Donna & the Victory Theater, Dayton, Ohio

Donna Montran and “Chin Chin” play at the Victory Theater in Dayton, Ohio on April 2nd & 3rd, 1920.

 By Don Taylor

On April 1st, “Chin Chin” played at the Grand Opera House in Canton, Ohio. The troupe then traveled 200 miles to the southwest to Dayton and the beautiful Victory Theater.

The Dayton Daily News of March 28th, advertised the show was coming – Friday and Saturday April 2 & 3 – Matinee Saturday.

Chin Chin Ad – Source Dayton Daily News, March 28, 1920, Page 25.

Advertising let potential patrons know that the show was:

“The only company presenting in the original entirety the Greatest American Musical Comedy Charles Dillingham’s “Chin Chin” with Walter Wills and Roy Binder. Two Years at the Globe Theater, N.Y. Clean and Wholesome Fun – Running over with clever acts, “Chin Chin” has a name of Magic-Music That Is Sorcery – Nifty Little Chinese Maids – Toys – Coolies – Bears – A Real Circus Tent – Clowns – Bareback Riders – Grotesque Dancing A-Plenty and Tom Brown’s Clown Saxophone Band. “

Other advertising before the show was consistent with advance advertising at other venues.

Reviews

The show of April 2nd was not well received. James Muir wrote for the Dayton Daily News, probably, the most scathing review of “Chin Chin” I have ever read. In the midst of his tirade, he does mention that Donna has a “fair voice.”

Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) · 03 Apr 1920, Sat · Page 8
AMUSEMENTS

Inferior Company at Victory Is Presenting “Chin Chin”

By James Muir

We have always believe there is nothing so bad but that it might be worse. But that was before we witnessed “Chin Chin” Friday night at the Victory theater and found it to be a production sunk in the abysmal depths of putridity. Had it been the offering of Thursday we might have considered it an April Fool joke and laughed with gusto and admitted that the joke was on us. But since it came too late to be taken in the spirit of fun, we will have to review it, albeit with tongue in cheek, and thus unburden our tale of woe.

Perhaps the least said about such shows the better, silence sometimes being an expression of contempt. But it would be straining the quality of mercy to pass it by, besides doing an injustice to the readers who are guided in their theater attendance, to some extent, by the reviews in the newspapers. So for them, we say that if you expect the Clown Band of Saxophonists, which is really good, there is little left to the show.

At the close of the second act at least 50 people left the theater. The expression on their faces gave them the appearance of a lodge of sorrow leaving the home of some deceased brother.

“These people are not actors, they’re murderers,” fumed one young man as he left the theater with his lady escort. Perhaps he was stewing over the $5.50 which he had paid for his seats.

Evidently, she was too exasperated to answer him.

“The critics are all that will be left,” laughed another, as the people continue to file out.

“Well why don’t you go too?” asked his friend.

“Oh, it’s warm here, at least,” he replied. “Besides the circus scent in that second act left me almost unconscious. I’ll have to get back my strength before I go home.”

We are tempted to continue in this strain still further, even though we are mindful that this is not good criticism and that it is much easier to be a foolish jester than a wise critic. And yet, one much laugh in order to keep from crying. This is the American way of letting off steam.

For to take “Chin Chin” seriously is to tell the truth about it; to state that it has the rancid odor of the tanks; to become querulous and ill-natured because in this large and numerically impressive company there is hardly a good voice, and hardly a situation intended for comedy that is not spoiled by the two gloom dispensers, Walter Wills and Roy Binder. They are the successors of Montgomery and Stone, for whom the three-act musical fantasy was written by Anne Caldwell and R. H. Burnside, with music by Ivan Caryll. Wills attempts to imitate Stone and Binder to imitate Montgomery, with disastrous results, of course. Indeed Wills has nothing to give but some of the clownish movement of Fred Stone, for he is quite lacking in the mirthful spirit of that great comedian. He almost ruins the clever fake ventriloquial scent by his inane manner of repeating, “Very good, Eddie, very good.” However, to give the devil his dues he does some capable dancing in the Dance Poetique number with Irene McKay, receiving some well-deserved applause for his accomplishment.

