Donna Montran and “Chin Chin” play at the Franklin Opera House in Franklin, Pennsylvania on March 12, 1920
“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.
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.
Interestingly enough, I was unable to find a pre-production story about the show nor a post-production review of the show
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]
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.
[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
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.
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.
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.”
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
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]
[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.
Donna Montran stayed at the Owyhee Hotel in Boise, Idaho December 4-8, 1919.
Sometimes I just come across cool things. Recently I found an article on Chronicling America that spoke of “Hotel Arrivals” in Boise, ID, Dec 5, 1919. I have long known that Donna and the cast of “Chin Chin” were in Boise for four days, from the 4th to the 7th performing at the Pinney Theatre. This article might be the first time I’ve known exactly where Donna stayed during her many nights on the road – the Owyhee Hotel. The Owyhee is still standing; no longer a hotel, it was completely renovated and made into luxury apartments with office space – Hwyhee Place.
The other thing the article does, which is really cool, is that it tells where many of the cast are from. Of course, I knew that Donna hailed from New York at that time, but not Ethel Lawrence. If I decide to follow some of Donna’s fellow performers, a listing of names and their hometowns, or 1919 residences could be invaluable. Also, if I can find another such list I might be able to determine much of the cast’s names. A great find; I will definitely look for Hotel Arrivals in other newspapers in the future.
Donna Montran and “Chin Chin” play the Carlisle Opera House on 23 April 1920
Finishing their one-night show On April 22nd at the Frederick City Opera House, the cast and crew of “Chin Chin” packed up and rolled the 65 miles north to Carlisle, PA for the show the next night at the Carlisle Opera House.
Pre-show advertising on April 17th indicates, “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 she who is to enjoy the place of honor as first favorite is left to the choice of the public.”[i]
However, two days later there was an advertising article which called out Donna specifically – “Miss Donna Montran as the goddess of the lamp sings some pleasing songs and has a very attractive personality.”[ii]
The show appears to have gone on without a hitch, and the show packed up and headed east to Reading for a show the next night.
Carlisle Opera House
Carlisle is the county seat of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. Currently a small town of about 20,000, in 1920 the borough’s population was about 11,000. The theatre is said to have seated over 1000 people; however, the stage size was relatively small. The proscenium opening was only 26 feet wide and 20 feet high.[iii]
It is unclear to me when the Carlisle Opera House was built; however, it was certainly in operation before 1888, when the Dickenson College Glee Club sang there.[iv]
In 1898, the Carlisle Opera House building in Carlisle housed a barber shop, billiard room. and bowling alley on the ground level, with the opera house on the second floor, and Masonic meeting rooms on the third floor.”[v]
It appears to have been closed sometime between 1955 and 1959 as it was opened on May 9, 1959, for a presentation of “Hansel and Gretel” put on by the students of Dickinson College.[vi]
The building was destroyed by fire in August 1972 in a fire that killed two people.[vii]
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.
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
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.
————- Disclaimer ————-
[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