For this week’s Treasure Chest Tuesday, I’m looking at several photos from the Donna Darling Collection. First, Image 0174 is a photo of Donna Darlings Bathing Beauties in a “Beach Promenade.” In most of the advertisement billings, this show was called, “The California Bathing Beauties. The show probably began in July 1920 at Moss’ Broadway at 41st and appears to have played in Philadelphia, Washington DC, Coney Island, Baltimore, Albany, Alexandria (IN), Wilkes-Barre, Reading, New Haven (CT), and Bridgeport (CT).
I have not learned who the other five women are in the photograph, but it is clearly Donna in the top back.
Next, I looked at the Donna Darling Collection Item 194 – a set of seven photographs.
Two of the photos are of Donna holding Russell – one as a baby and one as a toddler with both Donna and Russell in swimming suits. Next are two photos of Russell. In one he is sitting in a walker of some sorts and the other he is standing behind a life ring aboard the SS Virginia out of New York. In 1930 Donna, Sammy, and Russell went to Panama for work. Russell would have been about three, which looks right for this photo. A Wikipedia article[i] indicates that the SS Virginia was built in 1928, was part of the American Line whose route was New York to Havana, to the Panama Canal, then on to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Next is a photo of Sammy Clark Amsterdam standing alongside a car. I don’t know cars well enough to identify what it is. [If anyone that can identify it I’d love to hear from you. – Please, use the comment form below.] The license plate indicates it was in Michigan in 1927.
The final photo is something of a mystery. This is clearly Donna holding a baby, but the baby doesn’t appear to be Russell. I believe the baby is Sylvia and I believe the man is Harvey Knight, Donna’s stepfather. If so, this would be from 1932. [Photo below.]
December (XX) 1924 – The Bathing Beauty Review featuring Donna Darling and Murry Earle played at the Al Ringling Theatre in Baraboo, Wisconsin.
Police Join in a Search, But Press Agent Yarn Theory Advanced
Although a number of stories including a press agent version were afloat concerning a reported kidnapng Sunday night of Helen Dawn, 16-year-old prize beauty of the “Bathing Beauties,” now playing at a Peoria theater, (see ads) police were trying to locate the girl and arrest her alleged kidnapers Monday.
According to reports made police Miss Dawn with Betty Bryant and Donna Darling, companions in the same troupe, came out of the rear of the theater shortly after 10 o’clock, Miss Dawn and Miss Bryant in the lead. As they turned the alley at Jefferson avenue a short stocky built man leaped from the side of a closed Oakland or Hudson car and seized Miss Dawn by the arm. Despite her screams he dragged her to the side of the car and another man inside helped him get the girl into the car. The man who grabbed her leaped into the car and the driver seated alone in the front seat drove away going out Jefferson avenue.
The screams of the girl attracted a large crowd, some of whom picked up several articles and some money which Miss Dawn dropped when she was seized by the man.
“Oh, they got the one with all the diamonds,” one of Miss Dawn’s companions is reported to have said during the “kidnaping,” according to an interested spectator. All press agents refuse to be interviewed about the incident.
Fitz Hugh, 224 North Jefferson avenue, who with a companion, was in a car nearby, started in pursuit of the “kidnaper’s” car but lost sight of it on Jefferson avenue. Police were scattered in riot cars in all directions and Detectives Boyser and Welty were dispatched out the Galena road in search of the girl.
According to Miss Byrant [sic] and Miss Darling, who were eye witnesses Miss Dawn had no time to struggle with her assailant.
“The man grabbed her and had her inside the car so quickly that neither of us could interfere,” Miss Bryant said. Both girls gave the same account of the “kidnaping” to police who quizzed them Monday.
The girls said the car in which Miss Dawn was taken away in was an Oakland or a Hudson car. They said Miss Dawn had joined the troupe at Los Angeles and that at none of the cities they had visited did Miss Dawn make any acquaintances who might injure her.
Annoyed at Decatur.
“The only place where anything happened was at Decatur, Ill., where Miss Dawn was persistently followed by some man who wanted to marry her,” Miss Darling. said. “This man followed her wherever she went and annoyed her frequently. I did not recognize him as the man responsible for the trouble which we met with in this city.”
Miss Dawn carried valuable jewelry and a quantity of costly diamonds on her person. She had these when seized on the street Sunday night. She was attired in a brown fur coat, black satin turbin [sic] hat, black dress and wore white cuffs.
