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
We know that Chin Chin played in Coshocton, Ohio, on April 11th. However, we don’t know yet where else the company played between there and Cumberland.
What we do know is from the April 14, 1920, edition of the Cumberland Evening Times – Page 10 – Column 1.
“Chin Chin” Coming to the Maryland Theatre, Tuesday, April 20
The Production of Charles Dillingham’s “Chin Chin” has rivaled even “Floradora” in its popularity. Walter Wills and Roy Binder are featured members of the organization. They are slim young men, masters of the eccentric dance and comedians of more than ordinary ability.
“Chin Chin is a musical comedy, or extravaganza, or fantasy, whatever it may please one to call it; but it is saturated with the comic spirit and abounds in delightful pantomime.
The notices accorded the company this year prove that the aggregation of players is exceptional and that the production as a whole is a real “Top Notch” Dillingham show, and that even in war times “Chin Chin” has been doing a record business on the road, near army camps and elsewhere.
The book of the play is by Anne Caldwell and R. H. Bernside, Lyrics by Miss Caldwell and James O’Dea, and music by Ivan Caryll, remembered for the melodies of “The Pink Lady” and “The Little Cafe.”
Of its songs, “Violets,” “The Gray Moon,” “Love Moon,” “Good Bye” and “Go Gar Sig Gong Jute” are not likely to be forgotten for some seasons to come. There is also saxaphone music by the renowned Tom Brown’s Clown Sextette. In fact, “Chin Chin” is one of those fortunate shows that is clean and wholesome fun, offending no one.
The Maryland Theater was built for about $70,000 based upon plans by John D. Allen, Philadelphia, PA. It opened on 21 November, 1907 with a seating capacity of nearly 1800. It closed on 9 October, 1963 and was demolished in December, 1966.[i]
The 1920 Census indicates that Cumberland was a city of nearly 30,000 people. The Julius Cahn Theatrical Guide for 1913-1914 indicates that the theatre had a capacity of 1,696, 600 on the main floor, 340 in the balcony, 600 in the gallery, and 56 box seats. The Stage was a large 38×33 feet and the front to back wall was 41 feet. There were four stage pockets. For newspapers, besides the “Times,” whose afternoon circulation was 7,179, there was the “News” with a morning circulation of 4,000.[ii]
Obtain a subscription to Newspaper Archives and look for additional information about “Chin Chin” playing in the Cumberland Times.
Find a source for the Cumberland News and see if they have any articles regarding the show.
Grandmother Donna’s playing at the Park Theatre in Youngstown, Ohio reminds me that not everything is on the Internet. It is only by luck and happenstance that I learned of “Chin-Chin” being in Youngstown at all.
I finally had a chance to research the show’s presentation in Youngstown and I couldn’t find much more. After going through my regular sources, Newspapers.Com, Genealogy Bank, and Ancestry.Com, I only had one small ad. Everything I did find came from the Salem News, in Salem, Ohio, about 25 miles away from Youngstown. Nothing from a Youngstown newspaper.
Through the Julius Cahn-Gus Hill Theatrical Guide and Moving Picture Supplement of 1922, under Youngstown, Ohio, I learned there were two newspapers of note in 1922 – The “Vindicator” and the “Telegram.”[i]
The Ancestor Hunt
Next, I needed to see where those newspapers might be available. My favorite site to look for newspapers is The Ancestor Hunt. I went there and did a quick search for “Ohio.” The first of the responses to the search (that weren’t ads) was Ohio Online Historical Newspapers Summary – Exactly what I was looking for.
A search for Youngstown yielded three items.
McKinley Memorial Library – Youngstown Telegram – The link didn’t appear to work. After a couple minutes, it finally loaded the page. They had a browse by title button, I clicked it and then learned that the only year they have for the Youngstown Telegram was 1918. No help there.
Next, was a link to Google News. There were many issues of the Youngstown Evening Vindicator before May 1893, but nothing from 1920.
