“Donna 100 years ago” reviews my grandmother’s vaudeville life. Madonna Montran, aka Donna Montran & Donna Darling, had an exciting career during the 1920s. A definite headliner, she crisscrossed the country with her many shows.
Since Donna’s show at the Chestnut Street Opera House in Sunbury, PA, she zig-zagged through three states. Her first stop was the Strand Theatre in Shamokin, PA, then the Place Theatre in Olean, NY. I don’t know where she played from February 16th to 18th. But then on to Wheeling, WV, and on again to New Castle, PA, and finally the Harris Theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to play three days, February 27th to March 1st at the Harris Theater.
On Sunday, February 26th, 1922, the Pittsburgh Press reported the following:
At the Harris theater this week the nine acts of popular priced vaudeville will be headed by “Donna Darling and Boys.” This offering is a revue in which Miss Darling will repeat portions of her many musical comedy successes. Another laugh act will be that ofRose and Ashton in an offering called “The Holdup.” Mark Twain’s two famous characters, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, will be portrayed by two young men in a singing and comedy offering, who are playing a repeat engagement at the earnest solicitations of numerous patrons. The Jameson Trio are funmakers of the new school type. A surprise act will be that of The Little Big Girl, making an initial appearance in Pittsburgh. Lew Hoffman is known as “The Mad Hatter.”
Along with the “article” was modest advertising for the show.
On Tuesday, February 28th, 1922, the Pittsburgh Press ran a follow-up article.
Vaudeville at the Harris theater yesterday afternoon was headed by Miss Donna Darling and her dancing boys in an interesting offering of song and dance. The laugh hit of the bill was scored by Ross and Ashton in “The Surveyor.” Another comedy success was that of, The Big Little Girl.” Mark Twain’s famous characters Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer were portrayed by two young men in a most wholesome manner. The Jameson Trio, Polli Dassi I Co., in a comedy act. Lew Hoffman, The juggling pestor, Levine and Walters sensational gymnastics and a comedy screen feature “Table Steaks” completed the bill.
One hundred years ago, Donna finished up the month of February at the Harris Theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
About the Harris Theater, Pittsburgh, PA
I immediately thought Harris Theater, Pittsburgh Press Paper, the theater must be in Pittsburgh.
Harris Northside Theatre opened as the William Penn Theater in 1914. It reopened as the Harris Northside Theater in 1943.[i]
Harris Theatre opened in 1931, was renamed the Art Cinema in 1935, and reopened as the Harris Theatre in 1995.[ii]
Neither of them appeared to be correct, so I expanded my search. There were 25 Harris Theaters in the United States; 15 in Pennsylvania. Besides the two identified above, there were the following:
Beechview (Harris) Theatre in Pittsburgh, PA – Opened in 1930.
Family Theatre, Pittsburgh, opened in 1908 as the Liberty Theatre, renamed Harris-Family Theatre in 1932.
Gateway Theatre, Pittsburgh, opened in 1891 and was renamed the J. P. Harris Theatre in 1942.
Harris Memorial Theater, McKeesport – Opened in 1929.
Harris Musee Theatre, McKeesport, PA – Exclusively films after 1905.
Harris Theatre, Donora, PA – Opened as the Grand Theatre in 1911 and renamed the Harris Theatre in 1930.
Harris Theatre, Dormont, PA – Opened in 1927.
Harris Theatre, McKeesport, PA – Opened in 1908 and renamed Harris Theatre in 1920. – McKeesport is about 16 miles southeast of Pittsburgh and is possibly the correct theatre.
Harris Theatre, Pittsburgh, opened in 1911 renamed Casino Burlesk Theatre in 1936. Possible, but appears to have switched to burlesque.
Harris-Denis Theatre, Mount Lebanon, PA – Opened in 1938.
Harris-Dubois Theatre, DuBois, PA – Opened in 1937.
Harris-Perry Theatre opened in 1938.
Nixon Theater, Pittsburgh, opened in 1913 as the Victoria Theatre, became the Sam Shubert Theater about 1920, and became the Harris Senator Theatre sometime in the 1940s.
Finally, several comments indicate that the Mount Oliver Theatre was once known as the Harris Theatre because of the owner.
The 1921 Julius Cahn—Gus Hill Theatrical Guide and Moving Picture Directory lists the Harris Theatre, managed by C. H. Preston, in Pittsburgh, but there is no information about the theatre. Finally, several of the Julius Cahn guides indicate there was a Harris Theatre in Pittsburgh, but either no info is given about the theatre, or there is mention that the theatre failed to respond to queries regarding their statistics or specifications.
So, I’m not confident regarding which Harris Theatre Donna played at 100 years ago today.
For this week’s Treasure Chest Tuesday, I’m looking at another clipping from the Donna Darling Collection. This photo is of Donna in her stage cloak. I’ve seen the image in several newspaper articles as it was a signature costume for her. The print itself is in terrible condition, torn, faded, just generally in awful, unusable condition.
