She used to joke that most dawns came from the east, but she came from the west. Hazel Dawn – born Henrietta Hazel Tout – came from Ogden, Utah, and she never let the world forget that.
Hazel came from a musical Mormon family. Her sister Nannie was an infant phenomenon in the 1890s, singing before enthusiastic Utah crowds. When their father, Edwin, was called as a missionary to Wales, the entire family went along and provided the singing for street meetings.
Following three years’ church service, Edwin Tout moved the family to London where he felt his daughters could receive the best training in both vocal and instrumental music. There Hazel studied the violin as well as voice, and soon found small roles in London stage productions.
Her big break came in 1911 when American producers were searching for the right girl for a play to be called “The Pink Lady.” Their Lady not only needed a creditable soprano voice, she had to play the violin, be young and pretty, and have the right kind of sparkling personality. Someone recommended 19-year-old Hazel Tout, by then using the stage name Hazel Dawn, and the play’s producers brought her from London to New York.
Hazel was an instant success – a “skyrocket,” the papers called her. “A wonderful little woman who can sing a bit, fiddle a bit, dance a bit, and is wholly charming all the time,” read a Philadelphia review. Drama critics found her full of “summer and sunshine and the joy of out-of-doors.”
Although the title character, Hazel’s part had been written only as a supporting role. Reviewers praised Alice Dovey, the intended star, but could not help drawing comparisons to Hazel: “If Miss Dawn had not been in the cast Miss Dovey would have been remarkable. As it was, she was charming.”
“The Pink Lady” became the most popular Broadway play in 1911, and travelers returning from abroad reported that the play’s songs were being hummed in all the European capitals as well. “Pink Ladies” were favorite characters at masquerade parties that year. Hazel found her portrait on calendars, tobacco cards, and the covers of sheet music. Both the Army and Navy football teams claimed her as their mascot – at the same game. One monument to her popularity is the number of little girls born in the 19-teens christened “Hazel Dawn,” as an internet search quickly documents.
“The Pink Lady” played on Broadway for three years. Tickets were in such high demand that Hazel found it nearly impossible to take a vacation: producers were hard put to find a violin-playing soprano to replace her, even temporarily.
Hazel’s younger sister Margaret was slated to play “The Pink Lady” when the play was taken to London; at the last minute Margaret married her Ogden beau, Dr. Emmett Browning, so Hazel went back to London. Her success abroad was as complete as it had been in New York.
Hazel played other successful Broadway roles, although none ever quite equaled the popularity of “The Pink Lady.” She starred in the original Ziegfield Follies and appeared in early silent pictures and in a few “talkies” – look for her in her last role in the 1946 movie “Margie.”
In 1927, Hazel married Charles Gruwell, a wealthy Montana mining engineer; they had two children before his death in 1941. Hazel then went on to a new career as casting director for a New York advertising agency.
Hazel loved New York, but she always claimed that the great eastern city took a back seat to Ogden. “You’ve got all the money and all the artificial skyscrapers here,” she told a reporter, “but out there we have the real skyscrapers, mountains that mingle with the clouds.”
Hazel lived in her adopted city of New York until her death in 1988, at age 98.