago.
“There's something strange about me,” Elizabeth Gilfillan will tell her audiences, mostly New York women's clubs.
“I'm a woman who doesn't mind telling her age. The older I get, the more valuable I'll be. I can hardly wait until I reach 90. I will do what I do now even better then.”
What Miss Gilfillan does now is an informal act in which she plays the guitar, sings and dances, usually all at once.
And she gives delightful interpretations of humorous verse she has written – “My Eightieth Easter Outfit,” “Who Wants an Old Age Pension,” “No Old Age for Me” and “On Your Rocker.”
These and others were recently published in a book, “Sensible Nonsense.”
In addition to these activities, she also teaches facial exercises, which she developed herself.
She recently completed a visit in Minneapolis with her sister, Mrs. Ernest Meilman, 130 Orlin Av. SE. And she was the guest of honor and entertainer at a luncheon by Mrs. Owen L. Johnson, 3203 E. Calhoun Blvd., who first saw Miss Gilfillan on the television program “What's My Line?” (facial expressions) 14 years ago.
Mrs. Johnson decided this spring to look up Miss Gilfillan and called New York. When the New Yorker said she would be in the Twin Cities in September, Mrs. Johnson made arrangements to meet her.
Miss Gilfillan was born in Minnesota. Her father was a missionary among the Indians in the northern part of the state. She left the state to attend Cornell Medical School, Ithaca, N.Y., and then graduated from the Sergeant School of Physical Education.
“I used to be very shy,” she explained. “I played the piano for a Russian dancing teacher for 46 years. I was beginning to think the job was permanent.
“Then I was asked to give a speech on the school's history. I tried to make it humorous, and I tasted success.”
Miss Gilfillan at the time was 65 years old. “I wanted to entertain so I started preparing myself by taking voice lessons. They say I can be heard two blocks away when I want to be.”
She said she also began exercising to “make myself more presentable.” And she developed facial exercises at this time.
“I had studied at a school of physical training and I felt that if exercises could change the body, it could also change the face.
“As the face ages, the muscles shrink and unsupported skin falls into wrinkles. Exercising the muscles makes them thick again and brings back the original design of the face.”
Miss Gilfillan said she doesn’t claim the exercises perform miracles but most persons can shed 10 to 15 years.
“And if they start in the early 30s, they will never look old.”
She added that another benefit from the exercises is improved circulation which gives the skin color and radiance.
“I teach men too, but they don’t need the exercises. When they get older they look distinguished. Women look extinguished.”
And, she added, “all my pupils are good looking. Otherwise, they wouldn’t bother with the exercises.”
Many thanks to the Rock County Star Herald for granting permission to post this D-Day column by Al McIntosh, the Luverne, Minn., newspaper editor whose work is featured in Ken Burns’ WWII documentary, “The War”. The column was published on June 8, 1944, two days after the Normandy invasion. [Originally posted here on Sept. 7, 2007; reposting to fix outdated links and coding.]
When we sleepily stumbled down the hall to answer the clamorously ringing telephone we made a mental note that it was shortly before 3 a.m. We picked up the receiver, thinking it was Sheriff Roberts calling to say that there had been an accident. Instead it was Mrs. Lloyd Long, playing the feminine counterpart role of Paul Revere, saying “Get up, Al, and listen to the radio, the invasion has started.”
Altho we had written in this column several weeks ago that the news would break between midnight and 5 a.m. we still couldn’t believe that the long awaited “D” Day had arrived. We sat by the radio for over an hour listening to the breathtaking announcements of eyewitness observers of the assault.
And then we went back to bed — to lie there for a long time, wide eyed in the darkness — thinking, “What Rock County boys are landing on French soil tonight?”
Please Lord, may this not be another Dieppe.
