The Donna Darling Collection

Part 1 of possibly 37

When my Grandmother, Madonna Montran (AKA Donna), passed away in 1976 it was several days before my mother was informed of the death.  When she went to Donna’s apartment she found that everything had been removed, the apartment cleaned, and the apartment up for rent already. She was told by the building manager that everything was either trashed or given to the Salvation Army. Well…  Not everything.

Photo of Donna Montran, circa 1910
Donna Montran, c. 1910

Apparently, Donna’s friend, Virginia Hagen, saved some of the photos and other documents of Donna’s. Those items were put into a trunk and remained “lost” for over 40 years. Virginia’s daughter inherited the trunk and searched the internet for information on the “nearly famous” vaudeville star, Donna Darling. (Donna Darling was her stage name.) She quickly discovered this blog site and contacted me. She gave me a chance to digitize many of the items.  I was able to digitize 357 images. Some of the images are large photographs, others are scrapbook pages with several articles, and several are groupings of thumb-sized photos.  Newspaper clippings from the 1920s in contact with acid rich paper don’t do so well over time. Likewise, many of the photos were glued into the albums causing damage.  Additionally, because Donna knew who the individuals were, there was no reason to label most of the photos.

I decided to process the collection about 10 images at a time. As I process the images, I hope to identify the people, places, dates, and anything else I can figure out from the images. Some of the images aren’t appropriate for posting to the internet, such as my grandmother’s social security health card. (The word “Medicare” isn’t on it, yet.)

The First 10 Images

The first ten images are a miscellaneous group of loose items. They included:

  1. Business Card from Amsterdam Hosiery & Gift Shop. There are four sides to this business card, including one side showing birthstones for the various months. I believe this was her ex-husband’s parents shop.
  2. Blue Cross Blue Shield identification card for Donna Rossberg.  I have never understood her Rossberg connection. This card confirms she used the Rossberg name sometimes but I have never found a legal connection (marriage) between Donna and “Red.” Something to investigate sometime.
  3. A 1970 photo of me holding my son, Matthew. Sadly, the photo is badly damaged.
  4. A photo of me. I have the same photo in my personal photos and have always thought it was from about 1956. However, Donna’s copy has our Fridley address written on the bask, indicating it was more likely 1958.
  5. A 1910 photo of Madonna Montran. At the age of 17 Donna had her first professionally done photoshoot. One of those photos became the picture used on the sheet music of “In the Heart of a Fool.” Another photo from that photo shoot is in this first batch of photos. The original has many scrapes, nicks, and creases. I touched up the image slightly to remove the blemishes from the photo (not from her).  Without a doubt, you can see how incredibly beautiful she was. Amazing photo is it posted above.
  6. Photo of Donna on Ocean Liner, circa 1930.
    Donna on Ocean Liner, circa 1930.

    Next is a photo of “Donna on Ocean Liner – Carabean [sic] Sea.”  I believe this to be about 1930. Donna and Sammy went to Panama in 1930. While in Panama, Donna met my grandfather. Also, while in Panama Donna and Sammy became estranged. Although they returned on the same ship, they appear on different pages of the manifest and reported living at different addresses. He, his mother’s address in New York and Donna her mother’s address in Detroit.

  7. Next is a photo of Freddie Braddock that appears to have been taken in San Antonio, Texas in June 1952.  I have no idea who this person is nor what his relationship to Donna was.  Another thing to investigate.
  8. A 1954 “Honorable Withdrawal Card” from the Laundry Workers’ International Union.  I knew that Donna worked in laundries.  I also recall her being very pro-union. She said that the rich get rich by exploiting the poor and that unions curb that exploitation. This card really triggers memories for me. I think I should research the LWIU and learn more about this important aspect of Donna’s later life.
  9. There were three letters from me. One made me feel bad. It was a letter from me to Donna apologizing for not visiting her when I was in Minneapolis on military leave. I promised her that I’d visit her on my next return home on leave. Sadly, she died before I returned to Minnesota.
  10. There is a wedding photo of myself and my first wife. I think it is in better condition than the copy that I have.
  11. My son, Matthew, is the subject of a March 1976 photo. He is on the side of a hill.
  12. Donna’s Medicare card from 1966.
  13. A photo of my mother, Sylvia, from Christmas 1970.
  14. And last, but not least, there is a photo of an unknown man in a vintage automobile. The car has “suicide doors” and odd fold out windows. I don’t know what type of car it is. (But, I’ll bet a car buff could tell me.) I’m thinking it might be Russell Kees (the significant other of Donna, not Donna’s son). I definitely need to do more research in this photo.

