Thriller Thursday: Elsie Janis and “That Fascinating Baseball Slide”

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Elsie Janis (Beerbower) in the April, 1913 magazine, "Theatre"- 'At Home' section. There, Vol. 17, No. 146, Page 225, via Archive.org.
Elsie Janis (Beerbower) in the April, 1913 magazine, “Theatre”- ‘At Home’ section. “Theatre,” Vol. 17, No. 146, Page 225, via Archive.org.

Helbling Family, Beerbower Family (Click for Family Tree)

While some of our dear readers may not actually consider this to be a real thriller like some of the wild movies or tv shows that are out there today,  today’s post does at least have a “whodunnit?” component. And then there is the thrill of research, though sometimes gone too far… (maybe).

As has been mentioned previously on the blog, Elsie Bierbower (1889-1956) was the cousin of Anna May Beerbower (1881-1954), who married William Gerard Helbling. Anna May was the daughter of Edgar Peter Beerbower (1849-1916), while Elsie was the daughter of John Eleazer Bierbower (1858-1929). Elsie went by “Little Elsie” in her child-star years, and then used “Elsie Janis” as her stage name.

Elsie started her career in vaudeville and on the stage, but eventually added audio recordings and later movies. “That Fascinating Baseball Slide”- AKA just “Fascinating Baseball Slide,” was her first recording, in 1912.

Add for new Elsie Janis records in 1912, published in The Gazette Times (Pittsburgh, PA), page 7, column 6, via Google Newspapers.
Ad for new Elsie Janis records in 1912, published in The Gazette Times (Pittsburgh, PA), 28 December 1912, page 7, column 6, via Google Newspapers.

Those of us who grew up with piles of records alongside our turnables- actually called ‘record players’  at the time, ‘turntables’  probably later in the 70s- know that the name in parentheses under the title is the name of the songwriter. This record shows that Elsie wrote the song, as well as sang it with an orchestra.

Label from "Fascinating Baseball Slide" by Elsie Janis, 1912, via Library of Congress.
Label from “Fascinating Baseball Slide” a 10″ record by Elsie Janis, 1912, via Library of Congress. (Click to enlarge.)

A number of websites and other resources state that Elsie wrote the song.

Imagine the surprise when this result popped up in a search:

Copyright record for "That Fascinating Baseball Slide," in Catalog of Copyright Entries, Part 3, Volume 7, Number 1, Page 484, via GoogleBooks.
Copyright record for “That Fascinating Baseball Slide,” in Catalog of Copyright Entries, Part 3, Volume 7, Number 1, Page 484, via GoogleBooks.

I have been unable to find this song with Elsie as author, with or without the word “That” in the title, listed in the official copyright books printed by the government. (There were, however, many other entires of Elsie’s songs and screenplays in various government volumes.) The copyright of 20 April 1912 fits well with when the record was released, but finding a copy of the ‘Crescent music co.’ sheet music has been challenging. Additionally, finding H. S. Wittmaak in more than the copyright entry books has been unsuccessful. (Wittmaak did write other songs that were listed in the copyright books.)

Elsie was just 23 when this song came out, but she had been a huge star for many years. Did she really write “Fascinating Baseball Slide”? Or possibly she purchased the song from H.S. Wittmaak and paid for the right to list it as her own? Maybe she rewrote the song to some extent?

One more interesting tidbit- our leading picture shows Elsie sitting at the piano, reading sheet music. Surprisingly, in an article published in Liberty magazine later in her life, she stated that she did not know how to play the piano! She likely did know how to read and write music, however, if she was a songwriter and singer.

So that’s our “whodunnit”- hope you found it thrilling for this Thursday.

 

Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. Hear the song “That Fascinating Baseball Slide” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84aPkozicqk
  2. Library of Congress version of song– https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox.2903?#
  3. The song is also on a 2009 CD of Elsie’s music, called, “Sweetheart of the A.E.F.” by Archaeophone. It has 24 songs, including this one. Eight songs are also available on iTunes, as is one of her books and a movie that she helped write. The CD used to be on iTunes, but is no longer; I was surprised when the lyrics were noted as ‘explicit’- turns out some are racist, sadly- just FYI.
  4. Discography of American Historical Recordings, s.v. “Victor matrix B-12527. Fascinating base-ball slide / Elsie Janis,” accessed July 20, 2016, http://adp.library.ucsb.edu/index.php/matrix/detail/200012723/B-12527-Fascinating_base-ball_slide.
  5. “McCreery and Company- New Victor Records for January- Elsie Janis Records” in The Gazette Times (Pittsburgh, PA), 28 Dec 1912, page 7, via Google Newspapers–  https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=JBZRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=F2YDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5333%2C742293
  6. “Is Elsie Janis Guided by Her Dead Mother’s Voice?” Liberty Magazine, 28 November 1936, https://archive.org/stream/Liberty_v13n48_-_1936_-_MacFadden/Liberty%20v13n48%20-%201936%20-%20MacFadden#page/n13/mode/2up

 

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