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OSCAR, GUSSIE

OSCAR, GUSSIE (1875–1950). Gussie Oscar, pianist, conductor, and controversial general manager of the Waco Auditorium, was born in 1875 in Calvert, Texas, to Rudolph and Ella Oscar, the owners of Casimir's Opera House and the Grand Hotel. She was the youngest of three children. Although she was Jewish, she was educated in an Austin convent school. She first supported herself by playing the piano at weddings, churches, dances, and theaters and toured with plays and orchestras. Throughout her life she lived unconventionally, traveling unchaperoned, living in hotels instead of private homes, and socializing with entertainers and performers. She moved to Waco in 1905 and played in the orchestra for vaudeville and operettas at the Majestic Theatre and the Waco Auditorium.

Waco had become a resort known for its artesian waters, and Gussie Oscar eventually settled permanently into the honeymoon suite of one of its fine new hotels, the Raleigh. By 1911 she was the conductor of an all-woman orchestra at the Majestic, and in 1913 she was May Irwin's accompanist on a tour of the Western states and Canada. Later she was one of few women elected to membership in the International Alliance of Theatrical Employees. After becoming manager of the Waco Auditorium in 1915 she brought nationally known performers to Waco, including Anna Pavlova, John Philip Sousa, Jascha Heifetz, Harry Houdini, Will Rogers, and the Marx Brothers.

She became controversial during the 1920s when, for financial reasons, she defied Waco's Sunday closing law and censorship board to schedule increasingly racy acts on Sundays. Arrests, including hers, and forced closings led to a boycott of Waco by touring companies and eventually to the closing of the auditorium in 1928. Nevertheless, Oscar booked acts at the Cotton Palace Coliseum and Waco Hall until her death on February 7, 1950. She was buried in the Hebrew Rest Cemetery.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Catherine Rife Porter, The Waco Auditorium and Gussie Oscar, 1899–1928 (M.A. thesis, Baylor University, 1980. Waco Tribune–Herald, April 2, 2007. Patricia Ward Wallace, A Spirit So Rare: A History of the Women of Waco (Austin: Nortex, 1984).

Patricia Ward Wallace

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Patricia Ward Wallace, "OSCAR, GUSSIE," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fos13), accessed July 22, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on June 14, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.