Discover you family history through historical newspapers at Newspapers.comAs for the other twenty or more principals, we can only say that most of them hardly know the rudiments of acting, much less how to recite lines, sing songs and win laughter. To run down the list of the bad ones would take too long. So we will mention only a few who are somewhat better than the others. Starr Dunham, as Aladdin, is the best of these. He has a good voice and he renders quite well. Donna Montran, the goddess of the lamp, is a beautiful blond with a fair voice. Carrie Dale as Widow Twankey, as some personality but no opportunity to do anything. Ethel Lawrence assists Dunham in his singing of the tuneful “Love Moon” in an acceptable manner.

“Chin Chin” is an extravaganza built around the Arabian Nights story of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp. It is big and showy from a scenic standpoint, though, of course, no settings look fresh after six years of wear. But it was never a very sprightly entertainment in itself, being wholly dependent upon Montgomery and Stone who could make almost anything go. So, when Montgomery died and Stone went into another production, “Chin Chin” should have been shelved or put on one of the cheaper circuits At the present price and with the present company, Charles Dillingham is taking money under false pretenses. A much better company presented “The Red Mill” at the old National theater at a top price of 75 cents, after Montgomery and Stone had discarded it.

Ouch. That was painful to read. In defense of the cast, they had been on the road ten months at this point. They typically did ten or more shows a week in four or five different cities. It had to have been totally exhausting. Luckily, the show only ran a few more weeks, ending in May 1920.

After the showing in Dayton, the troupe continued on and performed at Camp Sherman, (Chillicothe) Ohio, 75 miles to the southeast the following night.

Theater 

Victory Theater

The Victory Theater is one of the greatest and oldest theaters of America. The theater opened as The Turner Opera House in 1866. The theater burned in 1869 and was rebuilt in 1871 and renamed “The Music Hall.” In 1885, it became “The Grand Opera House” and in 1899 was renamed the “Victoria Opera House.”  In 1903, it became the “Victoria Theater.”

In 1913, the Great Dayton Flood severely damaged the ground floor of the theater. In 1918, the theater had another fire. At the end of World War I, the theater had extensive remodeling and reopened as “The Victory Theater” in 1919. In 1930, the theater was modified to support talking pictures. It was renamed the “Victoria Theater” after extensive renovations, in 1989, to outfit the theater expressly for performing arts.

Today the theater is operated by the Victoria Theatre Association. You can take a virtual tour of the theater on their website. It is a truly beautiful theater. They currently present productions of classics such as Adam’s Rib, The Princess Bride, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.


 Endnotes

“Chin Chin” at Liberty Theater, Camp Sherman, Ohio

Donna Montran and “Chin Chin” played at the Liberty Theatre, Camp Sherman, (Chillicothe), Ohio on 4 April 1920

Vaudeville/Chin-Chin
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.“Chin Chin” played at the Grand Opera House in Canton, Ohio on April 1st. It is not clear if they played anywhere on April 2nd or 3rd, but the cast and crew arrived to perform at the Liberty Theatre at Camp Sherman, (Chillicothe) Ohio on April 4th, 1920.

Show Advertising

Even though the show was on a military base, advertising was like most cities that the show went to. I have been unable to find base papers, handbills, or programs, so all I have seen came from the Chillicothe Gazette, the nearby town’s newspaper. There was a typical “Chin-Chin” advertisement showing Walter Wills and Roy Binder about five days before the show. Long thin column ads ran on April 1st and 2nd mentioning that the show sold out in many locations before and those that want to see the show should get their tickets right away.

On the day before the show, another “Chin-Chin” ad ran in the Chillicothe Gazette showing the “Pekin Girls.”

