Lottie Gee, Part 2


Gee was an ideal performer to play the controversial role of a romantic lead in Shuffle Along.  Besides her great talents as an actress and singer, she was fair-skinned with straight hair, which she wore in the popular style of the day.  She could easily have passed for white.  In this way, she fit into the standard for black chorines in general who were expected to be light skinned and conventionally attractive.  Drawing on her conventional good lucks, Gee landed an endorsement deal with “Sophia’s Triple Pomade,” a hair-straightening treatment that promised to “make the most Stubborn, Harsh, or Unruly Hair Lay Right.”  Gee’s photo appeared in advertisements that ran in the African-American press, along with a testimonial letter praising “the wonderful merit of [this] beauty system.”

Lottie Gee endorsing a hair-straightening product, 1922

Once the show hit Broadway, Blake set Lottie up in her own apartment, while continuing to live with his wife.   Eubie was impressed with her talent and theatrical experience, as well as her good looks:

I guess I have to say I was smitten.  When I was at a party and she was there, she acted like she barely knew me.  Called me “Mr. Blake” because, of course, nobody is supposed to know I’m livin’ with her, see.  But she never came near me in public.  Alone though, she called me “Daddy.”  Poor Lottie!  I never bought her a thing!  I put a piano in her house, but just so I could teach her the new songs.  Ten years I spent with that girl…

Eubie’s wife Avis was, in his words, “no dummy,” and soon realized that the pianist was maintaining a separate household with the young starlet.  According to Eubie, when a friend asked Avis how she could put up with Eubie’s philandering, his wife was more than able to stand up for herself:

“Honey, you see that l’il ol’ box on the vanity?  Just go over there and open it.”

Filled with diamonds and emeralds, the visitor found.

“My husband, that no-good nigger gave me those.  Now, baby will you just slide open that closet door and count the fur coats?”


“Kitten,” Avis pursued, “What are you going to do in the morning?

Well, since it was a week-day, she’d go to work.

“Not me, kiddo!”  Avis assured her guest smugly.  “I’m stayin’ right here in bed until I feel like gettin’ up.  That no-good nigger husband of mine bought me those jewels and those furs.  He takes care of me so I don’t have to lift a finger . I don’t have a maid, because I don’t want on around the place, but I’ve got a car and a chauffeur.  I can’t drive, you know.  And I’m gonna worry what the no-good nigger might be doin’ behind my back?  No, Gal, you need to get you a low-down cheater like my Eubie.”

According to Blake’s biographer Al Rose, the two jealous women tried to control Blake’s sex drive in an unusual manner; before he left home, Avis would force him to have sex with her until he ejaculated, and then Lottie would do the same every time Blake was about to leave her apartment.

Avis Blake, c. mid-’20s

The relationship of Gee and Blake created friction not only in his marriage but with his partner Noble Sissle, who took a much more traditional view of the sanctity of marriage—this despite his own affairs with chorus girls.  In an undated letter, Sissle scolds Blake for his extramarital flings, advising him that he’s risking the future of their partnership:

Eubie I hope you have your family troubles straightened out.  Don’t let no other woman break up your home.  The woman you took before Gods sacred shrine as your wife is the only woman in the sight of God and man beside your relatives you have any right to take care of.  Now I have made for myself a name among the best of New York City and I don’t intend to be disgraced by any of your affairs so I give you warning.  Unless you are straight with your wife and decided to let that other woman alone for life as far as living with her is concern than its all off.

Of course, Blake wouldn’t—or perhaps couldn’t—change his behavior to please his persnickety partner.  Sissle’s upbringing as the son of a minister made him appear to Blake to be a humorless scold.  The successful partnership was starting to show the first signs of friction, which would eventually lead to the duo splitting up.

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