Finally, was another link to Google News. There were many issues of the Youngstown Vindicator available there. Several papers from March, and April 1920 were available, but many others were missing. I looked at the March 27th image. Page 4 was clearly the Amusements page, but there was nothing there about “Chin Chin” that I could discern. The next paper available on Google News was April 18th, well after the show.
One of the other great features that The Ancestor Hunt pages has is that it typically provides a link to the paid subscription sites so that you can determine which sites might have the newspapers you need. In my case, the Youngstown newspaper search yielded the following:
Ancestry.Com – None – (Confirmation that I didn’t miss anything.)
Genealogy Bank – Daily News 2011 to current. (Confirmation that I didn’t miss anything.)
Newspapers.Com – None (Confirmation that I didn’t miss anything.)
NewspaperArchives.Com – None (I am not currently a subscriber.)
The Chronicling America site then will let you know what locations may have the issues you are looking for. According to them,
The Ohio Historical Society has Microfilm for the Telegram from 1901 to 1936.
The Ohio Historical Society has Microfilm for the Vindicator from 1893 to 1936.
So, I am reminded that not everything is on the Internet and that visits are important. Time for a road trip to Ohio.
“Chin Chin” at Park Theatre, Youngstown, OH
Donna and the cast of “Chin Chin” played at the Faurot Opera House in Lima, Ohio on the 6th of April 1920. We don’t know where Donna played on the 7th, but we now know that she did play the Park Theatre in Youngstown, Ohio, on the 8th. Lima and Youngstown are about 200 miles apart, so I suspect there was another location they stopped along the way.
On April 3rd, The Salem News ran a short article about “Scenes of Arabian Nights in ‘Chin Chin’”
The article mentions that the show will be “one night only.” However, an advertisement for the Park Theatre indicates [erroneously] that it will show “2 Days Only.” It was only there for two shows, not two days. “Chin Chin” played at the Victoria Theatre in Steubenville the following night (April 9th).
According to the Julius Cahn-Gus Hill Theatrical Guide and Moving Picture Supplement (1922), Youngstown was a city of 132,358 (a number directly from the 1920 Census data).[ii] The Park Theatre was a large theater, with a seating capacity of 1,527 and did plays, pictures, legitimate and burlesque. The stage was 36 x 36 feet.[iii]
History of the Park Theatre
The Park Theater was opened in 1901 at 23 S. Champion Street. By 1914 it was operating as a mixed venue having added moving pictures. In 1920, when Donna played there, it was still a mixed venue showing both live shows and moving pictures. In 1948 the theater was purchased by the people of the Grand across the street and converted to a burlesque house. By the 1950’s, it was running X-rated movies.[iv] It finally closed in the 1960’s.[v]
Today, the site is the location of the Youngstown campus of the Eastern Gateway Community College.
Nearby hotels suggested by 1922 Julius Cahn-Gus Hill guide included the Tod House, Colonial Hotel, Salon Hotel, and the Vanier Hotel. The railroads serving the city were the B. & O. and the Erie, Penn.
Visit the Ohio Historical Society and review their microfilm for the Youngstown Vindicator and the Youngstown Telegram for April 8th, 1920 plus 14 days before and two days after for information, articles, advertisements, and reviews of “Chin-Chin.” Note: Mahoning Valley Info Forums indicated that the Main Branch of the Youngstown Library also has the Vindicator microfilm. Need to confirm before going.
I have long known that “Chin Chin” played on 20 March 1920 at the Laird Opera House – in Greenville, PA and that they played at the Sandusky Theatre in Sandusky, OH on April 5th, but the 16 days between was a mystery until I searched Genealogy Bank. I now have one more date and location for Donna’s vaudeville career — The Grand Opera House in Canton, Ohio.
The first advertising I see for “Chin Chin” appears to have been on March 26th where there was a small notice of booking and a small advertisement for the show.
