Imagine never being able to crack a smile, smirk or laugh uncontrollably. This was reality for one woman back 100 years ago. Her nickname was “Sober Sue”. She later became a celebrity of sorts around the city.
A prominent American vaudeville house in New York known as ‘The Victoria Theatre’ was her frequent haunt. It was here, where comedians attempted to make this woman laugh. They tried their best but ultimately failed.
The theatre opened up, at the hands of mogul Oscar Hammerstein back during the end of the 19th century. As time passed, Paradise Roof Garden was built above the theatre. Together, this location was later known as Hammerstein’s. This location was managed by Willie Hammerstein from 1904 up until 1914.
The year was 1907 and “Sober Sue” first made her appearance. She was often referred to as “the girl who never laughed.” It wasn’t long before a prize was offered…for anyone who could make this woman smile or laugh even. The reward was $1000 dollars. The prize money, would equal around $26,000 dollars in modern times adjusting for inflation.
This of course lured many folks to try their damnedest to make her laugh. That is a lot of money for those times especially. The audiences even tried to come on stage and make her laugh to no avail. People it seemed grew frustrated with her.
They tried everything including making funny faces or telling their best jokes right to her face. She didn’t even giggle. Word of this spread across the city and eventually further. Professional comedians were up to the challenge and came here from far and wide, trying to make her laugh out loud.
Different theories about Sober Sue began to emerge. Some thought that she was partially blind or deaf. However, the truth about her was finally revealed back in the winter of 1907. She was unable to smile due to facial muscles being paralyzed. The vaudeville act was merely a scam created by Willie Hammerstein who managed Paradise Roof Garden.
To keep his act going he paid Sober Sue $20 dollars a week. She helped draw in crowds and of course profits for him. Some crowds that came packed the place during some weeks. Willie Hammerstein lured these talented comedians here to perform for free. After news of this broke, Willie was never forgiven by these comedians.
Details about her not being able to smile astounded people. It was believed that “Sober Sue” was in fact Susan Kelly. She was believed to have suffered from Mobius Syndrome. This rather rare condition is the weakness or paralysis of multiple cranial nerves.
These theories about her were speculation ever since. One of her lasting legacies, was her becoming a metaphor for tough audiences to perform in front of. As an example, some reviews of comedies would call the show so funny, that “it could make even Sober Sue laugh.”
No known photograph of her actually exists so far. However, people can speculate.
(Source: Bored Panda)