Donna’s Leaving Hollywood

Donna Montran
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.I often talk about my Don Taylor Genealogy Blog as “cousin bait,” but a chiropractor who knew Donna in the sixties and seventies contacted me because of the blog. He was an intern at N.W. Chiropractic college in Minneapolis and a “little old lady” named Donna Kees came to see him in 1961. After he graduated, she transferred her records to his office, and he continued to treat her for many years. Donna told him stories of her being a Hollywood performer known as “Donna Darling” and that she had lived the big ostentatious life of fancy clothes, convertibles, and long-haired dogs. Although there was a considerable age difference, he and Donna had become very good friends, and she told him many stories.

Through several correspondences, we confirmed it was the same Donna Darling. His Donna had two children and donated her body to the University of Minnesota Medical School. She used to say she “didn’t know why they would want this old body of [hers].” And in fact, her body was in rough shape. She had arthritic changes and some kyphosis (“Dowager’s Hump). She walked with a cane, and on her bad days, she was pretty feeble. However, he said that Donna was always mentally as sharp as a tack.

Donna “Darling” and her dog Gypsie circa 1926

He writes, “Donna described her life in Hollywood just as you would picture it in the 1920s; she rode around in a large convertible with handsome men, beautiful women, and her long-haired silky dogs [Gypsy and apparently others]. She dined at expensive popular restaurants, drank champagne, etc.  She made it sound like a privileged and exciting life.”

John goes on to say, “Donna indicated there were only a few “top” girls in Hollywood, and she wanted to be one of them. She was offered the opportunity to tour the country with an entertainment group she thought it would help her become more well-known and famous. [“Chin-Chin?”] She didn’t realize it at the time, but she told John the reason she left for the tour was that there was only so much room at the top, and she was at the top with some women – one of whom was Mary Pickford. Unfortunately, when she returned, Mary Pickford was “Hollywood’s Sweetheart,” had married

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks – Photo courtesy Kate Gabrielle via Flickr.

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. She and Douglas were the undisputed top couple of Hollywood. They had incredible power among the studios. Donna said that she then realized that she was tricked into leaving and was eased out of the public eye so the studios could make Pickford the top star with no competition.

John’s memories somewhat explain the gap in Donna’s career and her shift from Hollywood, Mack Sennett, and public appearances to vaudeville. Donna joined the “Chin Chin” cast in 1919, shortly after Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and D. W. Griffith[i]formed United Artists and before Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks married.

Donna was known for her fantastic voice, great dancing, and stage presence, so I’ve often wondered why she hadn’t made the transition from vaudeville to talkies. John’s memories shed some light on possible reasons.

[I would like to thank John Rapacz for sharing his memories and the stories that Donna told him so long ago.]

Endnotes

[i] Donna worked with D. W. Griffith on “Birth of a Nation” in 1915.

Donna 100 Years ago – 10 August 1921

Asbury Park, New Jersey
by Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.“Donna 100 years ago” is my reporting of events relating to my grandmother, Madonna Montran (aka Donna Montran and Donna Darling) 100 years ago. Hers was the exciting world of 1920s vaudeville. She crisscrossed the country several times with her many shows.

In the 10 August 1921 edition, the New York Clipper, Page 15, top of column 3, gave a short and straightforward mention of Donna. 

Donna Montran in the vaudeville act, “As You Like It,” by Hockey and Green, opens at Asbury Park this week; direction of Lee Stewart.

 The first mention of “As You Like It” I have found was when she played at the State Theatre in Beacon, New York, from 30 June to 2 July.

Ashbury Park is a small coastal town on the Jersey shore, about 25 miles, as the crow flies, south of New York City (about 50 miles driving). At the time, there were five theaters, Lyric, St. James, Reade’s Savoy, Shubert, and Reade’s Rialto. The “Asbury Park Press was the newspaper at the time.

A review of the Asbury Park Press, August 1921[i], failed to yield any results for “Montran,” “As You Like It,” “Stewart,” or “Hockey.” The Lyric Theater mentioned they had “2 Other Big Acts – 7 acts in all.” The other theaters (Realto, Main Street, Saint James, and Savoy) all seem to have mentioned all of the shows at those theaters. Consequently, I suspect she was one of the unmentioned shows at the Lyric.

One hundred years ago, Donna played in her vaudeville act, “As you Like It” in Asbury Park, New Jersey, probably at the Lyric Theatre.

Future Actions

  • Learn more about Hockey & Green, the writers of “As You Like It.”
  • Who was Lee Stewart?

Endnotes

[i] Thanks to Newspapers.Com.

Donna in the News – “Route of Flight Changed”

Montran Monday
Montrans in the News
By Don Taylor

“Donna in the News” is my reporting of newly found newspaper articles and advertising regarding my grandmother, Madonna Montran (aka Donna Montran and aka Donna Darling). I am always excited when I find new information regarding my grandmother’s exciting show business career during the 1910s and 1920s. 

