Valeska Suratt was born in Owensville, Indiana on June 28, 1882 to parents of French ancestry. She moved from Terre Haute to Indianapolis, where she worked at a department store in 1899 before moving to Chicago in 1900 to pursue an acting career. She appeared in vaudeville before debuting in Broadway in 1906 in the musical The Belle of Mayfair. The following year she starred in Hip! Hip! Hooray! She became known for voluptuous movements and her very expensive glamorous costumes and gowns, some of which are said to have cost up to $25,000. Some magazines of the time called her the most elegant woman on stage. Her third Broadway musical, The Girl with the Whooping Cough, was cancelled shortly after its debut in 1910 by New York City mayor William Jay Gaynor who claimed the show was too sexually suggestive. From 1915 to 1917 she moved on to movies and made 11 feature films all of which are considered lost today. In the late 1920s her fame waned and she quickly disappeared from public view, never to return. Suratt died in a Washington DC nursing home on July 2, 1962 at the age of 80.
Valeska Suratt married twice but had no children. In 1904 she married William J. Flannery (1869-1950) better known by his stage name Billy Gould. Gould had been one of her first partners on the Chicago scene and together they created an act where Valeska performed several exotic dances including an Apache dance. They divorced in 1911 and that same year Suratt married Fletcher Norton. They remained married until his death in 1941.