“Donna in the News” is my reporting of newly found newspapers articles and advertising regarding my grandmother, Madonna Montran (aka Donna Montran and aka Donna Darling). I am always excited when I find a new venue for my grandmother’s exciting show business career of the 1910s and 1920s.
This week, from Newspapers.com, I learned of five new venues for Donna.
From the Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, NY) dated 25 January 1921, I learned that Donna Montran and her “California Bathing Beauties” were booked into the Keeney Theatre. The dates and length of the booking is unclear but I now know she was there in late January 1921.
The York Daily Record (York, PA) dated 4 April 1922, indicates that Donna Darling played at the York Opera House. The dates suggested are April 3rd, 4th, and 5th. Those dates are in conflict with other items I’ve found indicating that on April 3rd, 4th, and 5th Donna played in Johnstown, PA. Further investigation is needed on this topic.
From the Morning Call (Paterson, NJ)) dated 4 December 1922, I learned that Dona [sic] Darling and Boys played the Majestic Theatre on the 4th, 5th, and 6th, of December 1922.
Of particular interest, the Winona (MN) Daily News indicated that “Donna Darling and Earle” played at the Strand Theatre on May 12th and 13th 1923. This booking fits into a large gap I’ve had in her work.
Back to the Brooklyn (NY) Times Union, this time dated 5 May 1928. In that issue, I learned that Donna Darling and Somory [sic] Clark played at the Majestic Theatre in Brooklyn. Again, it is unclear what the exact dates were, but I know it was in May 1928.
Additions to Donna’s Career History
Jan 25-?, 1921 – Brooklyn, New York – Keeney Theatre – Donna Montran and her “California Bathing Beauties.”
April 3-5, 1922 – York, PA – York Opera House – Donna Darling & Boys – Conflict.
December 3-5, 1922 – Paterson, NJ – Majestic Theatre – Donna and Boys.
May 12-13, 1923 – Winona, Minnesota – Strand Theatre – “Donna Darling and Earle.”
May 5, 1928 – Brooklyn, New York – Majestic Theatre – Donna Darling and Sammy Clark.
I will further research these performances and theatres in future postings. I currently have 110 performance events to still write about and research.
Donna Montran & “Chin Chin” at the Empire Theatre, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada on January 12th thru 14th, 1920
Vaudeville – Chin Chin – Donna Montran
It was a hectic week before. The “Chin Chin” company played in Medicine Hat on the 5th and 6th, in Lethbridge on the 7th, and Calgary the 8th through the 10th. After seven days of shows in three cities, I hope the cast received the 11th off, because the crew would do three days at the Empire Theatre in Saskatoon[i] before continuing on to another three days (the 15th thru the 17th) in Regina. Saskatoon was bitter cold that week. When the cast arrived on the 12th the high temperature for that day was a balmy 28 degrees Fahrenheit. That night the temperature dropped to two degrees and continued to drop to five degrees below the night of the 13th. When the cast left on the morning of the 15th, the temperature was still below zero.[ii]
The first newspaper advertising I’ve found was 9 days before the show. On January 3rd, 1920, the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, on page 10, column 3, the last article reported that the “Dreams of Arabian Nights Realized in ‘Chin Chin.’”
DREAMS OF ARABIAN NIGHTS REALIZED IN “CHIN CHIN”
Coming to the Empire theatre on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 12, 13 and 14, is Charles Dillingham’s “Chin Chin” the musical comedy which is one of those tales of love and wishing common to the Arabian Nights. All impossibilities are crowded into it, jumbled together like the figures in a dream, and in the end it resolves itself into a vehicle for the display of the clever grotesqueries of the two clever “turn” artist, Walter Wills and Roy Binder. Mr. Binder gives us a rapid succession Chin Hop Low, the widow, a Coolie, and the Ring Master, lightning changes of mood, manner and get-up that provoke the audience to mirth. No more diverting and entertaining “comics” have come this way for many seasons.
In the same paper, on page 3, was a display ad for the coming show. On the 5th was another display ad and on the 7th was another text story about “CHIN CHIN” COMING. The 10th and the 12th had similar articles and displays.
On the 13th, the day after the show’s opening, both the Saskatoon Daily Star and the Saskatoon Star Phoenix had articles that included callouts about Donna.
The Daily Star wrote, “Outstand among the other principals were Donna Montran as the goddess of the lamp, Neva Larry….”