So, the first ten images yielded 16 items. Only 247 more images to go.  This is going to be fun.

Many thanks to Norma White and to Valerie Lumley for taking care of the collection all these years. Once again, thank you, Norma White, for allowing me to digitize the Donna Darling Collection.

Follow-up Research.

  • Search again for Donna’s connection to Red Rossberg. Were they ever married?
  • Who was Freddie Braddock and what was his relationship to the family?
  • Investigate and research the Laundry Workers’ International Union.
  • Determine the kind of car it is (below)?  Who is the driver?  When might the photo be from?

    Photo of a man in a vintage auto.
    Unknown man in a vintage automobile. How is he related?

 

Donna at the Henderson Theater, Coney Island

Henderson’s Theater, Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York – Week of 6 September 1920. 

We know that Donna had finished a 5-week showing at B.S. Moss’ Broadway Theater on August 29th. We know she performed in that show because she was called out by name, Donna Montran, in one of the ads and in a promotion in the New York Clipper. I believe that after five weeks of solid shows, Donna took off a week before she began again at a new theater.

“California Bathing Girls” opened at Henderson’s Theater in Coney Island on September 6th for one week. Advertising included a short article and a small ad.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle – September 5, 1920

Ad for Henderson's Theater showing California Bathing Girls.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York), Sep 5, 1920 – Page 31 – Henderson’t Theater Ad.

At the Seaside Amusement Places
– – –
Henderson’s Theater.

At Henderson’s Theater a holiday week bill will be headed by Loney Haskell, character comedian, in a monologue. “Dream Stars,” a mixture of tunes and fun, will share the headline honors. Harry Murray heads the cast and is assisted b y Gladys Joye, Bernice La Rue and Julie Steger. Other acts on the bill are the Bathing Girls, Harry and Anna Seymour, Ed Furman and Bill Nash, Sully and Mack, Ed Hill in Hattie’s Creation”: Guy J. Samuel and Lily Leonhard and the Thames Brothers complete the bill.

Variety – September 10, 1920 – Page 5, Vaudeville – Column 4.

Luckily, an article in Variety on September 10, confirmed it was Donna Montran in the Henderson’s production. It is confusing because the article says “Now” and she was there “Now September 10th” however, the text says July 30th and then she was apparently between gigs. In any event, the article shows a photo of Donna sitting wearing a really beautiful hat and confirms that it was her in the California Bathing Girls at Henderson’s Coney Island.

The Variety article indicates that, “Donna Montran has an undeniable million dollar smile, oodles of personality and an elastic voice that hits the high registers smoothly and effectively – would make ideal $4 musical comedy stuff.” (I believe that “$4 musical comedy” refers to the price of a Victrola record.)

Remember that Donna played from July 26th until August 29th at the B.S. Moss’ Broadway Theater. Sometimes that show was called “Bathing Girls,” and sometimes it was called “California Bathing Girls.” However, at the same time (From August 9th until August 21st) there was another show, “Original California Bathing Girls,” playing in Philadelphia. So the question arises, was this another show or did Donna and the troupe make the 1-1/2 to 2-hour commute to Philadelphia every day. I don’t know. Certainly, it is possible.  The newspaper articles I have found for the Broadway Theater engagement are clear; Donna played it.  The Philadelphia engagement is not clear as it never identifies the bathing girls by name.

Again, documents show that Donna played at Henderson’s Theater in Coney Island and that show was California Bathing Girls. I think more research will be needed to determine if Donna played in two shows simultaneously.

Further Research

  • Try to find further evidence if Donna played in the Original California Bathing Girls in Philadelphia from 9 until 21 August 1920 to resolve the conflict

Sources

  1. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) Sun, Sep 5, 1920 · Page 31 – Henderson’s Theater – Via Newspapers.Com http://www.newspapers.com/image/60005902
  2. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) Sun, Sep 5, 1920 · Page 30 – Via Newspapers.com https://www.newspapers.com/image/60005892
  3. Variety – September 10, 1920 – Page 5, Vaudeville – Column 4 (bottom) – Donna Montran

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“Chin Chin” plays at the City Opera House, Frederick, Maryland, on 22 April 1920

We know that the Chin Chin company played in Cumberland, Maryland on April 20th.  We do not know if they played anywhere on the 21st.  But, on the 22nd they played a one-nighter at the City Opera House in Frederick, Maryland.

Preshow Advertising

I have not been successful in finding any articles about the show in the newspapers before the show. Standard advertising seems to have been used exclusively. First, there was a standard “To the General Public” announcement on April 16th, six days before the show. Then regular advertisements ran during the week.