The Sunday, March 28th edition of the Sunday Repository, has ads and articles on several pages. On page 31 is there is an article:
Musical Melange With Dancing And Comedy Head Theater Bill
That includes a photo of “Tom Brown’s Clown Saxaphone Band” and a short paragraph which reads;
“Chin Chin,” in which Cantonians saw Doyne and Dixon several years ago, probably is like no other stage production ever conceived. It is just as coherent as its name and it is full of surprises for the beholder. One unusual stage feature follows another rapidly, while pretty girls and catchy music are plentifully interspersed.
That paragraph is followed up with a major article (7 paragraphs) elsewhere on the page titled: “CHIN CHIN” WILL SHOW AT GRAND.” The article doesn’t provide any new information but does highlight many of the acts and songs. There is also a substantial ad on page 45.
Over the ensuing days there were several other short articles and advertisements; however, after the show ran, an article after the show (April 2) had a great write-up. Under the headline,
LARGE AUDIENCE SEES MUSICAL COMEDY AT GRAND THURSDAY
“Chin Chin” Is Presented Here For Second Time—Comedians, Clown Band And Chorus Score Principal Hits of Big Production
The fourth and last paragraph of the article reads, “The best dance of the evening was presented by Wills and Irene McKay, a diminutive lass, whom Wills was able to whirl about as he pleased. Wills’ next best number was an imitation of a famous pianist. Donna Montran made a beautiful “goddess of the lamp. Starr Dunham did some fair work as a dancer. The chorus was provided with various costumes of unique design.”[i]
Donna was a beautiful woman.
Grand Opera House, Canton, Ohio
The Grand Opera House opened on 30 October 1890. Oscar Cobb, who designed more than 300 opera houses, designed the Grand.[ii]
Different sources provide different Seating capacities from 1,000 to $1,400 over the years. I use 1,218 as my preferred capacity: Floor, 550; Balcony, 320; Gallery, 300; Boxes, 48.[iii] It had a 36×28 foot stage.
In 1920, the Thomas Waltenbaugh managed the Grand Opera House. The Grand had already begun showing movies by 1920. The week that “Chin Chin” played at the theater, the silent film, “Mary’s Ankle” starring Douglas MacLean and Doris May showed every other day that week. It appears that by April of 1920, the theater was still trying to bring in high-class live shows, but when they couldn’t, they showed silent films. Like so many of the grand theaters of the time, the Grand began a slow decline as it showed movies and presented burlesque shows. Bethel Tabernacle bought the Grand Opera House in 1946.
What Donna and the “Chin Chin” case would have seen – a full house.
Grand Opera House, Canton, Ohio
Source: The Internet – Joseph N. Rubin Productions
[Personal Note: I was originally going to subscribe to Newspaper Archives and see what more I could find about Donna and her career. I had all kinds of problems. I had an account with them several years ago and tried to login with my old account. It told me I couldn’t log in so I requested a password reset. I reset my password then tried to log in again. Again no luck. Then I tried to just subscribe. It said I couldn’t use the email address that I had before. So, I tried calling them. On hold…. On hold…. On hold…. Then I was told to leave a message, I did letting them know that I wanted to renew my subscription. Never got a call back. Tried calling again. On hold… On hold… Finally, I gave up. I can only imagine how frustrated I’d be if I were trying to cancel a subscription and received the same lack of service. Anyway, I decided to renew my long expired account with Genealogy Bank. Worked like a charm. I then took a look and found “Chin Chin” playing at the Grand Opera House in Canton, Ohio on 1 April 1920.]
[i] “Repository” (Newspaper) (Canton, Ohio) – 2 April 1920 – Page 14 via Genealogy Bank. Emphasis mine. [ii] Web: Joseph N. Rubin Productions – Grand Opera House – https://sites.google.com/site/josephnrubin/grandoperahouse – Accessed 3 September 2016. [iii] The Cahn-Leighton Official Theatrical Guide 1913-1914 – Page 510 – via Google.