Elise Janis was a singing and dancing star of Broadway and London musicals and the advanced areas of World War I.
Born Elsie Janis Bierbower in Columbus, Ohio, in 1889, she soon became a child star at the age of 8, billed as Little Elsie and playing Little Lord Fauntleroy roles. Three years later, she made her Broadway debut in the old Casino Theater Roof Garden. For several years she toured the nation in vaudeville as a teenage headliner. She delighted audiences with her great gift of mimicry imitating Sarah Bernhardt, John Barrymore and other matinee idols of the day.
In 1906, Janis became the toast of Broadway in "The Vanderbilt Cup," her first great success.
She made her London debut in 1914 in "The Passing Show" and won over English audiences as the first shots were fired in World War I. She was deeply stirred by the war. Her fiance, British actor Basil Hallam, was killed in the first months of the conflict when he jumped from a balloon and his parachute failed to open.
After the U.S. entered the war, she became the first American entertainer to go to France. She and her mother had passes to the advanced areas and for nine months she sang and danced for soldiers where she found them. The doughboys worshiped her and crowned her the Sweetheart of the AEF.
She was a movie pioneer, writing and starring in such early silent hits as "The Regular Girl" and "The Imp."
Her devotion to her mother was known throughout show business and she refused to marry until after her mother's death in 1932. On New Year's Eve of that year, Janis made headlines by marrying a man 16 years her junior, Gilbert Wilson.
Janis published magazine articles, books and an autobiography. She also composed more than 50 songs.
During World War II, she was again drawn to American soldiers and was a frequent visitor to the bedsides at the Veterans Hospital on Sawtelle Avenue in West L.A.
Mary Pickford, who was at the bedside of Janis when death came said, "This ends the vaudevillian era." Pickford added, "She was certainly one of the greatest entertainers of all time."