There was a short article and photo about Walter Wills and Roy Binder which ran a couple days before the one-night engagement.  There were no post engagement reviews or stories regarding the show.

City Opera House

Frederick City Opera House

The Frederick City Opera House open in 1891 and was operated by the City of Frederick.[i]  According to the Cahn-Leighton Theatrical Guide of 1913, the Frederick City Opera House seated 1253 — 657 on the main floor, 272 in the balcony, 300 in the gallery and 24 in box seats.[ii] The stage was only 30×30. Shortly after “Chin Chin” played here, the theater was renovated with sound equipment in 1922.

The City Opera House closed in 1961. The stage, opera boxes, balcony, and orchestra pit were demolished; however, the façade of the building was left.

Today, the building is “Brewer’s Alley – Frederick County’s original Brewpub.” They have worked to preserve the elegance and glory of the old Opera House by faux decoration of some of the original ceiling panels and columns to mimic the original Italian Sienna marble.[iii] I definitely will stop and have a drink at Brewer’s Alley and see what they’ve done with the place the next time I drive through the area.

Brewers’ Alley – Old Frederick City Opera House Today

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Endnotes

[i] Internet – Cinema Treasures: City Opera House in Frederick, MD – http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/17170  – Accessed: 1/13/2017

[ii] The Cahn-Leighton Official Theatrical Guide 1913-1914. https://books.google.com/books?id=SBg7AQAAIAAJ&dq=editions%3Aou_zzJuUN5sC&pg=PA9#v=onepage&q&f=false

[iii] Internet – Brewer’s Alley: About Brewer’s – http://www.brewers-alley.com/about/ – Accessed: 1/13/2017.

“Chin Chin” at Maryland Theatre, Cumberland, MD, 20 April 1920

We know that Chin Chin played in Coshocton, Ohio, on April 11th. However, we don’t know yet where else the company played between there and Cumberland.

Stage of the Maryland Theater, Cumberland, MD
Stage of the Maryland Theater, Cumberland, MD via Kidstuff.com

What we do know is from the April 14, 1920, edition of the Cumberland Evening Times – Page 10 – Column 1.

Maryland Theatre

 “Chin Chin” Coming to the Maryland Theatre, Tuesday, April 20

The Production of Charles Dillingham’s “Chin Chin” has rivaled even “Floradora” in its popularity. Walter Wills and Roy Binder are featured members of the organization. They are slim young men, masters of the eccentric dance and comedians of more than ordinary ability.

“Chin Chin is a musical comedy, or extravaganza, or fantasy, whatever it may please one to call it; but it is saturated with the comic spirit and abounds in delightful pantomime.

The notices accorded the company this year prove that the aggregation of players is exceptional and that the production as a whole is a real “Top Notch” Dillingham show, and that even in war times “Chin Chin” has been doing a record business on the road, near army camps and elsewhere.

The book of the play is by Anne Caldwell and R. H. Bernside, Lyrics by Miss Caldwell and James O’Dea, and music by Ivan Caryll, remembered for the melodies of “The Pink Lady” and “The Little Cafe.”

Of its songs, “Violets,” “The Gray Moon,” “Love Moon,” “Good Bye” and “Go Gar Sig Gong Jute” are not likely to be forgotten for some seasons to come. There is also saxaphone music by the renowned Tom Brown’s Clown Sextette. In fact, “Chin Chin” is one of those fortunate shows that is clean and wholesome fun, offending no one.


Maryland Theatre

Drawing - Maryland Theatre, Cumberland, MD c. 1907
Drawing – Maryland Theatre, Cumberland, MD c. 1907

The Maryland Theater was built for about $70,000 based upon plans by John D. Allen, Philadelphia, PA. It opened on 21 November, 1907 with a seating capacity of nearly 1800. It closed on 9 October, 1963 and was demolished in December, 1966.[i]

The 1920 Census indicates that Cumberland was a city of nearly 30,000 people.  The Julius Cahn Theatrical Guide for 1913-1914 indicates that the theatre had a capacity of 1,696, 600 on the main floor, 340 in the balcony, 600 in the gallery, and 56 box seats. The Stage was a large 38×33 feet and the front to back wall was 41 feet.  There were four stage pockets.  For newspapers, besides the “Times,” whose afternoon circulation was 7,179, there was the “News” with a morning circulation of 4,000.[ii]

 

Further Research

Obtain a subscription to Newspaper Archives and look for additional information about “Chin Chin” playing in the Cumberland Times.