And so the invasion news came to Luverne, quietly. There were no whistles, no sirens. People got up and automatically turned on their radios to get the biggest news in all the world’s military history. There were no demonstrations — not much was said. The coffee shops were filled almost to standing room as the 10 o’clock news approached, Argus Leader “extras” were grabbed up like hotcakes and eagerly scanned. There were sober faces on the men as they listened to the news but there was a smile of exultation when they heard that the Allied forces had penetrated ten miles inland. One mother dropped in the coffee shop. She shook her head and pushed the cup of coffee, which had been placed in front of her, aside.
“I just want to listen to the radio,” she said. Her boy, by all the odds, was “there.” One didn’t have to be psychic to know what was in her mind – or her heart. The prayer that she was uttering right then as she listened to the announcer was multiplied a thousand times and more in Rock County countless times during the day.
This is no time for any premature rejoicing or cockiness because the coming weeks are going to bring grim news. This struggle is far from over — it has only started — and if anyone thinks that a gain of ten miles means that the next three hundred are going to go as fast or easy he is only an ostrich.
There’s a War Bond Drive starting next Tuesday. Rock County has a big job cut out for it. But Ned Brown, county chairman, is gambling on the patriotism of you Rock Countians. Ned is starting the campaign where the last one left off — without a single meeting of any of the workers.
“I don’t feel like calling a county meeting of the workers,” he said, “that’s asking an awful lot right now when most everybody is busy with their farm work, asking them to take off four hours to come to a meeting.”
Here is the way Ned looks at it — the workers have been thru four previous campaigns — they know their job and what has to be done. There is nothing new he can tell them that they don’t already know. Why should he impose further on these volunteer bond salesmen by taking their time for an organization meeting when they will have to give so much time during the drive?
With a man having so much faith in the people of Rock County we can’t afford to let them down. Just remember this — some of those boys who are battling ahead in France will never “get back” but you’ll get every dollar you invest
“back” and with interest too. It’s “better to buy bonds than to wear them.”
And another thing — the Red Cross has received a terrific quota for surgical dressings. These are needed — and will be needed. Let not any woman in Rock County think that she isn’t needed in this effort. Your help may save a
boy’s life. Need we say more.
|Luverne’s Main Street, 1947: “The War” premiered at the restored Palace Theater in September 2007. (mnhs.org photo)|
Nan Russell Dunnigan in 1914.
Nan Russell Dunnigan, whose work appeared under the byline “The Tribune Girl,” wrote hundreds of first-person feature stories for the Tribune between 1907 and 1914. She interviewed Sarah Bernhardt, Ethel Barrymore, John Philip Sousa, Booker T. Washington and Sir Robert Baden-Powell. She had a frosty encounter with Isadora Duncan. She attempted to interview Maude Adams, but found the popular “Peter Pan” actress to be “interview proof.”
Dunnigan took on a variety of other assignments. She made police and fire checks. She interviewed politicians and businessmen. She worked as a “Salvation Army lassie” for a day. She led Minneapolis orphans on an outing to Lake Minnetonka. In her final months with the Tribune, she traveled to Europe and filed reports from London (where she got lost), the Vatican (where she enjoyed an audience with Pope Pius X) and Belgium (which she didn’t enjoy one bit).
Her last piece appeared in September 1914. Three months later, on Christmas Day, she married George F. Authier, private secretary to Minnesota’s governor, Joseph Burnquist. Authier had just secured a new job as the Tribune’s Washington correspondent, and the newlyweds soon headed east. The Tribune Girl apparently hung up her notebook and pen. No further stories by Nan Russell Dunnigan or Nan Authier turn up in a Google search.
|The Tribune Girl chatted with the chief, left, and his first assistant, Michael Hanley.