There were no reviews nor was there any after show information regarding the show.

Liberty Theater, Camp Sherman

Liberty Theater, Camp Sherman

In the spring of 1917, the loss of seven ships and related heavy loss of American lives spurred president Woodrow Wilson to request of Congress a declaration of war against Germany. The declaration was approved on 6 April 1917, and America entered the war.[i]

A massive construction program created by the War Department resulted in the simultaneous nation-wide construction of 16 new National Army cantonments and 16 new Army National Guard training camps.

Approximately 5,000 workers had arrived by 5 July 1917, and construction started the next day.[ii] During the war construction never ended. There were 13 contracts for building during the war and there was constant expansion until Armistice Day. Besides barracks, the Camp included 11 YMCA buildings and three theaters.  Two for motion pictures and one building, the Liberty Theatre, that could do both motion pictures and live shows.

The theater was completed by December 1917. Most sources I have found indicate it had a seating capacity of 1,300 people,[iii] however, the Julius Cahn – Gus Hill 1922 Supplement indicates the seating capacity was 2,500. All agree that it was managed by a civilian.

Most of the Camp’s buildings were demolished during the 1920s.

Camp Sherman

Image of Woodrow Wilson created by 21,000 officers and men. Camp Sherman 1918. Photo: Public Domain via Library of Congress.

Camp Sherman is particularly well known for a formation they did consisting of 21,000 troops that formed an image of Woodrow Wilson. It is one of those truly amazing Great War photos.

The next day, the “Chin Chin” cast and crew played 150 miles north of Chillicothe at the  Sandusky Theater in Sandusky, Ohio.

 


Endnotes

[i] Camp Sherman, Ohio: History of a World War I Training Camp by Susan I. Enscore, Adam D. Smith, and Megan W. Tooker – Published by US Army Corps of Engineers – ERDC/CERL TR-15-25 – December 2015. Page 24

[iii] History of the Ohio State University – Volume IV, The University in the Great War, Part III, In the Camps and at the Front by Wilbur H. Siebert.

Oil City Opera House – 15 March 1920 – “Chin Chin”

Donna Montran and “Chin Chin” play at the Oil City Opera House in Oil City, Pennsylvania on 15 March 1920

We know that “Chin-Chin” played at the Franklin Opera House in Franklin, PA, on March 12th.  Certainly, the troupe played somewhere Saturday and Sunday, the 13th and 14th, but I have not discovered where—Yet.

Preshow Advertising appears to have begun on March 10th with a standard “Announcement to the Public” about the show coming. The same announcement ran on March 11th. There was also an “Amusements Ad” which spoke about Charles Dillingham and his previous successes and about some of the music in the show. That ad ran again on March 12th. There is no mention of Donna nor her role in the show.[i]

On the 12th ran a common “girls ad” for the show (See above.) and on the 13th a different advertisement ran. There was no Sunday paper for the News-Herald. The show may have sold out before Monday the 15th because there were no ads in the Monday paper.

I have not found any reviews or post-show information on this presentation.

Oil City Opera House

The Oil City Opera House is one of the few theaters that do not appear to have made the transition into film. It is not listed in any of the theater guides I have found. The Julius Cahn Gus Hill Theatrical Guide for 1913-1914 reports that the Oil City Opera House seated 1,023 people – 389 on the lower floor, 302 in the Balcony, 300 in the Gallery, and 32 in the box seats. The stage was 32 ¼ x 24 feet.[ii]

The Julius Cahn guild mentions that there were two newspapers, in Oil City, first the Blizzard with a circulation of 3,000 and the “Derrick” with a circulation of 6,075. I have not found either of them available online. The newspaper articles and advertising I have found are from the “News-Herald” in Franklin, PA, which is about 8 miles away.

The Oil City Opera House was first built in 1872 at the head of Center street. It burned in February 1884. In the summer of 1885, several businessmen purchased the site and began construction of a new opera house. The site again burned during the 1890s.[iii] I’m not sure what would be considered “the head of Center Street.” But based on my guess, today it currently appears to be the site of an old (1940s?), abandoned bank building and a parking lot. 