The Star Phoenix wrote, “Donna Montran has a nice voice and puts two very pretty songs across to advantage. Star Dunham.…”
The Empire Theatre opened in 1910 as a live stage venue. It was built as an addition to the existing Empire Hotel. In 1914, the theatre was equipped with screen films, keeping it current. In 1930, the theater was sold, converted to full-time motion pictures, and renamed the Victory Theatre.[iii]
Specifications for the Empire Theatre
Seating Capacity: 1,154 Total — 442 on the floor, 276 in the balcony, 400 in the gallery, and 36 in boxes.[iv]
Proscenium opening: 27×32 ft
Front to back wall: 22 ft
Nearby, the Elite Café (#2 on map), which was a block from the theatre, advertised that they catered to performers. About two blocks away was the Hub Café (#1 on map) which touted Yankee Coffee and that “All the Acts Ate Here Last Week.” The Canadian National Railway station was about two blocks from the venue and the Canadian Pacific Railway station was another block or so further.[v]
What happened to theater
During the 1960s the brick exterior was clad in marble. Today, the theatre building is part of “The Lighthouse,” which provides long-term housing for 68 people.[vi]
[i] I learned that Donna played Saskatoon last January and wrote about that in a “Donna in the News” post.
For this week’s Treasure Chest Tuesday, I’m looking at a page from the Donna Darling Collection. The page includes two photos, one ad for the Bijou, one non-descript ad, and two articles about Donna and Sammy playing at Lowe’s.
Lowe’s Theatre – “Seven Sinners”
The only item identified with a date is the clipping for Loew’s Theatre – “Seven Sinners”. It indicates June 24, 25, 26 and “Ont.) IMDB indicates that the movie was released on 7 November 1925 in the USA. That would suggest the film played at Loew’s in June 1926.
Donna and Sammy played at the Capitol Theater in Kitchener on June 21, 22, & 23, so it fits that after Kitchener they went the 110km (68 miles) to London to play at the Loew’s Theatre there.
The first article reads:
Dona Darling, former Zeifield Follies girl, heads an all-star vaudeville cast at Loew’s Theatre the last half of this week, and together with the famous crook story, “Seven Sinners,” as the feature picture, London theatregoers are treated to a perfectly balanced theatre bill. Mary Prevost makes a crook really too pleasant to be natural, and Clive Brook, the hero, is an excellent parallel.
The story is interesting in its novelty; everybody in it is a crook, but everybody manages to enlist the sympathies of the audience before the picture ends. The settinsg [sic] show careful choosing and the plot development is well worked out. The story consists of the efforts of seven crooks to steal jewels from a deserted mansion, and then, when the house is quarantined with them inside it, the owner returns. Situations develop which are in turn funny and tense, until, at the end, crooks are probed to be sometimes nearly human, after all.
The vaudeville bill is exceptionally fine. It is seldom that London audiences have the pleasure of seeing such smooth aerial performancers as the Aerial Smiths on the same bill as the act given by Dave Fox and Jane Allyn. This is a comedy skit of unusual merit entitled, “To Let.” The last act on the bill, the Darling and Clark Revue, has five very capable performers. The dancing in the first part is especially good.
The second clipping appears to have been clipped without the information about the motion picture. The clipping says:
AT THE THEATERS
The trapeze work of the vaudeville program is carried out by the Aerial Smiths. It is said of them that they have been a long time at it, and it can be said for them that they haven’t wasted their time. They make other acts of their kind look like the last rose of summer, especially when the climax is reached and the woman shoots out on a trapeze that suddenly lengthens as she swings in mid-air.
Fox and Allen entertain with songs and patter based upon an unsatisfactory search for an apartment in a big town. They seem to please and draw to themselves a generous amount of the applause.
The Darling and Clark Revue is not the kind that deals exclusively in dancing. It has that, too, but it also has other features equally as entertaining, including songs, whistling, a clever recitation and a darkened-stage novelty. The whole is permeated with the personality of Miss Darling, there are five persons.
The third item is a simple ad for Donna and Sammy and “Their New Revue.” There is no theatre mentioned but it reminds us that Donna was “The Scintillating Beauty” and Sammy was the “Juvenile Komik.”
Next, are two photos that appear to shoe the entire cast of the Darling and Clark Revue. It looks like one photo was taken by Donna and includes Sammy as the third person from the left. The second one looks like it was taken by Sammy and has Donna as the third person from the left. I am quite certain the other three people in these photos are the other members of the show. I will need to do a little more research to determine what their names were.
Finally, there is an ad for “Decatur’s Favorite – The Bijou” It mentions three vaudeville acts: Donna Darling and Sammy Clare [sic] Revue “A Modern Vaudeville Frolic” Donna & Sammy’s show is playing with Paul & Darling “Two Broadway Rounders” and Billy De Armo doing a comedy novelty show. It wouldn’t be clear why this clipping would be on the same page with the Loew’s Theatre clippings unless you knew that Donna and Sammy played at the Bijou Theatre in Decatur, IL only eight days later.
