Chin-Chin in the News – 27 March 1920

The Wheeling Intelligencer (Wheeling, West Virginia)

Court Theatre
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.My grandmother was a vaudeville star. I am following her career and learning about 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 was a cast member.

This week’s entry is from  The Wheeling Intelligencer, dated 24 March 1920 via Newspapers.Com.

The Wheeling Intelligencer – Mar 24, 1920, Page 11 via

This ad and several others ran in the Wheeling Intelligencer advertising that “Chin Chin” was coming to the Court Theatre on Saturday, 27 March, for two shows, a Matinee and a Night show. I didn’t see any write-ups describing the show.


New Venue Added:

Thanks to these newspapers, I was able to add a new venue to Donna’s career.

Mar27, 1920 – Wheeling, West Virginia – Court Theatre – “Chin Chin.” – In the News

Chin-Chin in the News – 1 February 1920

Minneapolis Journal, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Metropolitan Theatre
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.My grandmother was a vaudeville star, and I am following her career, trying to learn about 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 was a cast member.

This week’s entry is from the Minneapolis Journal dated 1 February 1920 via Newspapers.Com

The Minneapolis Journal – Feb 1, 1920 via

An article on page 3 of the Amusement Section, in a column titled “The Lobby Club,” was an article that read: 

“Charles Dillingham’s name still heads the bills as producer of “Chin Chin,” which comes to the Metropolitan this week. Walter Wills and Roy Binder will be seen in the roles created by Montgomery and Stone. This is the only company offering “Chin Chin.” Carrie Dale and Irene McKay are prominent in the cast. The music, as will be remembered, is by Ivan Caryll, while Anne Caldwell wrote the book for the piece.”

New Cast Members Added:

I previously knew about the “Chin Chin” show at the Metropolitan Theatre from 1 to 7 February 1920. This article adds to other individuals who starred in the show, Carrie Dale and Irene McKay. I’ll like to investigate those individuals later.

Feb 1-7, 1920 – Minneapolis, MN – Metropolitan Opera House – Callout! – “In the News

Chin Chin at Chatterton Opera House, Bloomington, IL – 1 Nov 1919

Chin Chin
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.Donna joined the “Chin-Chin” show on 30 October 1919 and found no let up. Travel, show, then travel again to the next venue. It was a non-stop different town every night.

On Oct 30, 1919, Donna joined the “Chin Chin” cast. She  played one night there, then traveled the 50 miles to Urbana, IL. One night there at the Illinois Theatre. Then traveled 100 miles to Bloomington, IL, and performed at the Chatterton Opera House, again for one night, November 1st, 1919. So her time with “Chin Chin” went.

Preshow Advertising

The Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL) is the first newspaper I’ve found that advertised that Chin Chin was coming to Bloomington’s Chatterton Opera House. It was a return engagement of the “Gigantic Musical Fantasy.” It was also advertised in “The Vidette,” the weekly student-published paper of the Illinois State Normal University.

Image courtesy of the Milner Library, The Vidette Digital Archive.

Also, in the Vidette was:

“Chin Chin”

Such entertainments as are presented to us by artists like Walter Wills and Roy Binder have more of the spirit of the early Italian pantomime with the addition of music and the modern ballet. Sometimes they resemble the origin of Spanish comedy which was generally in sharp outlines as of skeletons in quick movement as of marionettes. Though the comic spirit pervades every part of such works of which “Chin Chin,” coming to the Chatterton on Saturday, Nov. 1st, is a notable example they cannot be said to be strictly comedy “Chin Chin” is billed as a fantasy, but more strict definition might be applied by using the word extravaganza, which is a combination of comic incidents leavened by dancing in music with a rough and ready element of satire pervading the whole..

One article about the show provided some genealogical information regarding star Walter Wills.

The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois) – 30 Oct 1919, Thu – Page 12, Column 2 “With Chin Chin Company.” Via

With Chin Chin Company.

Walter Wills, a nephew of the late George Wills, the well known retired musical comedy artist, is with the Chin Chin Company, which appears at the Chatterton Saturday night. The young make is well known in Bloomington and has visited his uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. George Wills, at their home, 409 East Front street, on several occasions. He is the son of the late John D. Willis, of Wills, Henshaw and Tenbroeck fame. The son is an eccentric dancer and comedian and is said to possess talent equal to his father and uncle. He will be the guest of his aunt, Mrs. George Wills, on Saturday and Sunday.


In a rare after the show review, the Pantagraph published, on the “Theaters” page, two days after the show the following

“Chin Chin” Does Well.

A large audience enjoyed an acceptable presentation of the well known musical comedy “Chin Chin” Saturday night at the Chatterton. Altho several seasons old, “Chin Chin” continues a favorite, especially with the children, and the Saturday night production was all that was expected. The piece was presented by a large company which sang acceptably the song numbers and worked industriously to put over a pleasing performance, although the comedy was not up to the standard of former companies. The saxophone sextet was an appreciated feature of the evening.

