NEW YORK (AP) – She began dancing on Broadway while the doughboys were still fighting in France.

In the 1920s, she was Al Jolson’s leading lady, and later was the first to perform “Singin’ in the Rain” – years before Gene Kelly made it a classic.

On Friday, 101-year-old Doris Eaton Travis, a former Ziegfeld Girl, was back on a 42nd Street stage, rehearsing for the 19th Annual Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Easter Bonnet Competition.

“It is very thrilling and very delightful to step out onto that (New) Amsterdam Theater, where my career in musical comedy theater started,” Travis said after working through a little tap dance number with about a dozen high-heeled male hoofers.

“It’s the same old floor that I tapped on.”

The 5-foot-2, silver-haired dynamo, who lives in Norman, Okla., is the featured performer in an opening number for the benefit show, which will have performances on Monday and Tuesday.

Rising from below the stage via elevator, one dancer revels in her sprightly appearance, telling her: “You don’t look a day over 48, honey!”

She then did a few low but graceful kicks with the dancers, swaying and turning around in time to the piano music.

Part of a show business family, she began performing with her brothers and sisters at the age of 5. She was hired by the legendary showman Florenz Ziegfeld in 1918 and danced with the troupe for several years before heading to Hollywood, where she appeared in a number of films. In 1926, she was back on Broadway, starring with Jolson in “Big Boy.”

In 1929, she was a featured dancer at the Music Box Review Theater on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, where she first introduced the song “Singin’ in the Rain.”

The Depression was tough on Travis and by 1936, she became an Arthur Murray dance instructor. She later moved to Michigan, where she eventually operated 18 Arthur Murray franchises. Later, she retired to Oklahoma with her husband Paul, where they operated a ranch for quarter horses.

Since his death in 2000, she has allowed the ranch to be used for people who have one or two horses as pets, and for older horses being put out to pasture. “I call it the Travis Ranch Nursing Home for Horses,” she joked.

Although she quit school as a young woman to perform on stage, Travis enlisted in college in the 1980s and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Oklahoma in 1992.

As with most centenarians, she was asked the secret to her longevity.

“Well I never smoked or drank. My mother was a wonderful cook, so she gave us a good start in life,” she said, adding, “I’m sure that the dancing I’ve done, exercising, has helped me to keep a body that is flexible. And also your mind, you’ve got to use your mind, as I discovered as time went on.”

At 101, she added, “I will admit that sometimes I get a little tired. Once in a while I’ll take a little nap in the afternoon, which I didn’t use to do, but I think I’m privileged to do that.”

Travis was 14 when she started with the Follies (lying about her age to get the gig).

“At the time that I was in the Follies, I didn’t have any idea of what that really meant,” she now admits.

People are still amazed when they learn she was once a Ziegfeld Girl.

“It seems that when people find out about it, they’re astonished; and possibly because I’m still walking around,” she says with a laugh.

All these years later, Travis says dance is the primary thing that keeps her going.

When she moved to Oklahoma, she told her husband their house must have a foyer large enough for dancing. Although her husband and the last of her brothers and sisters have died, she still returns there to remember.

“What I do is go into the foyer at night when everybody has gone, and I have my little Victrola there and I play the records and I dance the foxtrot and the waltz and the rumba, though swaying by myself.

“And some of the older dances that I loved, that my husband and I used to do.”


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