I was able to add a new venue to Donna’s Career. She and Sammy played June 24 to 26, 1924, in their “Darling and Clark Revue” at Loew’s Theatre in London, Ontario, Canada.
I was also able to add images I suspect are the three other performers in the show.
Finally, I was able to add another advertising clipping to Donna and Sammy’s show at the Bijou Theatre in Decatur, IL.
Research the other three individuals who play in the Darling and Clark Revue.
For this week’s Treasure Chest Tuesday, I’m looking at “DSCN1419” from the Donna Darling Collection. There were five items on this page.
Loew’s … On the Stage – Donna Darling The Scintillating Beauty in “Her Jewel Review” and two other big acts.
The accompanying movie was Constance Talmadge in “Her Sister from Paris.” There were many Loew’s Theatre’s, so it isn’t clear which of the 147 Loew’s theatres this one was[i].
The second and third clippings provide the answer. One is a long, thin page header which indicates, “London Evening Advertiser, Friday, February 26, 1926.” The other is an article, “At the Theatres,” which describes what was playing at Loew’s Theatre. Together, with the advertisement clipping, they show Donna played at the Loew’s Theatre in London, Ontario, from February 25th through the 27th, 1926.
Donna Darling Revue is one of the best dancing and singing acts seen at Loew’s for some time. All the girls are beautiful, and they can dance. Miss Darling proves her versality by appearing in four different roles, singing and dancing in each. A splendid selection of costume dances brings calls for many encores and on the whole the girls prove a huge success.
Further searching on Cinema Treasures, indicated there was a Loew’s Theater, which was built in 1924, existed in London Ontario. I know that Donna played at the Capitol Theatre in Toronto, Ontario, from February 8th through the 13th, and at the Colonial Theatre in Detroit from February 28th through March 3rd, so her playing in London between them makes sense.
The fourth image was one of her dog. The photo was severely damaged over time and not worth trying to clean it up.
The final image was one of her husband, Sammy. It is a lovely photo that adds to my collection of Sammy photos. Long coat, hat, gloves, he looks so gangster from the 1920s. He clearly dressed in the style of the mid-1920s.
February 25-27, 1926 – Loew’s Theatre, London, Ontario – Donna Darling in “Her Jewel Revue” added to Donna’s list of performances.
Research Loew’s Theatre in London, Ontario and write about her show there and the theatre.
My understanding of the early career of Donna Montran is filled with holes. We know that she married Thomas Rooney on November 23, 1915. I have only found one event in her life during 1916 and one in 1917. Both of these events took place in Massachusetts. It appears that she was still in Boston on January 27, 1918, but by the following month (February 1918), she had located to New York and began appearing on the “United Time.”
It is the April 10th issue of the New York Clipper[i] which gives us an indication that she probably had a bad experience. It reported:
MONTRAN AND KENNIER UNITE
Dinna Montran[ii], of musical comedy fame, and George Kennier, principal with “Very Good Eddie,” have framed a singing and dancing act for the Moss and Lowe Circuits.
Likewise, the April 17th issue of the New York Clipper[iii] reported:
George Kennier and Dinna Montran will put on a new singing and dancing act within the near future.
Then silence for over a year, from the New York Clipper, until October 22nd, 1919, when it reported:
Dora Montran opened with “Chin Chin” in Omaha last week.[iv]
What happened with Donna and her career from April 1918 until January 1919? It appears that her association with George Kennier was short-lived and went nowhere. My searches for George Kennier found nothing about such a show and I found nothing about him in the vaudeville news after it.
I think I need to add two in-depth research tasks.
I need to know more about Donna’s second husband, Thomas Valentine Rooney. He married Donna in 1915 directed her in 1919. He also did scenery and other functions for Donna in 1920. He seems to fade away from Donna’s life in late 1920.
I also need to add an in-depth research task to research George Kennier. There was a George Kennier who lived in Boston in 1915. Is this the same person? Donna was in Boston in 1915, so it is possible that they knew each other there and then started to put together a show in 1918. We will see what the research finds.
[i] New York Clipper – 10 April 1918, Page 6, Column 4, Paragraph 6 – “Montran and Kennier Unite.”
[ii] I have little doubt that “Dinna Montran” and “Donna Montran” are the same person. I don’t know if she was trying out using Dinna or if the paper got here name wrong. However, the Montran name is so unusual and another Montran who was known for musical comedy is very unlikely.
[iii] New York Clipper – 17 April 1918, Page 19, Column 2, Paragraph 10 – Kennier & Montran….
[iv] That report is just a little off. She joined “Chin Chin” on October 30th in Decatur, Illinois. “Chin Chin” didn’t play in Omaha until November 7th. Also, there never was another Montran with the “Chin Chin” show besides Donna.