She is especially attractive (and that’s not from the press agent either) and is a decided brunette. She is 16 years old, five feet three inches in height, and weighs 130 pounds.
What happened to Helen? Was Donna part of a publicity stunt? Another article clipping explains what happened.
‘Kidnaping’ Proves Just a Marriage
The life of a bathing beauty is not all water and swimming suits. For Helen Dawn, erstwhile member of a bathing girl troupe playing a local theater life today is made up of orange blossoms and bridal, traveling suits.
Helen, it now develops, after theatrical authorities have carried out a quiet search and investigation on their own part, was kidnaped by her lover, known only as ”Harry,” last Sunday night, just, as she with other girls was leaving the theater. A publicity stunt was suspected at first, but the continued absence of the girl brought home the serious aspect of the event.
Last, night a telegram from Helen Dawn, from Chicago, explained that she had gone to Chicago, to marry “Harry,’ that she was happy, and that impetuous “Harry” had adopted the “kidnaping” stunt as a means of breaking her contract.
They were going east for their honeymoon, the telegram stated.
Donna’s week in Peoria was exciting. Great fun selling tickets for the Legion and an apparent kidnaping right in front of her. (Although, it is possible that she was in on the marriage.)
The Apollo opened in 1914 could seat over 800 in its auditorium, The theater closed in 1958. In 1988 the Apollo was purchased and lovingly restored to its original appearance. Since 2001, it has housed the Apollo International Film Group, which screens foreign, classic and independent movies in an early 20th century setting. Today it is known as the Apollo Fine Arts and Entertainment Center.
I learned that Donna played at the Apollo in Peoria, IL the week 1 February 1925, which is a new venue for Donna. I also learned the cast names for her Bathing Beauties Revue.
I’d like to learn more about the careers of the other cast members. What was Christie Comedies. Did any of the cast become big names in show business? The people for me to research include:
Donna Darling and Hollywood Motion Picture Bathing Beauties at the Apollo, 1 Feb 1925 in Peoria, IL
For this week’s Treasure Chest Tuesday, I’m looking at clippings from the Donna Darling Collection relating to her playing at the Apollo Theatre in Peoria, IL, in 1925.
Donna’s clippings from her time in Peoria are some of the most interesting clippings that I have. First, there is a list of her Bathing Beauties cast, a never seen before photo of Donna, and a good description of the show and what various individuals are doing. Second, there is something of a mystery for me to solve regarding the date she played in Peoria and the Apollo. Third, there is additional press about Donna and her troupe of beauties supporting the local American Legion. Finally, there is a mystery of the kidnapping of one of her cast members.
The Apollo advertisement provides the names of her entire cast and a claim to fame. They were:
Donna Darling – Mack Sennett’s Prize Winner
Betty Bryant – Miss America from Ziegfeld’s
Mildred O’Brian – From Sennett’s
Clarice Allyn – Christie Comedies
Alyce Louyse – Christie Comedies
Rose Lasgo – Acrobatic Dancing
Florence Rielliso – Spectacular Dancing
[Murray] Earle – Christie Comedies
[Al] Ross – Christie Comedies
Helen Dawn – Hollywood Society Girl
There is also an amazing clipping of Donna, leaning back showing a leg.
Hollywood Revue of
Bathing Beauties Is
Special at Apollo
Bathing beauties from various motion picture studios of California will appear in a special Hollywood revue at the Apollo theater for one week beginning Sunday, February 1. Miss Donna Darling, who features in this revue, is the well-known star from Sennett’s. She is the originator of the principal part of “Chin Chin,” the famous musical play. She has won beauty prizes in Boston, New. York and San Francisco. Her dancing is excellent and her lyrical songs are surpassed only by her clever and pleasing personality. She presents the bathing girls of 1860 and follows them to the present day when Betty Bryant in a crimson bathing suit represents “Miss America of Today.”
Bathers from various famous beaches appear in charming costumes. Clever Clarice Celynn [sic – s/b Allyn] represents the Chinese toe dancer. Allyce Louyse, the Hawaiian bather, and Mildred O’Brien from Christie, dance to snappy music preceding a spectacular balloo [sic] dance in the “Bathers from Mars.”
When Miss Darling left the coast she was followed by two life guards: Murray Earle, formerly a specialty dancer of “George White Scandals,” and Al Ross, late of Christie. These life guards are eccentric dancers who add comedy to the revue.
Special scenic and lighting effects elaborate this unusual attraction. The costumes are elaborate from the opening of the revue to its end, at which time Miss Darling appears in a rhinestone bathing suit.
