After a night of post-performance revelry, a group of actors and actresses in Kent, England, was discussing a suitable stage name for Hazel Tout, the lovely young Utah woman who had joined their ranks. "Tout" didn't convey the image they envisioned. Just then, the sun came up. One of the party, inspired by the moment, blurted out "Hazel Dawn."
It stuck. By this name, the young lady from Ogden pursued a career on the stage and in America's early movie industry that made her a reputation on two continents.For years, Hazel Dawn had another sobriquet - Pink Lady. It lingered after her starring role in the stage comedy,"The Pink Lady." The show, one of her greatest successes, racked up 316 New York performances before moving to London and then returning to tour leading Eastern cities.
The production started out in 1911 as "Gay Claudine." One of the play's producers, after watching Dawn's audition, reached across the footlights, pinched her cheeks and declared her the perfect "Pink Lady." That was the name under which the play was produced, and it became a trademark of sorts that identified Dawn immediately to theater fans, including her Utah following.
Fame and fortune were rather the rule than the exception for the children born to Edwin Tout and his wife. A Welsh convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Tout recognized and promoted natural talents in his five daughters and one son. When he went back to England as a missionary, he took his oldest, Nannie, along, and she would sing to attract a crowd to whom he would then preach. Nannie and Margaret both became successful opera performers. Another sister, Eleanor, shared the New York stage with Hazel in some productions. All members of the family were musically inclined and encouraged to hone their abilities, whether for public performances or personal satisfaction.
Near the turn of the century, Tout took his talented troupe of youngsters to London where they lived for 12 years, all receiving training in music and the arts. Dawn's first stage performance was in London's Prince of Wales Theater in "Dear Little Denmark." Several other plays followed. A London Times reviewer predicted that the American teenager was an actress "who must not be lost sight of."
Dawn had learned to play the violin under the stern eye of her father, who demanded strict - and lengthy - practices. Ironically, "The Pink Lady" called for a violinist. A professional had been hired to do the job, but Hazel, on a whim, picked up the instrument one day and was idly playing for her own pleasure when the play's director discovered her. She was assigned to do the violin number, and often thereafter incorporated instrumental music into her performances.
In 1926, she appeared with another "violin virtuoso" whose instrument was part of his act - Jack Benny. They appeared together in "Great Temptations," billed as the "costliest revue ever staged." In the production, she introduced Jose Padilla's "Valencia," one of the few show tunes that outlived the era.
Over the 20 years she appeared on the stage and in movies, her name was associated with the greatest show-biz personalities of the era, including all of the famed Barrymores and dozens of others.
The first decades of the 20th century were exciting ones for America's fledgling movie industry. After firmly establishing herself as a successful stage per-for-mer, Dawn decided to try her hand at the new entertainment medium. Her first film role was in a drama called "One of Our Girls." A trade pundit had suggested that the Pink Lady was a comedy actress who couldn't make it in any other genre. After the film was released, he recanted. "This picture fools them all and demonstrates beyond all doubt that Miss Dawn, once she cares to give up her stage work, can step right before the (film) camera and keep working," he said.
Through 1915-16, she appeared in nine more silent films with Adolph Zukor's Famous Players - the precursor to Paramount Studios. It was a staggering workload. Near the end, critics were panning her lack of enthusiasm and a "haggard appearance." The quality of the early films was spotty during this learning period and the mismatches between actors and roles were legend.
A weary Dawn returned to New York in "The Century Girl." Her only repeat in the movies was in "Devotion," a 1921 society melo-drama.
During a bitter strike that pitted the actors' guild against stage managers, she was called on to testify. Famed lawyer Clarence Darrow rep-re-sent-ed the actors. After finding a loophole in her own contract, Dawn gave startling testimony that helped decide the issue in their favor. Fellow actors stood in court to cheer her stellar performance.
Some of her roles when she returned to Broadway were in plays considered a bit risque for the time, such as "Getting Gertie's Garter" and "Up in Mabel's Room."
On one occasion, Gertie's vital be-jeweled garter was missing minutes before curtain time. After a mad search by the entire cast and its support staff, the director appropriated a sleeve garter worn by a stage hand. It was hastily decorated and made its debut forthwith. Afterward, an "understudy" garter was kept on hand just in case.
In a first-person article for theater fans, titled "Naughty Parts in Naughty Plays," Dawn explained her philosophy about such roles. It is the job of an actress, she said, to play such a role with such total innocence that the naughtiness is all in the minds of the audience.
"The audience is always delighted to observe that the actress is saying something that she appears to believe is perfectly innocent," she wrote.
The actress also developed a prodigious ability to turn on tears. In plays such as "Guilty," she got the opportunity to use it. "I can cry whenever I want to. I learned it in the movies," she told a magazine writer.
Her piquant beauty - "the perfect blonde" - had many young men standing in line. One year, she was the mascot for both West Point and Annapolis when they met for their annual football contest. The boys from West Point showed up at the theater where she was appearing and threw their caps into the air, each hopefully harboring a name and address.
She had the perfect excuse for not choosing among them: "I had a father and mother who guarded me like the German army."
Born and bred a Latter-day Saint, she remained actively LDS throughout her career, speaking up frequently in praise of the church's "Word of Wisdom" health code and other practices. She and her sister, Eleanor were proclaimed by one writer to be "the two best ads Brigham Young ever had."
By 1937, when she had been retired for some time, she was found by a reporter to be teaching a Sunday School class of youngsters in the Wiltshire, Calif., Ward with the same verve and perfect diction she had brought to the stage.
In a February 1925 interview with the Boston Traveler, Dawn repeated her vow to leave the stage if she married. About two years later, she acted on the vow, retiring from her career to become Mrs. Charles Gruelle. He had been trying for 16 years to convince her to take the step. They lived for a time on a ranch near Mesa, Ariz., and she later went to California as a widow.
"Theater Arts" reported in September 1959 that Dawn, now a widow and grandmother, was working in the public relations department of the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in New York. The magazine described her as "still bright and vigorous" and still determined to remain retired as far as acting was concerned. Reminiscing was as close as she wanted to get to the theater at that point. Several decades remained for her to relish her memories, as her life stretched to 98 years. She died in 1988.