There was more to R.C. Mudge than just making paper garments. He enjoyed music, acting, and giving to those less fortunate than himself. In 1889, he printed a piece of piano sheet music titled “The Paper Vest Gallop” composed by J.E. Fancher from the sulphite paper used to make his paper garments. He gave out free copies to anyone in the Port Huron community who requested one. At the time, the cost of a piece of sheet music was 50 cents. Today, that would equate to $12.50. The sheet music survives and is part of the Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection at the John Hopkins Sheridan Libraries & University Museums archive. In addition to printing off and giving out free music, Mudge was praised many times by the Port Huron community for donating paper blankets to the Port Huron Hospital and Home Association and paper vests to local mail carriers.
Before R.C. Mudge started making paper garments, he performed briefly on the vaudeville stage. He gave up acting when he and his wife, Delphine, had their daughter, Generva Delphine, who went by the name Eva. Little Eva Mudge shared her father’s artistic inclination and love of music.
In 1890, R.C. Mudge sold his interest in the paper garment business to Henry McMorran and Wilbur Davidson. Together, they reorganized the company under the name The Port Huron Paper Clothing Company. The factory was moved from Butler Street to the Benedict Block on Military Street. Sometime in 1891, Mudge left Port Huron and moved to Brooklyn, New York. By 1893, little Eva Mudge was on her way to becoming a child actress dancing and singing her way into the hearts of New York theater goers.
In 1895, Eva Mudge made her debut on the national stage alongside Sadie Hasson, a very well-known theater actress at the time. Sadie was best known for her theatrical partnership and marriage to actor, Joseph J. Dowling. By the time Sadie shared the stage with Eva, she was newly divorced from Mr. Dowling and nearing the end of her acting career. She retired in 1901 and settled in Mount Clemens, Michigan, until her death in 1937.
Eva ended up catching the eye of Buffalo Bill Cody and she was asked to play a small role in his Wild West Show. She made instant friends with Walter E. Scott, aka Death Valley Scotty, who shot an apple off the top of her head in the show. I estimate she traveled off and on with Buffalo Bill between the years 1894 to 1900. I managed to find a photograph of this Woodland’s beaded deer skin jacket once owned by R.C. Mudge. On the inside collar is a handwritten inscription that reads “Presented to R.C. Mudge, W.F. Cody, October 20, 1894.”
Eva Mudge became a popular vaudeville star in the early 1900’s with her quick change act, “The Military Maid“. During her performance she would change into various costumes to include a nurse, sailor, a confederate solider and Stonewall Jackson. She mesmerized audiences nationally and internationally in this role and she became known as the fastest quick change artist on vaudeville. In her later years, when asked about the mechanics of her quick change secret, she disclosed she had two dressers who could pull a string on the back of her costume that would instantaneously make it fall off.
R.C. Mudge acted as Eva’s stage manager during her vaudeville years. This role led him to form a talent agency in partnership with C.G. Prouty where he managed other vaudeville stars. Mudge was also active in The White Rats and served as their acting President in 1906. The White Rats was an actors labor organization, which began in 1900 to combat the Vaudeville Manager’s Association and the United Booking Office dominance over the profession. At the time, these two organizations held enormous control over the wages of performers.
At the same time that R.C. Mudge was busy managing his daughter’s career, he also held interest in the automobile industry. This time his tinkering mind managed to produce a flue construction patent (patent number 658.114) for steam carriages for the Locomotive Company of America. The Locomotive Company of America started manufacturing steam carriages out of Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1900.
Mudge also showed an interest in electrical engines traveling overseas to view an electrical engine for himself. So it is no small wonder Eva Mudge was the first woman to drive a Waverly electric car in New York and the first woman to race cars competitively.
Later in her acting career, Eva would make the transition to film with parts in a Louis Mayer production, The Famous Mrs. Fair (1923) and Night Song (1947). Eva married Sanford Nelson and her daughter, Ruth Gloria Nelson, was born in 1905.