Endnotes

[i] The News-Herald (Franklin, Pennsylvania) · Wed, Mar 10, 1920, · Page 10, via Newspapers.com.
[ii] The Julius Cahn Gus Hill Theatrical Guide for 1913-1914, Page 589.
[iii] Babcock, Charles A. 1919. Venango County, Pennsylvania: her pioneers and people. Volume I. Via Google Books – https://goo.gl/3Mx8na

Donna & “Chin Chin” play Franklin Opera House – 12 Mar 1920

Donna Montran and “Chin Chin” play at the Franklin Opera House in Franklin, Pennsylvania on March 12, 1920

Ad for Franklin Opera House, showing "Chin Chin" is coming, Friday Mar. 12th 1920
Franklin Opera House, Friday Mar. 12th – “Chin Chin”

“Chin Chin” came to the Franklin Opera House for a show on March 12th, 1920. It had played at the Lyceum Theater in Rochester, NY, sometime during the week of March 5th. I am not sure where the show was during the week between Rochester, NY, and Franklin, PA.

Ad showing Walter Wills, Roy Bender, & key cast members of "Chin Chin"

Preshow advertising begins with a standard “Chin Chin” ad and a photo of the famous Tom Brown clown band, three days before the show.[i]  Additional ads ran on the 10th and the 11th. Finally, on show day (March 12) there were several ads and illustrations printed in the paper[ii] –  Page 2 had a photo showing key cast members and page 7 had a normal ad.

Reviews

Interestingly enough, I was unable to find a pre-production story about the show nor a post-production review of the show

Theater

Franklin, PA was one of the smaller towns that the show played at. The 1920 Census indicated that the population was just under 10,000.[iii] The “Julius Cahn – Gus Hill Theatrical Guide for 1913-1914” indicates that the Franklin Opera House seating capacity was 925 people, 401 on the lower floor, 200 in the balcony, 300 in the gallery, and 24 boxes. The stage was 28×22 feet with a 6-foot apron.[iv]

Image of parade of the Grand Old Army, Franklin, PA, Aug 1887.
The Franklin Opera House is the second building from left (with 2nd-floor awnings. SOURCE: Facebook-Venango County Historical Society – GAR Parade – Franklin, PA – Aug 1887.

I have not been able to find a good, clear photo of the theater, however, the photo of the Grand Army of the Republic in Aug 1887 parading does show the theater. In that photo, the building on the left is the town hall, next to it is a building with awnings on the second-floor windows. Looking closely, you can see it says “Opera House” across the building.

The Opera House opened in 1866 and provided theater presentations and speakers for many years. In 1883 the city hall was built next door on the Corner of Thirteenth and Buffalo Streets. The opera house was on the Thirteenth side of city hall. I have not found any evidence that the Opera House ever make the switch to movies, nor have I found evidence of exactly when the theater closed or was demolished. However, it was clearly gone by the time the old city offices, were demolished and the new city hall was built during the 1960s.[v]

In 1864, John Wilkes Booth formed an oil company in Franklin and resided in Franklin when he performed at the Franklin Opera House.[vi] Besides theater productions, the Opera House provided a venue for famous speakers such as Samuel Clemens and Susan B. Anthony.[vii]

Today, the site is the location of the Franklin City Hall.


Endnotes:

[i] The News-Herald (Franklin, PA) March 9, 1920 – Page 2 – Tom Brown Band image, column 6&7. Newspapers.com

[ii] The News-Herald (Franklin, PA) March 12, 1920 – Page 2 – Cast image, Column 3. Bottom. Newspapers.com

[iii] Wikipedia – Franklin, Pennsylvania – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franklin%2C_Pennsylvania

[iv] The Cahn-Leighton official theatrical guide. (1913). New York, N.Y: Publication Office, New Amsterdam Theatre Building.