Find a source for the Cumberland News and see if they have any articles regarding the show.


 Endnotes

[i] Internet: Cinema Treasurers – Maryland Theater in Cumberland, MD – http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/28957

[ii] The Julius Cahn – Gus Hill – Theatrical Guide 1913-1914: Page 290 – Cumberland, MD, via Google Books

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Donna in New Philadelphia, OH, at the Union Theatre – 10 April, 1920

Vaudeville

It had been a busy week. We now know “Chin Chin” played at the Park Theatre in Youngstown on Thursday[i] and the Victoria Theatre in Steubenville on Friday. It was back to the train and headed west about an hour to New Philadelphia for a one-night show at the Union Opera House on Saturday, April 10th.

The Daily Times 3 April 1920
The Daily Times
3 April 1920 Source: Newspapers.com

The initial notice for the show appeared in The Daily Times (New Philadelphia) on April 3, 1920, which was the Saturday before the Saturday show. The Daily Times was the major newspaper of the area with a circulation of 2,575 per the Julius Cahn Theatrical Guide of 1914. Advertising during the subsequent days let folks know many of the particulars of the show, including two car loads of scenery, seven sets, indoor circus, and, of course, the Clown Saxophone Band would be there. Besides the stars, Walter Wills and Roy Binder, Ethel Lawrence and George Usher are mentioned in articles.

1920-04-08-TheDailyTimes-Page5
The Daily Times (New Philadelphia, OH) April 8, 1920, Page 5 Source: Newspapers.com

On April 8th, the Daily Times did run a photo showing 16 of “Chin Chinners.”  I don’t see Donna in this group, but with 65 women in the show that is understandable.

The show itself appears to have gone off without a hitch. According to the “Daily Times” of April 12th, the show had the “biggest crowd of the season.” However, across the street, three men robbed the Union Restaurant at gunpoint during the show. I’ll bet that disrupted theatregoers from having a bite after the show.  Three gunmen — $19.00 taken. They apparently didn’t know what they were doing as they left $40 in silver in the cash register and just took the folding money.

Union Opera Theater – New Philadelphia, OH

(This article was updated.  See: Update – Union Opera Theater – New Philadelphia, OH.)

The Hotel Reeves (New Philadelphia, OH)
Crop of card00072_fr.
Source: Card Cow

I have not been successful determining the exact location of the Union Opera House. Some articles indicate that it was “near the courthouse.” A review of the 1921 City Directory for New Philadelphia indicates that it was “at rear of Hotel Reeves Building.” That same directory indicates that the Hotel Reeves was at 133-135 North Broadway[ii], which seems to be where the county courthouse is.

The Union Opera House had a capacity of 1,057 – 502 on the main floor, 230 in the balcony, 300 in the gallery, and 24 in box seats. The US Census indicates that the population of New Philadelphia, OH was 10,718,[iii] so the venue could hold nearly 10% of the population of the city. However, the city of Dover is adjacent to New Philadelphia and contributed another 8,000 to the population.

The Union Opera House was probably built in 1863[iv].

The Union Opera House was destroyed by fire in November 1893. Rebuild date is not known.

The Union Opera House operated until at least 1940.[v]

Specifications for the Union Opera House[vi]

  • Proscenium opening: 32×22 ft
  • Front to back wall: 42 ft
  • Between side walls: 66 ft
  • Apron 5 ft
  • Between fly girders: 43 ft
  • To rigging loft: 40 ft
  • To fly gallery: 23 ft
  • 11 Dressing rooms

Further Research

I have contacted the Tuscarawas Historical Society regarding information about the Union Opera House (Theatre) regarding the history and the disposition of the theatre.

According to the Julius Cahn Theatrical Guide, there were four newspapers associated New Philadelphia at the time; the “Times,” “Tribune,” the “Democrat,” and the “Reporter” (at Canal Dover). I have been unable to find copies of those papers. Find sources for the three papers and see if they have any articles regarding the show.

Endnotes

[i] I just learned of this performance this week
[ii] Ancestry.Com – U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 – New Philadelphia, Ohio, City Directory, 1921, pages 136 and 219.
[iv] Web: Cinema Treasurers, Quaker Cinema, Comments, Comment by Joe Vogel on January 5, 2010, See http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/6619
[v] Web: Times-Reporter Article posted March 16, 2014, “Local History: Night spots aplenty in the late 1930s” by Jon Baker, TimesReporter.com staff writer. http://www.timesreporter.com/article/20140316/News/140319340
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