“Chin Chin” – The Illinois Theatre, Urbana, Illinois – 31 October 1919

Vaudeville – “Chin Chin”
by Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.Donna joined the “Chin Chin” production on 30 October 1919 when it played the Lincoln Square Theater in Decatur, Illinois. After the show in Decatur, the cast and crew traveled the 50 miles northeast to Urbana for a Halloween show.

I learned of this showing thanks to the marvelous Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection. My thanks for their collection, which is free to search, browse, and download. In researching “Chin Chin” playing at the Illinois Theatre, I found three different papers that carried articles and advertising for the show.

The Urbana Daily Courier

The Urbana Daily Courier, Oct 25, 1919, Page 2

The first mention I’ve found for the show was in the Urbana Daily Courier dated October 25th. It was a standard display ad showing “Chin-Chin” would be at the Illinois Theatre in Urbania on Friday, October 31st.

The Urbana Daily Courier, Oct 27, 1919, Page 4

Two days later, the same ad appeared, plus there was a photo showing “Aladdin and the American Girl in Charles Dillingham’s stupendous production of “Chin Chin.” Illinois Theatre, Friday, October 31.”

<1919-10-27 – The Urbana Daily Courier, Page 4 – Chin Chin – Illinois Theatre.jpg>

Finally, on October 30th, the Urbana Daily Courier had a written article on Page 5.



Do you remember when you were just a tiny chap, how you would read the “Thousand and One Nights” or the wonderful adventures of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” and “Sinbad the Sailor,” and all the rest of those fascinating characters, and how from out of them all emerged “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp,” as the prime adventure of them all?

And now, Aladdin—a very modern Aladdin—very much in love with an American girl, appears in Charles Dillingham’s “Chin Chin.”

In this musical play everything comes Aladdin’s way upon wishing and rubbing the wonderful lamp, thereby causing many strange and wonderful situations.

Walter Wills and Roy Binder, as the two slaves of the lamp, kept the audience in constant laughter thru the seven scenes of three acts that cover one hundred and fifty minutes of the most enjoyable fun.

Among the many features in this gigantic show are the Teddy Bear dance, Tom Brown’s saxophone band, a real circus tent with an “honest to goodness” bit white circus horse circling around the wing, while Mlle. Falloffsky performs the most daring and screamingly funny bareback stunts.

The Champaign Daily News

The Champaign Daily News began with the same advertisement as Courier on 26 October 1919, page 14. A slightly larger ad ran in the October 30th and October 31st papers. Also, on page 12 of the October 31st paper was a short advertising article.

The Champaign Daily News, Volume 25, Number 79, October 31, 1919

At the Illinois.

Charles Dillingham’s sumptuous and only production of “Chin Chin,” as seen for two years in New York, comes to the Illinois theatre, Urbana, Friday evening at 8:15.

This delightful and famous entertainment will be presented in its original entirely with Walter Wills and Roy Binder in the lead. In the musically rich show such numbers a “Violet,” “The grey Moon,” “Love Moon,” “Goodbye, Girls, I’m Through,” and the comedy song, “Go Gar Sig Gong-Jue,” always receive hearty applause.

The book is by Anne Caldwell and R. H. Burnside, the lyrics by Anne Caldwell and James O’Dea and the music by Ivan Caryll, so well remembered for his ingratiating melodies in

Cont.: The Champaign Daily News, Volume 25, Number 79, October 31, 1919

“The Pink Lady” and “The Little Café.”

Seven gorgeous settings make up the stupendous production—pretty dresses, swift and grotesque dancing, and lots of prankish amusement, including Tom Brown’s clown band as the famous saxophone sextet.

Other principals with this, the only production of “Chin Chin,” are Joseph Robison, George Usher, Richard Bosch, English Cody, George Phelps, Marian Sleeman, Edna Peckham, Jessie Walsh, Violet Tree, Ethel Lawrence, Nora Seiler, Marie Cavanaugh, Margaret Sharpe, Helen McDonald, also Joseph Boyle and Thomas Bell as “Frisco,” the horse, and a large singing and dancing chorus of pretty girls and girls and girlies.—Adv.

This ad was submitted to the newspaper before Donna joined the show, so her name doesn’t appear.  However, it does give a good listing of others in the show. All are worthy of further research.

The Daily Illini

The Student Newspaper of the University of Illinois, The Daily Illini, is another important source of information for the Champaign-Urbana area. The campus was only a few blocks away from the theater. It had a circulation of 1,500 and the Courier’s circulation was about 2,500.[i] The October 26th paper included a small ad, on page seven, similar to the ads in the Urbana Daily Courier; however, it also contained a short text ad in the Theatres column.

The Daily Illini, Oct 26, 1919, Page 7


Tuneful and Joyful “Chin Chin”

“Chin Chin” with its six cylinder reputation behind it, just as tuneful and fantastic as it was when New York worshipped for two years at its Chinese fun shrine, will appear at the Illinois Theatre on Friday, October 31.