“Fifth Avenue Models,” a picture completes the program.
Second, I was a bit confused about the date of the show. Several clippings indicate the show began on February 1st, however, the movie that was playing with her show is identified in IMDb and Wikipedia has having been released on April 25, 1925, nearly three months after Donna’s playing.[i], [ii] It is unusual for a silent film to have been playing in a theater nine months after its release, so I was confused. I found that the British Film Institute indicates the film was released in 1924. Finally, the December 3, 1924 issue of Los Angeles Times has a preview of the film released by Universal.[iii] I have also found it playing at several other theaters long before April 25th; so, I’m convinced that both IMDb and Wikipedia are incorrect in their release dates.
Beauties help American Legion
Third, there are two clippings relating to the ‘Bathing Beauties” helping the American Legion.
I just love photos and a photo of the girls from the revue in their bathing suits is fantastic.
“The above is a picture of Donna Darling, Mack Sennett’s prize winner, and eight other Hollywood bathing beauties who will auction tickets to “Buddies,” the American Legion comedy success, next Tuesday, beginning at 12 o’clock noon, in front of The Journal-Transcript building. “Buddies” will be staged by the Gifford Players at the Hippodrome theater all this week. The legion’s proceeds from all advance sale tickets will go toward a home for ex-service men. Donna Darling and her troupe of vamps are appearing at the Apollo theater this week in a song and dance revue.
Although it mentions Donna and eight others, sadly, there is only Donna and six others in the image.
There is also a simple, follow-up article which states:
Sell 224 Tickets
For Legion’s Show
Pedestrians who passed by The Journal office today noon failed to resist the beauty and smiles of the “Bathing Beauties” who are now playing at a Peoria theater, and who proved themselves good saleswomen. During their brief selling campaign today, they sold 224 tickets for “Buddies,” the show now playing at the Hippodrome theater for the benefit of Peoria Post No. 2, American Legion. The position left vacant by Helen Dawn, who is missing from the cast, is being taken by Mildred O’Brien. No trace of the Dawn girl has been found, according to members of the troupe.
Donna Montran stayed at the Owyhee Hotel in Boise, Idaho December 4-8, 1919.
Sometimes I just come across cool things. Recently I found an article on Chronicling America that spoke of “Hotel Arrivals” in Boise, ID, Dec 5, 1919. I have long known that Donna and the cast of “Chin Chin” were in Boise for four days, from the 4th to the 7th performing at the Pinney Theatre. This article might be the first time I’ve known exactly where Donna stayed during her many nights on the road – the Owyhee Hotel. The Owyhee is still standing; no longer a hotel, it was completely renovated and made into luxury apartments with office space – Hwyhee Place.
The other thing the article does, which is really cool, is that it tells where many of the cast are from. Of course, I knew that Donna hailed from New York at that time, but not Ethel Lawrence. If I decide to follow some of Donna’s fellow performers, a listing of names and their hometowns, or 1919 residences could be invaluable. Also, if I can find another such list I might be able to determine much of the cast’s names. A great find; I will definitely look for Hotel Arrivals in other newspapers in the future.
This week I took a look at ten photos from the Donna Darling Collection. Unfortunately, three of the photos were blurry or otherwise unusable. Of the remaining seven photos, five included uncle Russ as a child. One showed Russell and Donna and one showed Russ with Sammy. One photo showed all three. There were also two additional photos of Donna but both were family type photos and not part of her vaudeville life.
Some of the photos were badly damaged but I was able to clean them up significantly. For each of the photos, I have:
Original scanned image.
Original cropped image.
Edited PSD (Adobe Photoshop Elements) image
Edited JPG image
With each edited version of the photo, I added a caption. I am certain about the individuals shown, however, the dates are by guess and by golly.
Donna was born Madonna Montran. She used Donna Montran in her early vaudeville days. She then used Donna Darling as her stage name. I don’t believe that she ever used the surname Amsterdam. Sometime after 1935, Donna lived with a man named Russell Kees. Although I don’t believe that Donna and Russell were ever married, Donna and her two children, Russell and Sylvia began using the Kees surname. Sammy was born Samson Amsterdam. He used the stage name of Sammy Clark for many years. If the names aren’t confusing to you, you are good.
I have uploaded the seven photos to Google Photos. The downloads from Google Photos are generally of sufficient quality to work for most situations. However, if you need a higher quality image of any of the photos let me know and I’ll send you one.