Vaudeville – “Chin Chin”
by Don Taylor
Donna joined the “Chin Chin” production on 30 October 1919 when it played the Lincoln Square Theater in Decatur, Illinois. After the show in Decatur, the cast and crew traveled the 50 miles northeast to Urbana for a Halloween show.
I learned of this showing thanks to the marvelous Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection. My thanks for their collection, which is free to search, browse, and download. In researching “Chin Chin” playing at the Illinois Theatre, I found three different papers that carried articles and advertising for the show.
The Urbana Daily Courier
The first mention I’ve found for the show was in the Urbana Daily Courier dated October 25th. It was a standard display ad showing “Chin-Chin” would be at the Illinois Theatre in Urbania on Friday, October 31st.
Two days later, the same ad appeared, plus there was a photo showing “Aladdin and the American Girl in Charles Dillingham’s stupendous production of “Chin Chin.” Illinois Theatre, Friday, October 31.”
<1919-10-27 – The Urbana Daily Courier, Page 4 – Chin Chin – Illinois Theatre.jpg>
Finally, on October 30th, the Urbana Daily Courier had a written article on Page 5.
Do you remember when you were just a tiny chap, how you would read the “Thousand and One Nights” or the wonderful adventures of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” and “Sinbad the Sailor,” and all the rest of those fascinating characters, and how from out of them all emerged “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp,” as the prime adventure of them all?
And now, Aladdin—a very modern Aladdin—very much in love with an American girl, appears in Charles Dillingham’s “Chin Chin.”
In this musical play everything comes Aladdin’s way upon wishing and rubbing the wonderful lamp, thereby causing many strange and wonderful situations.
Walter Wills and Roy Binder, as the two slaves of the lamp, kept the audience in constant laughter thru the seven scenes of three acts that cover one hundred and fifty minutes of the most enjoyable fun.
Among the many features in this gigantic show are the Teddy Bear dance, Tom Brown’s saxophone band, a real circus tent with an “honest to goodness” bit white circus horse circling around the wing, while Mlle. Falloffsky performs the most daring and screamingly funny bareback stunts.
The Champaign Daily News
The Champaign Daily News began with the same advertisement as Courier on 26 October 1919, page 14. A slightly larger ad ran in the October 30th and October 31st papers. Also, on page 12 of the October 31st paper was a short advertising article.
At the Illinois.
Charles Dillingham’s sumptuous and only production of “Chin Chin,” as seen for two years in New York, comes to the Illinois theatre, Urbana, Friday evening at 8:15.
This delightful and famous entertainment will be presented in its original entirely with Walter Wills and Roy Binder in the lead. In the musically rich show such numbers a “Violet,” “The grey Moon,” “Love Moon,” “Goodbye, Girls, I’m Through,” and the comedy song, “Go Gar Sig Gong-Jue,” always receive hearty applause.
The book is by Anne Caldwell and R. H. Burnside, the lyrics by Anne Caldwell and James O’Dea and the music by Ivan Caryll, so well remembered for his ingratiating melodies in
“The Pink Lady” and “The Little Café.”
Seven gorgeous settings make up the stupendous production—pretty dresses, swift and grotesque dancing, and lots of prankish amusement, including Tom Brown’s clown band as the famous saxophone sextet.
Other principals with this, the only production of “Chin Chin,” are Joseph Robison, George Usher, Richard Bosch, English Cody, George Phelps, Marian Sleeman, Edna Peckham, Jessie Walsh, Violet Tree, Ethel Lawrence, Nora Seiler, Marie Cavanaugh, Margaret Sharpe, Helen McDonald, also Joseph Boyle and Thomas Bell as “Frisco,” the horse, and a large singing and dancing chorus of pretty girls and girls and girlies.—Adv.
This ad was submitted to the newspaper before Donna joined the show, so her name doesn’t appear. However, it does give a good listing of others in the show. All are worthy of further research.
The Daily Illini
The Student Newspaper of the University of Illinois, The Daily Illini, is another important source of information for the Champaign-Urbana area. The campus was only a few blocks away from the theater. It had a circulation of 1,500 and the Courier’s circulation was about 2,500.[i] The October 26th paper included a small ad, on page seven, similar to the ads in the Urbana Daily Courier; however, it also contained a short text ad in the Theatres column.
AT THE ILLINOIS
Tuneful and Joyful “Chin Chin”
“Chin Chin” with its six cylinder reputation behind it, just as tuneful and fantastic as it was when New York worshipped for two years at its Chinese fun shrine, will appear at the Illinois Theatre on Friday, October 31.
The story revolves around the missing wishing lamp sought at any cost by Edne Peckham as “Violet Bond,” the rich American girl, in the search for which the two happy coolies, enacted by Walter Wills and Roy Binder who rear many excruciating and nonsensical situations out of it, making it tower above a whole lot of the latter day musical comedies, then when these two gentlemen lay aside their Oriental garnishings and appear in burlesque of circus bareback riding, Celestial widows, side show ventriloquist and musicians extraordinary they cannot shunt off the encores that come.
On the day of the show, The Daily Illini ran both a display ad and a text ad describing the show.
AT THE ILLINOIS
“The Ragging of the Rag of Rags” with Walter Willis at the piano is one of the uproariously funny hits of “Chin Chin”. Instead of being on the wane, as a few prejudiced persons
would like to believe, ragtime is steadily increasing from year to year. Ragtime will always be popular-anyhere, everywhere, except perhaps at a funeral.
Good ragtime music has become a standard article, and if the matter were put to a popular vote it would far outrank popular ETAOINHRDLU far outrank classical music by mere force of numbers, because nine-tenths of the people prefer ragtime and popular music.
This delightful and tuneful musical comedy with Walter Willis and Roy Binder in the leading roles is scheduled to appear at the Illinois theatre Friday, October 31.
The Urbana Opera House opened in 1908 and renamed the “Illinois Theater” sometime before 1913.
The 1913 Julius Cahn-Gus Hill Theatrical Guide indicates the seating capacity of the theater 1,440 – 432 Lower Floor, 402 in the Balcony, 546 in the Gallery, and 60 in the boxes. The theater was managed by the F. & H. Amusement Co.; Jos. F. Huechler was the Resident Manager.
In the 1921 Julius Cahn guide, there is an abbreviated listing for the Illinois Theatre. It only states that the seating capacity was 1,294, and the manager was J. E. Duncan.
Specifications for the Illinois Theater (Urbana)[ii]
Proscenium opening: 35×30 ft
Front to back wall: 43 ft
Between side walls: 66 ft
Apron 3 ft
Between fly girders: 56 ft
To rigging loft: 62 ft
To fly gallery: 27 ft
The Illinois Theatre was on the south side of Bone Yard Creek. A plank-covered culvert between West Main Street and the theater provided easy walking to the theatre from the north side of town.[iii]
What happened to theater?
According to a comment on Cinema Treasures, in 1923, the theater was owned by Zenith Amusement Company, a Ku Klus Klan organization, and was used for Klan activities. Four years later, on April 3, 1927, a fire destroyed the Illinois Theatre.[iv] The remaining shell was converted into apartments for a while then the building was demolished.
Today, the site contains an apartment building. Next door is a cafe and a small international and gourmet foods store.
[i] The Cahn-Leighton Official Theatrical Guide – 1913-1914, Page 179 & 180.
[iii] Library of Congress – Image 13 of Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps from Urbana, Champaign County, Illinois – https://www.loc.gov/resource/g4104um.g021941909/?sp=13&r=0.506,0.082,0.571,0.255,0