The story revolves around the missing wishing lamp sought at any cost by Edne Peckham as “Violet Bond,” the rich American girl, in the search for which the two happy coolies, enacted by Walter Wills and Roy Binder who rear many excruciating and nonsensical situations out of it, making it tower above a whole lot of the latter day musical comedies, then when these two gentlemen lay aside their Oriental garnishings and appear in burlesque of circus bareback riding, Celestial widows, side show ventriloquist and musicians extraordinary they cannot shunt off the encores that come.

On the day of the show, The Daily Illini ran both a display ad and a text ad describing the show.

The Daily Illini, Oct 31, 1919, Page 7.


“The Ragging of the Rag of Rags” with Walter Willis at the piano is one of the uproariously funny hits of “Chin Chin”. Instead of being on the wane, as a few prejudiced persons

Cont.: The Daily Illini – Oct. 31, 1919, Page 7

would like to believe, ragtime is steadily increasing from year to year. Ragtime will always be popular-anyhere, everywhere, except perhaps at a funeral.

Good ragtime music has become a standard article, and if the matter were put to a popular vote it would far outrank popular ETAOINHRDLU far outrank classical music by mere force of numbers, because nine-tenths of the people prefer ragtime and popular music.

This delightful and tuneful musical comedy with Walter Willis and Roy Binder in the leading roles is scheduled to appear at the Illinois theatre Friday, October 31. 

Illinois Theatre

My thanks to elmorovivo, who uploaded this image to Cinema Treasures. License.

The Urbana Opera House opened in 1908 and renamed the “Illinois Theater” sometime before 1913.

The 1913 Julius Cahn-Gus Hill Theatrical Guide indicates the seating capacity of the theater 1,440 – 432 Lower Floor, 402 in the Balcony, 546 in the Gallery, and 60 in the boxes. The theater was managed by the F. & H. Amusement Co.; Jos. F. Huechler was the Resident Manager.

In the 1921 Julius Cahn guide, there is an abbreviated listing for the Illinois Theatre. It only states that the seating capacity was 1,294, and the manager was J. E. Duncan.

Specifications for the Illinois Theater (Urbana)[ii]

Proscenium opening: 35×30 ft
Front to back wall: 43 ft
Between side walls: 66 ft
Apron 3 ft
Between fly girders: 56 ft
To rigging loft: 62 ft
To fly gallery: 27 ft

The Illinois Theatre was on the south side of Bone Yard Creek. A plank-covered culvert between West Main Street and the theater provided easy walking to the theatre from the north side of town.[iii]

What happened to theater?

According to a comment on Cinema Treasures, in 1923, the theater was owned by Zenith Amusement Company, a Ku Klus Klan organization, and was used for Klan activities. Four years later, on April 3, 1927, a fire destroyed the Illinois Theatre.[iv] The remaining shell was converted into apartments for a while then the building was demolished.


Today, the site contains an apartment building. Next door is a cafe and a small international and gourmet foods store.


[i] The Cahn-Leighton Official Theatrical Guide – 1913-1914, Page 179 & 180.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Library of Congress – Image 13 of Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps from Urbana, Champaign County, Illinois – https://www.loc.gov/resource/g4104um.g021941909/?sp=13&r=0.506,0.082,0.571,0.255,0

[iv] Internet – Cinema Treasures, Movie Theaters, United States, Illinois, Urbane, Illinois Theater – http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/51616

Donna in the News – The New Theater Bills

“Donna in the News” is my reporting of newly found newspaper articles and advertising regarding my grandmother, Madonna Montran (aka Donna Montran and Donna Darling). I am always excited when I find a new venue for my grandmother’s exciting show business career of the 1910s and 1920s. 

This week’s clipping is from The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kansas), dated 2 December 1923. It and several other clippings can be added to Donna’s history.  



VAUDEVILLE. Matinee and night. Two shows Saturday night. Blossom Seeley headlining bill opening Monday matinee for three days.

Blossom Seeley calls her medium of expression “Miss Syncopation.” Evidently she…

Billy McDermott, who bills himself as “The only Survivor of Coxey’s Army,” is a tramp…

Donna Darling is a musical comedy ingenue. With a capable supporting company, Miss Darling offers a dazzling dance fantasy called “A Song and Dance Romance.”

Orpheum Advertisement The Wichita Eagle,
2 December 1923

This clipping and the associated advertisements show Donna played at the Orpheum Theater in Wichita, Kansas, on December 3rd, 4th, and 5th, 1923.

Thanks to Newspapers.com’s newly available online articles, I was able to add another venue for Donna’s vaudeville career.



Donna Darling Collection – Part 80

The South Broad Theatre 

Treasure Chest Thursday
By Don Taylor

For this week’s Treasure Chest Thursday, I’m looking at a clipping from the Donna Darling Collection.

Clipping discovered to be from the Trenton Evening Times dated January 9, 1922.


Delightful screen and vaudeville entertainment will be provided at the South Broad Theatre for three days beginning today when the James Oliver Curwood drama, “Kazan” and a series of new acts will be presented, together with comedy films and other events.

Of course, there is a delightful man and woman romance in this refreshing Curwood story, but its greatest power lies in the parallel drawn between human and animal life, and without a remarkable dog to interpret the role of “Kazan” the production could not have been made. But such a remarkable dog was found, and Director Bertram Bracken was enabled to accomplish the so-called “impossible.” The result is declared to be one of the finest photoplays of the North country.

