“Chin Chin” at the Victoria Theatre, Steubenville, Ohio
By Don Taylor
We know that Chin Chin played on April 5 at the Sandusky Theatre in Sandusky, OH on April 5th and played at the Faurot Opera House in Lima, OH on April 6th. We don’t know if the show was on holiday Wednesday and Thursday, or not, but they resumed playing Friday, April 9th at the Victoria Theatre.
The Steubenville Herald-Star began speaking about the coming attraction on April 3 in their “AT THE THEATRE” Column on Page 5. They wrote:
Melodious, artistic and diverting is “Chin Chin”, scheduled for the Victoria theatre Friday night, April 9th. To Walter Wills and Roy Binder are entrusted the principal parts, supported by a company of clever comedians and a beautiful chorus. In their songs, “The Chinese Honeymoon”, “Go Gar Sig Gong-Jue” and “Temple Bells’, the two clever comedians Wills and Binder make a decided hit and are always recalled again and again. In this charming fantasy with a Chinese atmosphere there are also a score of other songs that are the fascinating, whistling kind, and several unique dances that carry the snappy comedy along delightfully.[i][ii]
On April 4th was one of the most interesting articles about the show “Chin Chin” I have come across. Sadly, parts of the article are not legible, but what is readable in my version is fascinating. It said:
AT THE THEATRE
The Importance of Women Choristers in “Chin Chin”
It was not the custom for women to appear publicly in the theatres of Europe either on stage or in the auditorium until many years after the death of William Shakespeare. The women who did venture to the theatre always were masked. Most of Shakespeare’s heroines were acted in his days by boys. There are no records of women acting on the English stage until after the Restoration, when the floodgates of licenses were let down ________________ of owmen choristers in opera is of comparative recent ________ tribute in such entertainments as those which managers like Mr. Charles Dillingham presents __ which “Chin Chin” to be offered at the Victoria Theatre Friday night, April 9 is a notable example.
The bare thought of only a male chorus of twenty-four voices in “Chin Chin”, no matter how attractive these voices might be, would be likely to have a very disastrous effect upon the box office receipts. Undoubtedly audiences of today would not be so easily satisfied as were the ancient Greek audiences, truthfully speaking it is the great number of really youthful and vivacious girls that prove the biggest drawing card for the most interesting of Musical Comedies “Chin Chin” Order seats now.[iii]
I agree that having fifty plus attractive women added to the success of “Chin Chin” at the box office and have seen advertising articles highlighting that fact before, but I had never seen anyone tie it to Shakespeare and Greek plays before.
Again, on April 7th, the Steubenville Herald-Star newspaper had another article on page three. I can’t tell if it is fact or show business fiction nor if it gives insight into the life of Walter Wills or only insight into the culture of the time, but it is an interesting story.
Walter Wills and Roy Binder in this fantasy have become a couple of Chinamen who have more or less thrilling adventures in the pursit of the Lam which brought to its possessor all manner of happiness.
Both of the comedians have studied closely in the mannerisms and idiosyncrasies of Chines personality, and one of them had least has a more than casual acquaintance with the Chinese Language.
Wills once had a Chinese Servant from whom he picked up a great deal of useful knowledge. Wills is very fond of fruit, of which he was in the habit of eating a quantity every evening. One day he happened to say to his servant that he was not feeling very well. The Chinaman grumbled and then said, “You eat too much fruit—makes belly ache!” Wills took the tip and cut down on his fruit allowance….[iv]
For those of you who follow my Blog, I normally have a short history of the theater. I have about a half a dozen sources I typically go to find information including Julius Cahn Theatrical Reports and several “go to” websites such as Cinema Treasures. But, in the case of the Victoria Theatre in Steubenville I found virtually nothing. I even messaged the Jefferson County Historical Society asking about the theatre but received no response from them.
I know the theater existed in 1919, 1920, and 1921, but I know nothing more. Not when it was built, not its size, not is current status. If I learn more, I will post it. If you know more about the Victoria Theatre in Steubenville, please add it to the comments below. Thank you.
Keep researching to determine if “Chin Chin” played on April 7th or 8th 1920.
Learn more about the Victoria Theatre of Steubenville, Ohio.
[i] Note: This newspaper has an unusually high number of errors. For the sake of readability, I have corrected most of the spelling and typesetter errors rather than creating a verbatim transcript.
[ii] Steubenville Herald-Star – Steubenville, Ohio – Apr 3 1920 – Chin Chin – via NewspaperArchive.com
[iii] Steubenville Herald-Star April 5, 1920, Page 3 via Find-my-Past.
[iv] Steubenville Herald-Star – Steubenville, Ohio – Apr 7 1920 – Page 3 – NewspaperArchive.com