|Fire Chief Canterbury in his courthouse office in about 1900. (Image courtesy of mnhs.org)
|A Minneapolis fire engine and crew paused for a photo at 3rd Street and 6th Avenue S. in about 1905. (Image courtesy of mnhs.org)
A century before Google and YouTube and Facebook, it was much easier for a person to erase the memory of a public humiliation and emerge years later as a respected professional in the city in which the humiliation was widely reported and discussed. The Minneapolis Tribune provides Exhibit A, recounting the fall and rise of one Lillian M. Knott without connecting the dots:
|The Tribune's sad account portrays Miss Knott as a singer of considerable talent who was once understudy to Camille D'Arville, above. D'Arville was a noted figure in American comic opera in the late 19th century. Her name turns up dozens of times in a Google search. Knott? Not so much.|
|The Minneapolis workhouse at 50th and Lyndale Avenues N. in about 1902. (Image courtesy mnhs.org)|
THE NEXT DAY, the Tribune reported that Knott had been released from prison and was on her way home to Terra Haute. A number of sympathetic Elks had raised $40 and paid her fine. Before her release, she met with the grand jury and repeated the story she had told the Tribune, describing with “graphic emphasis the details of the alleged theft” and denying “as firmly as ever” that she had stolen the garment.
Several supporters materialized and appealed to the judge to drop the charge, but he was unmoved: “If the accusation were a true one, as I believe it was, this young woman has received no more than her just deserts. The testimony of the police is that she has been leading a dissolute life and been consorting with disreputable characters for some time.”
Music educator Lillian M. Knott in 1915.
SIXTEEN YEARS LATER, on Sept. 19, 1915, the Minneapolis Tribune trumpeted the appointment of Lillian M. Knott as director of the public school music department of the Northwestern Conservatory. This Knott had spent the past five years at Tulane University in New Orleans, leading the school’s “public school music department,” and the past 10 years leading a summer program for Louisiana teachers.
It’s unclear if it’s the same Miss Knott. The story doesn’t mention a background in opera, let alone an arrest in Minneapolis so many years before. But it does note that she “received her musical education in the New England Conservatory,” which matches the claim of the penniless prima donna. Seems unlikely that two women named Lillian M. Knott earned a music degree in the same city about the same time and later found work in Minneapolis. What do you think? Perhaps someone with full access to Ancestry.com can settle this.
Radiolab used a 1920s jump-rope rhyme to introduce a recent piece on Lincoln Beachey, “one of the most famous men you’ve never heard of”:Lincoln Beachey thought it was a dreamTo go up to heaven in a flying machine.The machine broke down, and down he fell.Instead of going to heaven he went to . . .Lincoln Beachey thought it was a dreamRenowned as “the world’s greatest aviator” in the early 20th century, Beachey was a barnstorming stunt pilot who invented many of the daring maneuvers performed at aerial shows today. His feats were seen by millions of people from San Francisco (where he “bombed” a fake battleship) to the White House (which he dive-bombed in another mock attack). More than 200,000 people are said to have witnessed his final flight at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in March 1915. The strain of a new maneuver tore the wings off his monoplane, and the fuselage plunged into San Francisco Bay. Strapped into the cockpit, he drowned before rescuers were able to reach the wreckage.Beachey performed at least four times in the Twin Cities. Here’s an account of his show at the state fairgrounds in July 1914, eight months before his death.
Ace pilot Lincoln Beachey was evidently a snappy dresser.
Barney Oldfield with his trademark cigar.
With Barney out of the way, Beachey was announced and the crowd loosened up its wilted collar and prepared for a careful survey of the upper regions. Then the famous machine was wheeled out by a bevy of young men eager to touch the hem of the Beachey garment. Following was the sunburned little rough rider of the sky who has flown around the capitol at Washington; under the suspension bridge at Niagara Falls, who won the New York to Philadelphia air race, who has been farther above the earth than any living American and who has done things in the sky that make most people dizzy to think about. The hero-worshippers in the pilot’s wake started the Gnome motor buzzing near the pole in front of the grandstand and some half-hundred railbirds were chased off the fence by the breeze from the blades and the accompanying dust.
The Minnesota State Fair grandstand in 1915. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)
Two months later, Beachey and Oldfield were back in Minnesota for another performance at the fairgrounds. This ad -- at least, I'm pretty sure it's an ad -- appeared in the Minneapolis Tribune.