The new vaudeville will be headed by Doona Montram [sic] and Her Boys in a musical comedy review, called “As You Like,” supported by Thomas Doray and Edna Sarlini in “by Heck,” the Novilions, a comedy acrobatic team, and John and Dave Mills, musical comedy duo.

Tomorrow night will be “Ye Olde Country Store” night, when 25 presents will be given away free to members of the audience.  

“Kazan,” written by James Oliver Curwood, was released in October 1921. Additionally, the two other clippings on the same page in Donna’s album related to the Stroud Theatre, Stroudsburg, PA, where she played on November 24th and 25th. See DCC-76

Donna didn’t begin using Darling until 1922, so this clipping is clearly from 1921.

Searching for “Thomas Doray” I found an article at Genealogy Bank that spoke of the delightful vaudeville card composed of Donna Montram [sic] and Her Boys in a musical comedy revue, called “As You Like.” Supported by Thomas Doray and Edna Sarlin, in “By Heck….” It was in the January 11, 1922, Trenton Evening Times.

Key features:

  • The venue is the Broad Theatre in Trenton, New Jersey.
  • The show is the “Donna Montran and Her Boys in “As You Like [It]”
  • Also, on the bill:
    • Thomas Doray and Edna Sarlini in “by Heck,”
    • Novilions, an acrobatic comedy team,
    • John and Dave Mills, a musical comedy duo.
  • The movie showing was the James Oliver Curwood story, “Kazan,” staring Jane Novak


I added a new venue for Donna’s vaudeville career:

  • January 9-11, 1922 – Trenton, NJ – South Broad Theatre – “Donna Montram [sic] and Her Boys in “As You Like” – DDC-80.

Donna Darling Collection – Part 79

Terrace Theatre – Beautiful Bathing Girls

Treasure Chest Thursday
By Don Taylor

For this week’s Treasure Chest Thursday, I’m looking at a second clipping from the Donna Darling Collection relating to the Terrace Theater.


Miss Donna Darling, star with Beautiful Bathing Girls from the Motion Picture Studios, now playing at the Terrace theatre.

The stellar act at the Terrace theatre the first of the week is the Beautiful Bathing girls from the Moving Picture Studios, headed by Donna Darling. Fashions in bathing suits from 1860 down to the present are shown by these girls, who also give a good account of themselves in several dance numbers. Probably the largest early week night audience in many fonths [sic] witness the performance Monday night. Two other good acts and a feature picture, “So This Is Marriage,” complete the Terrace bill.

The silent film, “So This Is Marriage,” was released in 1924, confirming that this showing was from 1924 or 1924 and not any of Donna’s earlier Bathing Beauty shows.

Cinema Treasures reports there were 41 Terrace theatres in the United States. Thirty-seven of them opened after 1925. One was in Vallejo, California; Donna didn’t tour the west coast with this show. One, the Airdome, was a second listing for the Terrace in Danville, Illinois. The last one was the Terrace Theatre in Chicago. This is clearly a clipping from her show at one of the two locations, either Danville or Chicago.

Because Donna played the Empress Theatre in Chicago in October 1924, I suspect that this clipping is from her probable show in Danville in October 1924.

Key features:

  • The venue was the Terrace Theatre in (Probably Danville, Illinois) but possibly Chicago.
  • The show was the “Beautiful Bathing Girls from the Motion Picture Studios” staring Donna Darling.

Finally, a review of the newspapers of the time yielded none currently available online for Danville, Illinois.


Date Unknown (Fall 1924- Spring 1925) – Danville, IL, Hollywood Revue of Bathing Beauties.

Donna Darling Collection – Part 78

Terrace Theatre – Bathing Beauties

Treasure Chest Thursday
By Don Taylor

For this week’s Treasure Chest Thursday, I’m looking at a clipping from the Donna Darling Collection.

Terrace Theatre – Attendance Records Smashed, circa 1925

Cinema Treasures reported 41 Terrace theatres in the united states, but only one of them in a city named Danville – Danville, IL. Donna appears to have had two trips into Illinois with her Bathing Beauties, once in the fall of 1924 (September) and again in January/February 1925. So this show must have been from one of those periods.

This clipping is particularly interesting because it names the other girls in the show.

  • Betty Bryant of Ziegfield’s – A Prize Winner.
  • Mildred O’Brien – In Singing and Dancing.
  • Alyce Louyse – A Bather From Mars.
  • Clarice Allyn – Petite Toe Dancer.
  • May Walker – Blue Singer and Beach Flirt

It also mentions Murray Earl as Comedian.

Key features:

  • The venue was the Terrace Theatre in Danville, Illinois.
  • The show was the “California Motion Picture – Big Hollywood Reue of Bathing Beauties, featuring Donna Darling.

Finally, a review of the newspapers of the time yielded none currently available online for Danville, Illinois.


Date Unknown (Probably Fall 1924or Spring 1925) – Danville, IL – Terrace Theatre – Hollywood Revue of Bathing Beauties.