This week’s article is from the Boston Evening Transcript (Boston, Mass.) dated 22 July 1915.

Boston Evening Transcript (Boston, Mass.) dated 22 July 1915. (Via Newspapers.com)

ROUTE OF FLIGHT CHANGED

City Officials Refuse to Allow Miss Montran to Drop Pennants on Boston Common

Because of inability to secure a permit to drop the “Birth of a Nation” pennants on the Boston Common, the route of the biplane carrying Miss Donna Montran had to be suddenly changed. Miss Montran, one of the “belles of 1861” in the moving picture at the Tremont Theatre, expected to make two round trips with Captain J. Chauncey Redding, in his aeroplane, from Saugus to Boston, dropping from the machine, while over the Common, one hundred pennants advertising the “Birth of a Nation, twenty-five of which had free ticket attached.

City officials would not allow this to be done, so that instead of coming to Boston Miss Montran flew over Lynn and Revere, where the pennants were dropped. She was attired similar to the lobby girls at the Tremont Theatre, with the exception of the hoop skirt. It is doubtful if the flight over Boston could have been made even if a permit had been granted, for the weather conditions today would not allow for the altitude necessary to insure safety.

This article provided additional detail regarding Donna’s biplane flight in 1915 over Lynn and Revere and how come she didn’t fly over Boston Common and drop the pennants there.

For more about Donna’s 1915 Biplane Flight see July 22-23, 1915 – Saugus, Mass. – Donna’s Biplane Flight (Boston Daily Globe).

Donna Montran Biplane Flights – 1915

Originally Published: Oct 29, 2015
UPDATED: May 20, 2021

The Boston Glove –  July 22, 1915, Page 8

TO FLY OVER COMMON

Miss Donna Montran Expects to Drop Pennants and Tickets for Show From Biplane,
Miss Donna Montran, one of the pretty “belles of 1861” in “The Birth of a Nation,” at the Tremont Theatre, is anticipating the time of her life this afternoon, when she expects to make two round trips between Saugus and Boston Common with Capt J. Chauncey Redding in his biplane, incidentally showering “Birth of a Nation” pennants and free tickets for the Tremont Theatre on the heads of the crowd that will witness the flight from the Common. The two flights over the Common in the vicinity of the Tremont Theatre are scheduled, one for about 1:30, or not long after, the other a short time before the matinee performance is over, probably about 4:30. During the first flight the biplane will circle about above the State House dome.
Miss Montran will be attired similarly to the lobby girls at the Tremont Theatre, though without the hoopskirt. She will drop 100 pennants on the Common, 25 of which will have tickets for the theatre attached to them. The distribution will take place during both flights, and those who capture the tickets will be able to see “The Birth of a Nation” free of cost.

Sadly, she wasn’t able to make that flight.  The theatre was unable to get approval for the flight over Boston Common and the State House. They did, however, get approval to drop the pennants over Revere Beach the following Day. This was a really big deal and the Boston Globe covered it with a photo article on July 23rd.

Source: Boston Globe 23 July 1915, pg 5 – “Free Tickets From the Sky” via Newspaperarchive.com

According to the article, rather than wearing a Tremont Theatre lobby girl’s outfit as reported she would the day before, she wore an aviator’s trim costume. Also, the article says, “On the descent of the machine Miss Montran expressed herself as delighted with her 50 minutes in the air.”
There were articles in other papers including The Boston Herald, 23 July 1915.
Boston Herald, July 23, 1915
Via Genealogy Bank
“Actress Make Two Flights in Biplane.”  She flew in Capt. J. Chauncey Redding biplane on July 22nd.

A google search for J. Chauncey Redding yielded a photo of the plane.  The photo was taken the week of 6 September, just six weeks after Donna’s flights.  If you wonder how dangerous was it to fly in a biplane in 1915, the pilot, Capt. J. Chauncey Redding, died on October 21st when his biplane collapsed while in midair while over the Lynn, MA, marshes.

Washington Herald
August 15, 1915
Via Library of Congress
Another article appeared in the Washington Herald a few weeks later.  That article indicates that the plane was a Burgess-Wright aeroplane as reported in Aerial Age Weekly. It also mentions that Miss Montran was, “delighted with her fifty minutes in the air.”
I was able to find Aerial Age Weekly online at Google Books. The Washington Herald article is a reprint of the same article and provides no additional information..
J. Chauncey Redding’s aeroplane on the beach, Week of 6 September 1915. (about six weeks after Donna’s Flight) — Photo Courtesy: Gertrude Palmer.
From HAMPTON: A CENTURY OF TOWN AND BEACH, 1888-1988 by Peter Evans Randall
Finally, I was able to find a photo on Wikimedia photo of the Wright Model B which was licensed to Burgess to make the Burgess-Wright Model F.  This was the exact type of aircraft J. Chauncey Redding used during Donna’s flight.
Burgess-Wright Model F – Photo © Jarek Tuszynski / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GDFL

Update 20 May 2021

Donna’s stunt not only made the local newspapers, it was also reported in both Moving Picture World and in Pictures and the Picturegoer.