[v] Internet:  City of Franklin, PA – Old City Hall and Opera House. https://www.franklinpa.gov/files/part4.pdf

[vi] See Endnote i above.

[vii] See Endnote iii above.

Donna Montran – Metropolitan Opera House, Minneapolis, MN – 1 Feb 1920

Donna: “Best vocal offering of the performance”

Vaudeville – “Chin Chin”
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.We know that “Chin Chin” played at the Walker Theatre in Winnipeg on January 19-24, but I still haven’t determined where the show was from the 25th to the 31st.  That is a full week still unaccounted for.  It is likely that during that week the show played somewhere in the North Dakota or northern Minnesota.  In any event, the “Chin Chin” cast arrived in Minneapolis and opened on February 1st for a full week at the Metropolitan Opera House (aka Metropolitan Theatre).

The Minneapolis Sunday Tribune had a wonderful spread about the show in their “On Stage and Screen” section of the paper. There was a cute photo of the Quartet of Dancing Dolls from [the] “Chin Chin” Chorus as well as one of the better pre-show articles that I’ve seen. Donna was not part of this chorus but she is mentioned in the article.

 

Image of Minneapolis Sunday Tribune - On Stage and Screen - Chin Chin - 1 Feb 1920
Minneapolis Sunday Tribune – On Stage and Screen – Chin Chin – 1 Feb 1920

METROPOLITAN

CHARLES DILLINGHAM’S production of “Chin Chin,” a musical extravaganza of enduring popularity because of its delightful melodies, comes to the Metropolitan for the week, opening tonight. “Chin Chin” will be remembered as the last play in which the versatile Fred Stone and the late Dave Montgomery appeared as co-stars, a vehicle in which these comedians enjoyed a phenomenal success on Broadway and later on tour. In it they appeared together in Minneapolis for the last time in 1917.

Easily, the chief asset of “Chin Chin,” considered solely as a dramatic composition, is the excellent music which Ivan Caryell provided for the piece. There is practically no plot to the variegated performance, merely a string of incidents strung together on the thin thread of the idea of Aladdin and his wonderful, taken from old Arabian Nights tale. but the music is something to recall with genuine pleasure long after one has forgotten plot and principals. “Love Moon,” “Good-bye, Girls,” and “Ragtime Temple Bells” are airs which hold an irresistible appeal, which one hums over reminiscently, dances to and probably adds to his collection of favorite phonograph records to perpetuate. “Chin Chin” is blessed with perhaps the best music of any musical comedy which has appeared in many seasons.

Starting in a quaint Oriental toy bazaar, the action passes rapidly to a tea shop where a New Year’s celebration is in progress, on to a palace and winds up in a real circus. The pseudo-plot is built about the properties of a magical lamp which has the power to grant any wish of its possessor. A charming American girl and Aladdin, the young here, are in search of this lamp but encounter difficulties in the person of Abannbar, a wily Chinese villain who finally is ordered off the stage to permit the play to end happily.

Chin Hop Hi and Chin Hop Low, the slaves of the lamp, provide the chief fun of the piece. These will be played by Walter Wills and Roy Binder, two comedians who come well recommended for their drollery and clever dancing.

Other principals with this production are: Ethel Lawrence, Donna Montran,[i] Irene McKay, Carrie Dale, Nora Sieler, Neva Larry, Irene Burka, Victoria Burka, Louise Robinson, Starr Dunham, Joseph Robinson, English Orly, Richard Bosch, Edward Klement and George Phelps. There is also a large chorus of pretty girls.