Chatterton Theatre[i]

Chatterton Opera House, BLOOMINGTON, ILL – Courtesy Gerald a. DeLuc, via Cinema Treasures

The Chatterton Theatre opened on April 7, 1910; it replaced the Grand Opera House, which fire destroyed. According to the 1921 theatrical guide, H. D. Merritt managed the 1,300 capacity theatre. Other statistics for the theatre included the following:

Proscenium opening: 34×32 ft
Front to back wall: 37 ft
Between side walls: 68 ft
Between fly girders: 50 ft
To rigging loft: 60 ft
To fly gallery: 24 ft
14 Dressing rooms

Nearby info hotels included Illinois, Hills, Commercial, Metropole, Berry, Phoenix. Railroads included the “Big 4” and Lake Erie & Western, Chicago & Alton, and the Illinois Central. Newspapers: Besides the Pantagraph, for which I have found several articles, there was also the “Bulletin,” an evening paper five days a week.

In 1923, the theater was renamed the Illini Theater. It closed in 1933. The building became part of the MARC Center. By 2011, the building operated as a comedy club for a few years and closed again in July 2014. The building became the Abundant Life in Christ Church and stands today.[ii]


[i] The Julius Cahn-Gus Hill Theatrical Guide and Moving Picture Directory, Vol 20, 1921. Page 149.

[ii] Ibid.

Chin-Chin in the News – Kankakee, IL

Date: 2 Nov 1919 – Kankakee, IL, Majestic Theatre

By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.[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 recently researched “Chin-Chin” playing at the Chatterton Opera House in Bloomington, IL. As I searched, I came across a small mention of the show playing somewhere I didn’t have a record for.]

This week’s entry is from The St. Anne Record (St. Anne, Illinois), dated November 6, 1919, via the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections.

 Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Sprimont Russell Dumontell and Ruth Paradis drove to Kankakee last Sunday and saw Chin Chin at the Majestic. 

November 6th, 1919, was a Thursday, so “last Sunday” would have been 2 November. The venue fits nicely between November 1st, at the Chatterton Opera house, and Streator, at the Plumb theater. Cinema Treasures confirms that the Majestic Theater operated in Kankakee from 1915 to 1957.

New Venue Added: 

Nov 2, 1919 – Kankakee, IL – Majestic Theater “Chin-Chin”

Donna’s Leaving Hollywood

Donna Montran
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.I often talk about my Don Taylor Genealogy Blog as “cousin bait,” but a chiropractor who knew Donna in the sixties and seventies contacted me because of the blog. He was an intern at N.W. Chiropractic college in Minneapolis and a “little old lady” named Donna Kees came to see him in 1961. After he graduated, she transferred her records to his office, and he continued to treat her for many years. Donna told him stories of her being a Hollywood performer known as “Donna Darling” and that she had lived the big ostentatious life of fancy clothes, convertibles, and long-haired dogs. Although there was a considerable age difference, he and Donna had become very good friends, and she told him many stories.

Through several correspondences, we confirmed it was the same Donna Darling. His Donna had two children and donated her body to the University of Minnesota Medical School. She used to say she “didn’t know why they would want this old body of [hers].” And in fact, her body was in rough shape. She had arthritic changes and some kyphosis (“Dowager’s Hump). She walked with a cane, and on her bad days, she was pretty feeble. However, he said that Donna was always mentally as sharp as a tack.

Donna “Darling” and her dog Gypsie circa 1926

He writes, “Donna described her life in Hollywood just as you would picture it in the 1920s; she rode around in a large convertible with handsome men, beautiful women, and her long-haired silky dogs [Gypsy and apparently others]. She dined at expensive popular restaurants, drank champagne, etc.  She made it sound like a privileged and exciting life.”

John goes on to say, “Donna indicated there were only a few “top” girls in Hollywood, and she wanted to be one of them. She was offered the opportunity to tour the country with an entertainment group she thought it would help her become more well-known and famous. [“Chin-Chin?”] She didn’t realize it at the time, but she told John the reason she left for the tour was that there was only so much room at the top, and she was at the top with some women – one of whom was Mary Pickford. Unfortunately, when she returned, Mary Pickford was “Hollywood’s Sweetheart,” had married

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks – Photo courtesy Kate Gabrielle via Flickr.

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. She and Douglas were the undisputed top couple of Hollywood. They had incredible power among the studios. Donna said that she then realized that she was tricked into leaving and was eased out of the public eye so the studios could make Pickford the top star with no competition.

John’s memories somewhat explain the gap in Donna’s career and her shift from Hollywood, Mack Sennett, and public appearances to vaudeville. Donna joined the “Chin Chin” cast in 1919, shortly after Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and D. W. Griffith[i]formed United Artists and before Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks married.

Donna was known for her fantastic voice, great dancing, and stage presence, so I’ve often wondered why she hadn’t made the transition from vaudeville to talkies. John’s memories shed some light on possible reasons.

[I would like to thank John Rapacz for sharing his memories and the stories that Donna told him so long ago.]


[i] Donna worked with D. W. Griffith on “Birth of a Nation” in 1915.