Moving Picture World – August 21, 1915, Page 1306

We do not like to realize that there is anyone in the Hub who has not seen “The Birth of a Nation,” which I have had the good fortune to see several times, always finding something new and wonderful to fill the eye. The last weeks are announced. A novelty in the way of advertising this picture was put forth the other day when one of the pretty girls of ’61, gowned as in the play, went up in an aeroplane and scattered pennants, some of them having free tickets. She was dainty Donna Montran.

Pictures and the Picturegoer – 4 September 1915, Page 420.

Donna Montran. a player in The Birth of a Nation (a picture we all hope to see) has been making aeroplane-flights and dropping pennants bearing the sign, The Birth of a Nation, to which were attached free passes, and worth picking up.

Donna Darling Collection – Part 77

Treasure Chest Thursday
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.For this week’s Treasure Chest Thursday, I’m looking at two pages from the Donna Darling Collection[i]. On the pages were eight photos that I’ll look at and hopefully identify during this article.

Donald Larson from the summer when he turned one. The person cut out was probably Donna (Montran) Kees. I used the surname of “Larson” from when I was born until about 12 years old.

The first photo is an easy one. It is me, from the summer when I was turning one. Sadly, the person with me was cut out. It was probably my grandmother Donna. My stepfather cut Donna out of many photos. In 1951, I had the surname of “Larson” as my mother had married a Larson, and using the same surname as a stepfather was common in those days as it made things easier.

Russell Kees, Age 1

Russell Kees, standing with a chair

This is clearly my uncle Russell Kees, probably when he probably about one. He is clearly standing, but he looks like he needs the chair’s aid to do so. Russell was born in August 1927, so this photo appears to be from the summer of 1928.

Gypsie

Donna “Darling’s” puppy (on left) Gypsie.

Next is a photo of Gypsie, Donna’s Pekinese, as a puppy of 5 weeks. With her is a littermate. We’ve seen Donna and Gypsie before. When Donna and her show were in Canada, having pictures taken while scantily clad in the snow, Donna had Gypsie with her. (See the Donna Darling Collection Part 9[ii].)

Donna & Gypsie

Donna “Darling” and her dog Gypsie circa 1926

We also see Donna holding Gypsie in what appears to be a beach on a cold day. Donna is wearing a stylish hat and coat.

Donna & Friend

In this photo, Donna is with an unknown woman. I’ve seen this woman in enough pictures that I’m sure she is a regular in Donna’s show. Donna was always keen to keep other people’s names out of her acts, so determining who this is for sure may be difficult. For now, I’ll call her “Woman Alpha.”

An unknown couple that were friends of Donna Darling and Sammy Clark in the late 1920s.

Friends of Donna

The next photo is of Woman Alpha with a man. For the sake of keeping track of them, I’m going to call him Man Alpha and the two of them Couple Alpha. I suspect this is probably a ferry.

Sammy Clark (Amsterdam( is on the left and Donna “Darling” (Montran) is on the right. The couple between them is unknown, but I call them the “Couple Bravo.”

Donna, Sammy, and Friends

Next is a photo of four people in swimsuits. Sammy is on the left; Donna is on the right. I’m confident the other woman is “Woman Bravo.” As such, I’m going to call the man with her “Man Bravo” and the two of them “Couple Bravo.”

Donna, Sammy, and the Gang (c. 1926)

The group of six people includes an unknown young man, Donna “Darling” (Montran), the man from who I call “Couple Bravo,” Sammy Clark, the woman from who I cal “Couple Bravo,” and a final unknown man in a shirt, tie, suit and hat.

This group of six includes an unknown young man, Donna “Darling,? “Man Bravo,” Sammy Clark, “Woman Bravo,” and a final unidentified man in a shirt, tie, suit, and hat.

I suspect that Couple Alpha and Couple Bravo are the same couple, but I can’t tell for sure. I’ll be looking for more evidence regarding their identification in future research.

Conclusion

Besides this blog post, I’ve added metadata of this information to the photo images using Vivid Restore.  More about that in a later blog.

Actions

  • Over the past few months, I’ve begun to improve my skills in photo identification. Clearly, there are two couples that should be identified. Are they the same couple? I’ll try to do so in the coming months.

Endnotes

[i] The originals images were: DSCN1473 (original).tiff, DSCN1523 (original).tiff, and SCAN0188 (original).tiff. Additionally, I have a tiff of each of these photos.

[ii] I didn’t learn that “the Peke” was actually Gypsie, the Pekinese dog until much later.