Donna 100 Years ago – Harris Theater, Pittsburgh, PA.

By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.“Donna 100 years ago” reviews my grandmother’s vaudeville life. Madonna Montran, aka Donna Montran & Donna Darling, had an exciting career during the 1920s. A definite headliner, she crisscrossed the country with her many shows.

Since Donna’s show at the Chestnut Street Opera House in Sunbury, PA, she zig-zagged through three states. Her first stop was the Strand Theatre in Shamokin, PA, then the Place Theatre in Olean, NY. I don’t know where she played from February 16th to 18th. But then on to Wheeling, WV, and on again to New Castle, PA, and finally the Harris Theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to play three days, February 27th to March 1st at the Harris Theater.

 On Sunday, February 26th, 1922, the Pittsburgh Press reported the following:

HARRIS—Vaudeville

At the Harris theater this week the nine acts of popular priced vaudeville will be headed by “Donna Darling and Boys.” This offering is a revue in which Miss Darling will repeat portions of her many musical comedy successes. Another laugh act will be that ofRose and Ashton in an offering called “The Holdup.” Mark Twain’s two famous characters, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, will be portrayed by two young men in a singing and comedy offering, who are playing a repeat engagement at the earnest solicitations of numerous patrons. The Jameson Trio are funmakers of the new school type. A surprise act will be that of The Little Big Girl, making an initial appearance in Pittsburgh. Lew Hoffman is known as “The Mad Hatter.”

Along with the “article” was modest advertising for the show.

On Tuesday, February 28th, 1922, the Pittsburgh Press ran a follow-up article.

HARRIS—Vaudeville

Vaudeville at the Harris theater yesterday afternoon was headed by Miss Donna Darling and her dancing boys in an interesting offering of song and dance. The laugh hit of the bill was scored by Ross and Ashton in “The Surveyor.” Another comedy success was that of, The Big Little Girl.” Mark Twain’s famous characters Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer were portrayed by two young men in a most wholesome manner. The Jameson Trio, Polli Dassi I Co., in a comedy act. Lew Hoffman, The juggling pestor, Levine and Walters sensational gymnastics and a comedy screen feature “Table Steaks” completed the bill.

One hundred years ago, Donna finished up the month of February at the Harris Theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

About the Harris Theater, Pittsburgh, PA

I immediately thought Harris Theater, Pittsburgh Press Paper, the theater must be in Pittsburgh.

    1. Harris Northside Theatre opened as the William Penn Theater in 1914. It reopened as the Harris Northside Theater in 1943.[i]
    2. Harris Theatre opened in 1931, was renamed the Art Cinema in 1935, and reopened as the Harris Theatre in 1995.[ii]

Neither of them appeared to be correct, so I expanded my search. There were 25 Harris Theaters in the United States; 15 in Pennsylvania. Besides the two identified above, there were the following:

    1. Beechview (Harris) Theatre in Pittsburgh, PA – Opened in 1930.
    2. Family Theatre, Pittsburgh, opened in 1908 as the Liberty Theatre, renamed Harris-Family Theatre in 1932.
    3. Gateway Theatre, Pittsburgh, opened in 1891 and was renamed the J. P. Harris Theatre in 1942.
    4. Harris Memorial Theater, McKeesport – Opened in 1929.
    5. Harris Musee Theatre, McKeesport, PA – Exclusively films after 1905.
    6. Harris Theatre, Donora, PA – Opened as the Grand Theatre in 1911 and renamed the Harris Theatre in 1930.
    7. Harris Theatre, Dormont, PA – Opened in 1927.
    8. Harris Theatre, McKeesport, PA – Opened in 1908 and renamed Harris Theatre in 1920. – McKeesport is about 16 miles southeast of Pittsburgh and is possibly the correct theatre.
    9. Harris Theatre, Pittsburgh, opened in 1911 renamed Casino Burlesk Theatre in 1936. Possible, but appears to have switched to burlesque.
    10. Harris-Denis Theatre, Mount Lebanon, PA – Opened in 1938.
    11. Harris-Dubois Theatre, DuBois, PA – Opened in 1937.
    12. Harris-Perry Theatre opened in 1938.
    13. Nixon Theater, Pittsburgh, opened in 1913 as the Victoria Theatre, became the Sam Shubert Theater about 1920, and became the Harris Senator Theatre sometime in the 1940s.

Finally, several comments indicate that the Mount Oliver Theatre was once known as the Harris Theatre because of the owner.

The 1921 Julius Cahn—Gus Hill Theatrical Guide and Moving Picture Directory lists the Harris Theatre, managed by C. H. Preston, in Pittsburgh, but there is no information about the theatre. Finally, several of the Julius Cahn guides indicate there was a Harris Theatre in Pittsburgh, but either no info is given about the theatre, or there is mention that the theatre failed to respond to queries regarding their statistics or specifications.

So, I’m not confident regarding which Harris Theatre Donna played at 100 years ago today.


Endnotes

[i] Internet: Cinema Treasures – Harris Northside Theatre – http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/64368

[ii] Internet: Cinema Treasures – Harris Theatre – http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/5481

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