By Don Taylor
The first newspaper clipping in the collection is one that screams in big print, “DONNA MONTRAN.”
It then speaks of her as “BROADWAY’S NEWEST FIND – Under Personal Direction of Tom Rooney.” The advertising also acknowledges her vocal instructor, Louis Howard Croxson, and her dancing master Alexis Kosloff. The clipping also shows that she is playing at B. S. Moss’ Broadway Theatre. Knowing that made it easier to find the paper and issue that the item ran in. (Emphasis mine.)
The clipping is a paid advertisement she took out promoting herself. I was able to find it in “Variety” newspaper, dated August 20, 1920, it was a half-page ad on the back cover of the trade newspaper. The ad also includes a collection of quotes about Donna that we will see many more times.
VARIETY, July 30
“Donna Montran ha an undeniable million dollar smile, oodles of personality and an elastic voice that hits the high registers smoothly and effectively—wood make ideal $4 musical comedy stuff.”
“Donna Montran is here. Take leading part well in beach promenade.”
“Donna Montran was the bathing girl prima donna and had as pleasing a voice as any girl should need.”
“N. Y. CLIPPER”
“The music was tuneful and the song, “India, My Own,’ with words and music written by Donna Montran, was sung by the author with good effect. Miss Montran is pretty, possessed of a fine figure and has a smile and personality that count.”
“EVE. MAIL” (July 26)
“There is the pretty, dainty Donna Montran, whose swimming hasn’t destroyed her voice.”
“Donna Montran. A blo/??
young lady who contributes /??
explanatory singing, manage /???
part well and exhibited some /????
Donna married Thomas Rooney on November 24, 1915, in Waltham, MA. So, it is clear that she and Tom were together for quite a few years. I am a little surprised that the very independent Donna would go for the phrase, “Under Personal Direction of Tom Rooney.” (I definitely need to do more research about him.)
Lewis Howard Croxson
Louis Howard Croxson was a vocal teacher who had a studio in the Metropolitan Opera House building. Apparently, he was well known in New York stage circles. Among those he had instructed were Miss Tossa Kosta of “The Chocolate Soldier,” Miss Dorothy South of the “Wild Cat,” Miss Patricia Ryan, Carl Hayden, the Australian concert singer, Misses Irene Castle, Josie Colline and Bertha Shalek, his sister in law.[ii] Through this ad we learn he also instructed vaudeville star, Donna Montran.[iii]
Alexis Kosloff taught Russian Ballot and was very well known in New York. He danced in the imperial Russian Ballet before coming to America and was a writer, choreographer, and dance instructor. His book, Russian ballet technique, as taught by Alexis Kosloff: Method of practising foundation steps, potpourri of exercises, suite of dances, with descriptions and music, is a classic. He taught Donna how to dance. No wonder reviews of her shows often praised her dance ability. She was trained by the best and she gave him credit in this advertisement.
Clearly, it was important for Donna to promote herself. During a time when women were typically demure, she stood up and promoted herself. Showing herself as being personally managed by Tom Rooney, taught voice by Louis Howard Croxson, and taught Dance by Alexis Kosloff was her way of saying she was the “real deal.” Advertising in “Variety” was a way to gain prestige exposure with theater agents and others who could book her act.
Follow-up / Future Research
Thomas Valentine Rooney, Donna’s 2nd husband.