Donna & Her Cloak – Part 1
Tex Grand – El Paso – 25 Sep 1926
Treasure Chest Thursday
By Don Taylor
For this week’s Treasure Chest Tuesday, I’m begin looking at several clippings and a photo from the Donna Darling Collection highlighting her cloak. Donna is known to have loved clothes, and she had several cloaks, which were stunning. Newspaper clippings help add new venues and further information about her career.
This clipping shows Donna with her beautiful cloak. Luckily she annotated the clipping with “Tex Grand – El Paso Tex. Sep 25-26.” Sure enough, the El Paso Herald reported in the 25 September 1926 paper that Donna Darling and Sammy Clark were appearing at the Texas Grand.
11 Years on State, She Advises Golf and Vegetables for Beauty
Golf and a vegetable diet are the recipes Donna Darling, hotel Paso del Norte, gives to retain youth and beauty.
Eighteen holes of golf sandwiched between vaudeville performances, she says, keeps her trim and strong. She prefers vegetables and fruits when she travels. She thinks a heavy diet and different drinking water would be bad for her health.
Miss Darling went on the stage at 14. She played on the legitimate state, for the screen and in vaudeville for 11 years. A prize winner in beauty contests at Boston and Madison Square Garden, she soon got movie contracts. She is the sister of Grace Darling, Vitagraph[i] star. She played prima donna in Chin Chin when the musical comedy came to El Paso in 1923.
This article is an excellent example that you “can’t believe everything you read in the papers.” Some of it is true, and some is a twist of facts. My thoughts:
Different drinking different water would be bad for her health — Likely. It only takes one episode of “Montezuma’s revenge” to change your outlook on drinking the local water during the 1920s. I can easily believe Donna preferred wine, beer, or anything else alcoholic over local water. Of course, drinking beverages that were safe during Prohibition was likely difficult.
On Stage at 14 – Likely. In 1910, 17-year-old Madonna Holdsworth (a stepfather’s surname) was living Detroit and worked as a saleswoman at a dry goods store. If she had been on stage at that time, it would have most likely been local theater.
In vaudeville for 11 years–Partially true. 1926 minus 11 years is 1915. She won beauty contests in 1915 and 1916 after she was in “Birth of a Nation,” which was released on 8 February 1915. She likely did some uncredited vaudeville work about that time.
Sister of Grace Darling—I had always thought this was not true; there is no way she could be related to Grace Darling, the famous English lighthouse keeper’s daughter. However, it appears that another Grace Darling was her sister-in-law. In 1915, Madonna married Thomas Valentine Rooney. Grace Darling (born Grace Foster) married Pat Rooney in 1908 but divorced him sometime before 1915. She apparently got back with Pat Rooney and was with him when he died in 1933. Donna (Madonna) and Thomas appear to have drifted apart in 1921. Indeed, this is new information to me and warrants further investigation.
She played prima donna in Chin Chin when the musical comedy came to El Paso in 1923. “Chin Chin” did not have a leading lady. Donna was a part of the “Chin Chin” cast from October 1919 to the show’s closing in June 1920, where she played the “Lady of the Lamp.” The show went to El Paso before she joined the show. By 1923, she had her own shows, Donna Darling & Co. and the Donna Darling Revue.
Learning about Grace Foster and Pat Rooney being married and that Grace Foster took on the stage name of Grace Darling makes me wonder if Donna and Grace both took the Darling stage name at the same time. I need to look at how the lives of the two “Darlings” and the two Rooney’s intertwined.
Donna’s note also extends my date for Donna in El Paso from one day to two days.
I have long had a desire to do a side investigation into the life of Thomas Valentine Rooney. The Grace Foster stage name and her marriage to Pat Rooney make this investigation much higher on my to-do list.
[i] The Vitagraph Studios (Vitagraph Company of America) was a film company bought out by Warner Brothers in 1925. Grace Darling was the stage name for Grace Foster. – Wikipedia.