My grandmother was a vaudeville star and I am following her career, trying to learn of her many performances. In October 1919, she joined the cast of the Charles Dillingham production of “Chin-Chin.” “Chin-Chin” played in the US and Canada until June 1920. I monitor several newspaper services watching for new venues that the show played at while she a was a cast member.
This week I found an article in the Edmonton Journal (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) dated Jan 1, 1920 (via Newspapers.Com).
BY PRESS AGENTS
CHIN CHIN AT EMPIRE
There appears to be no doubt that Mr. Charles Dillingham’s stupendous production of “Chin Chin” with Walter Willis and Roy Binder in the lead, will duplicate its record of absolute capacity audiences at the Empire theatre where it will open a three-day engagement with a holiday matinee today.
Though the title of “Chin Chin” suggests a Chinese setting, it appears that the scenes are not laid anywhere near the Celestial Land.
There is no leading lady in this organization, although a number of beautiful women, principals and otherwise, song birds and actresses are in the cast, it appears that the who is to enjoy the place of honor as first favorite is left to the choice of the public.
Tom Brown of the Six Brown Brothers’ famous Saxaphone clown band, composed “That Moaning Saxophone Rag” which is one of the hits of the play.
It is estimated that 250,000 people all from points more than one hundred miles from New York have already seen “Chin Chin” while it was presented at the Globe theatre in New York, and not Mr. Dillingham is actually bringing this his only company in its entirety to the Empire theatre.
New Venue Added:
Jan 1-3 – Edmonton, Alberta Canada, Empire Theatre – “Chin-Chin”
Donna Montran and “Chin Chin” play at the Rex Theater in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, on 11 February 1920
We know that “Chin Chin” played at the Metropolitan Opera House in Minneapolis from February 1st through the 7th. I do not have any known venues the 8th, 9th, or 10th, but on the 11th, “Chin Chin” played at the Rex Theater in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.
Newspapers Mentioned “Chin Chin” was arriving on the 4th of February.[i] A standard full column ad played on February 6th, as did the familiar Wills, Binder, and Girls looking like Brussel sprouts on the stars’ queues.
An article the day before the show said
“Chin Chin” a Show of Good Music
The music of Ivan Caryll, which serves to illustrate the story of “Chin Chin” which comes to the Rex tomorrow and in which Walter Wills and Roy Binder demonstrate their wonderful powers of drollery, to say nothing of their skill in dancing, is a demonstration of the wisdom of serving the best kind of music even to an extravaganza. “Chin Chin” is one more proof that good music pays. Music and dancing are so closely allied in these latter days.
Ethel Lawrence as “Violet Bond” the American girl in “Chin Chin,” is a charming little actress and always succeeds in winning the good graces of the audience. Her rendition of the duet, “Love Moon,” with the aid of George Usher as Aladdin, is one of the particular bright spots of the show. We advise that you procure your tickest now. The sale is heavy and the theatre management cannot guarantee to hold any reservations after 6 p. m. Wednesday.
The day after the show, the Chippewa Herald reported that:
“Chin Chin” proves Fine Attraction.
Capacity House Pleased with Production at Rex Theatre Last Evening.
Chin Chin came up fully to all expectations….
The Rex Theatre was originally built in 1906 and named the Victor Theatre. The Victor was a modest theater with a seating capacity of 900 people. The theatre changed its name to the Rex Theater sometime between 1918 and 1920, when “Chin Chin” played there.
In 1930, the theater was renovated for motion pictures, and was reopened as the “Ravoli Theater.” The Ravoli closed sometime before 1960. The building was demolished by 1962.[ii] Today, the location is a Holiday Gas Station.
[i] Chippewa Herald (Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin) · 04 Feb 1920, Wed · Page 3
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.
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.
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.”
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.
As 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.
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.
Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) · 28 Mar 1920, Sun · Page 25 – Victory Theater Ad – Newspapers.com
Donna Montran and “Chin Chin” played at the Liberty Theatre, Camp Sherman, (Chillicothe), Ohio on 4 April 1920
By Don Taylor
“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.
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
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 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.
[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.
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.
[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