Ruth Nelson would go on to become an actress and an original member of the Group Theatre in New York alongside Elia Kazan. She would star in his film The Sea of Grass (1947). Ruth made many films for various Hollywood studios. However, she took a long hiatus from acting when her husband director, John Cromwell, was blacklisted in 1951 by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Ruth stood by her husband during this period turning down the opportunity to star in the stage production of Death of a Salesman.
The Mudge family certainly led a colorful life. Originating in Detroit, they passed through Port Huron, New York City, and Hollywood each of them molding their lives by use of creative talent. When I jumped into the world of Henry McMorran, I never imagined I would unlock such rich stories about people like the Mudge family. Every day, I am learning the life of one touches many and personal history research is full of little twists and turns on an interconnected highway.
Among Agents and Producers (October 31, 1908). The New York Dramatic Mirror.
Barrett, A. (2017). 11 Legendary Ladies of Motor Sports [photograph: Genevra Delphine Mudge aka Eva Mudge, circa early 1900s], Nitto Driving Lane website, Retrieved from: https://www.drivingline.com/articles/11-legendary-ladies-of-motorsports/
Burchard Galleries (2009). [photographs: Woodland’s Beaded Deer Skin Jacket, circa 1894 & Buffalo Bill Code, date unknown]. Retrieved from: http://www.burchardgalleries.com/auctions/2009/oct2509/full_catalog_page6.htm
Eva Mudge (n.d.). [photograph: NYPL] Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library. Retrieved from: https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47de-a33c-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Eva Mudge (n.d.) [photograph] IMDb. Retrieved from: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0610942/
Eva Mudge, the “Military Maid”. Performing Arts Archive. Retrieved from: http://www.performingartsarchive.com/Vaudeville-Acts/Vaudeville-Acts_E/Eva-Mudge/Eva-Mudge.htm
Eva Mudge Will Star (January 21, 1895). The Port Huron Daily Times.
Ian Brabner Rare Americana (2018). [photograph: advertising brochure for Nobody’s Claim, circa 1880]. Retrieved from: https://www.rareamericana.com/sadie-hasson/
Larsen, D. J. (2012). [photograph: Sadie Hasson] Legendary Locals of Mount Clemens, Michigan, Legendary Locals, an imprint of Arcadia Publishing: Charleston, South Carolina.
Miss Eva Mudge (January 6, 1903). [photograph: Clever Change Artist], The Detroit Free Press.
Stanley Motor Carriage Company (2011). Locomobile Patents: Flue Construction for Steam Carriages – Richard C. Mudge. Retrieved from: http://www.stanleymotorcarriage.com/patents/Locomobile%20Patents.htm
Miss Eva Mudge (February 6, 1900) [photograph: newspaper clipping]. The Olsburg Gazette.
Nickel Battery for the Electric Automobile (July 14, 1901). The St. Louis Republic.
Palazzo, R. (2017). Scotty’s Castle, Arcadia Publishing: Charleston, South Carolina.
President’s Report. Port Huron Hospital and Home Association. (December 19, 1889). The Port Huron Daily Times.
Seagrave, K. (1944). Actor’s Organize: A History of Union Formation Efforts in America 1880-1919, McFarland & Co., Inc: Jefferson, North Carolina.
Social News. (November 13, 1889). The Port Huron Daily Times.
The Paper Vest Galop (August 21, 1889). The Port Huron Daily Times.
The American Vaudeville Museum Archive (n.d.). Sadie M. Faren and A. Harry Chick Vaudeville Collection, [1914 White Rats Union Card photograph]. Retrieved from: http://speccoll.library.arizona.edu/collections/vaudeville/items/white-rats-actors-union-dues-card-2/
Wikipedia (2018) Locomobile Company of America. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locomobile_Company_of_America
Wikipedia (2018). Locomobile Company of America. [photographs: Locomobile steam carriage model, circa 1900 & Locomobile stream carriage, section view, circa 1900]. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locomobile_Company_of_America
Wikipedia (2018). Ruth Nelson, [photograph, Group Theatre]. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruth_Nelson_(actress)
Wikipedia (2018). White Rats of America, [1915 White Rats Program Cover photograph]. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Rats_of_America