Entertainments

Image of Minneapolis Sunday Tribune Article
Minneapolis Sunday Tribune (Minneapolis, MN),  Feb 2, 1920, Page 6

METROPOLITAN

Replete with the elaborate costuming and scenery that characterize a Dillingham production, “Chin Chin” opened a week’s engagement at the Metropolitan last night. It is the tuneful, rollicking, gloom-dispelling farce of other days when Fred Stone and the late Dave Montgomery utilized it as one of their most successful vehicles. Like many modern musical comedies, “Chin Chin” is unembarrassed by a plot, though this feature in no wise detracts from one’s enjoyment of the performance. It is merely a series of incidents strung together on the thread of the idea of Aladdin and his wonderful lame, the old Arabian Nights lame which as the magical property of granting, through it charming goddess and versatile slaves, the every wish of its possessor. Obviously, with a real villain included, and the magical lamp frequently changing hands, there are complications aplenty.

Walter Wills and Roy Binder are two ambitious, hard-working comedians who do not spare themselves in providing a wide variety of fun. They are clever dancers, sing together in an amusing manner, and Mr. Wills, especially, is a droll mimic of more than ordinary talents. While much of their comedy is patterned on that of Montgomery and Stone, they do not hesitate to introduce amusing innovations of their own conception, a fact which stamps their work with a certain individuality rather than as mere imitation of their predecessors in the roles. Mr. Wills’ facial contortions in singing and an adroitness in assuming ridiculous poses never fails to win appreciate applause. His eccentric dancing with Irene McKay is perhaps his best work.

Donna Montran is a stately “Goddess of the Lamp” who has a pleasing voice, her singing of “Violet” being the best vocal offering of the performance.[ii] Starr Dunham is an acceptable “Aladdin” and the “Abanazar” of Joseph Robinson pictures a real villain. Joseph Boyle and Arch Bennett supply good comedy as “Frisco” and the horse in the circus scene.

Tom Brown’s saxophone sextile won a generous share of last night’s applause and proved one of the best hosts of the present presentation of “Chin Chin.”

Owatonna?

This exact same article also appeared in the Daily People’s Press (Owatonna, MN) on February 8th. An accompanying photograph showed the “Girls in ‘Chin Chin.’” The photo and the article mention that the show begins next Monday evening, February 9th. Clearly, a mistaken article in the Press as “Chin Chin” was only scheduled be at the Metropolitan Theatre for the week. I haven’t determined where “Chin Chin” played from February 8th through February 11th, but it played at the Grand Theatre in Eau Claire, Wisconsin on February 12th.

The Metropolitan Theatre

Julius Cahn Theater Guide for 1913-1914 indicates the Metropolitan Theatre had a seating capacity of 1767 — 592 on the main floor, 675 in the balcony, and 500 in the Gallery.  The stage opening was large, 40×30 feet.[iii]

History of the Metropolitan Opera House

Image of the Metropolitan Theatre
Metropolitan Theatre – Image courtesy Chris1962 via Cinema Treasurers.Org

The Opera House opened on March 24, 1894, as the New People’s Theater. It was located at 320 First Avenue South in Minneapolis. First Avenue is now named Marquette Avenue. In 1898, the theater was renamed the Metropolitan Opera House by new owner Jacob Litt.  It operated as legitimate theater until the mid-1920s, when the theater turned to movies exclusively. In 1937, after only 43 years of operation, it was closed and demolished shortly afterward.

The former site of the Metropolitan Opera House is across Marquette Avenue from the Hennepin County Family Court building. The entire block was a large parking lot for many years. Today, the site is under construction and well on its way to being a new Opus Group 30-story multipurpose building, which will include luxury apartments, fine dining, and retail spaces. It is scheduled to open in August 2018 as 365 Nicollet Avenue. There is a fun-to-see time-lapse video of the building being built on the Opus Group website.[iv] 


Endnotes

[i] [Emphasis is mine.]
[ii] [Emphasis is mine.]
[iii] The Julius Cahn Gus Hill Theatrical Guide 1913-1914 – Page 327 – Metropolitan Opera House.
[iv] Internet: Opus Group – Work – Residential – 365 Nicollet Luxury Multifamily – Accessed 21 October 2017.

Additional Sources