I’ve known about MyHeritage’s photo repair capability for some time, but I hadn’t used it. As such, I figured I’d give it a try and see if it could help this image.
I uploaded the image to MyHeritage then ran it through both the photo repair and photo enhancement. Zooming in on Donna’s face, I thought I’d see some improvement. Surprisingly, I did not see any difference. The repair smoothed the tear and some minor marks and tears, but nothing more than many other tools can do. That said, the process was straightforward. I’ve used Photoshop Elements and several other simple programs to clean up tears and marks. They typically do a similar job, but they take some experience to use and take more effort. It was the enhancement that I didn’t think the MyHeritage tool did much for my photo. I’ll try it again on something else and see if my opinion can be changed.
The label on the back of this photo said, “Hokum ala Carte,” “Donna Darling,” and had a stamp that read “Darling and Clark Revue.”
Donna and Sammy were married in 1926, so this photo was taken after they got together, but probably towards the beginning of the Darling and Clark Revue in May 1926.
This photo is of Donna Darling in her cloak, circa May 1926.
“Donna 100 years ago” is my reporting items relating to my grandmother, Madonna Montran (aka Donna Montran and Donna Darling). Hers was the exciting world of 1920s vaudeville. She crisscrossed the country with her many shows.
This week, I rely upon a previous Darling Darling Collection posting from 2018 (Part 25). In it, I learned that Donna played at the Chestnut Street Opera House in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, for three days, February 6th, 7th, & 8th, 1922.
“Donna Darling & Boys” played at the Strand Theater in Ithaca, NY, the week before, had Sunday off and then traveled the 140 miles south to Sunbury, PA. Travel to Sunbury was probably difficult. There were no direct trains between the two cities. Only the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad[i] and Pennsylvania Railroad[ii] (later part of Penn Central) serviced Sunbury, and neither went to Ithaca in the 1920s. She, and the troupe, probably changed trains at Pittston or Wilkes Berre.
Sunbury was growing in the 1920s. Settled in 1772 and made a borough in 1797, Sunbury was incorporated as a city in 1920. Its population had grown from 14,000 in 1910 to nearly 16,000 in 1920.[iii] Since then, its population has slowly declined to just over 9,000 today (2019 est.).
The Chestnut Street Opera House was a small theatre with a seating capacity of only 971.[iv] There were two newspapers in Sunbury at the time, “The Sunbury” and the “Sunbury Daily Item.” Newspapers.com has a limited number of the “Sunbury Daily Item,” however, it is missing papers from 4 February until 18 February 1922. Likewise, Chronicling America, Genealogy Bank, Newspaper Archives, and the Pennsylvania Newspaper Archive have no newspapers from February 1922.
So, if it weren’t for Donna’s Scrapbook collection, I wouldn’t know she was ever in Sunbury.
After three days in Sunbury, the cast and props headed the 19 miles along the Pennsylvania Railroad to Shamokin, PA, and the Strand Theater, for another three-night show (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday).
One hundred years ago, February 6th through 8th, 1922, my grandmother was the headliner in her vaudeville act, “Miss Donna Darling.” She played at the Chestnut Street Opera House in Sunbury, Pennsylvania.
[i] The Philadelphia & Reading Railroad went into bankruptcy in the 1970s and its operations merged into Conrail in 1976. (Source: Wikipedia-Reading Company)
[Growing up, I knew I had an Uncle Russ and that he was the child of Donna and her husband, Sammy Clark Amsterdam. I never knew that Sammy was my grandmother’s third husband. My mom and her brother, Russell, never knew Donna was married before Sammy until I discovered that in my genealogy work. It was a surprise to both of them when I found evidence of the two previous marriages. This week I’m looking at Sammy Amsterdam. He was the father of Russell and the “father of record” of my mother. My grandmother and Sammy stayed married after my grandmother was pregnant (by Dick Brown) to “give the child a name” and then quietly divorced. Such was the way of show-business marriages in the 1930s. Sammy is one of the few people I know of who served in both World Wars.]
Samson Clark Amsterdam was born on 20 July 1898 in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York, the first child of Saul and Sarah (Gottlieb) Amsterdam. It was during the peak of the Spanish-American war. The United States was mobilizing troops to send to Puerto Rico.
Children of Saul and Sarah (Gottleib) Amsterdam—(Siblings)
20 July 1898
13 April 1979
3 December 1901
8 August 2001
2 August 1905
15 May 1989
12 August 1914
7 June 1996
12 August 1914
28 September 1975
The 1900 Census found two-year-old “Samuel” living with his parents at 263 Division Street in Manhattan. Living with them are his grandparents, Leo & Yetta Amsterdam. Also living with them is Sammy’s uncle Abraham Reuben.
The 1905 New York Census finds the Amsterdam family living at 207 Madison Street. “Sol” works in Real Estate. The household consists of his parents, a younger sister (“Evia”), and 53-year-old “Sarra” (Sarah) Gottlieb. Although listed as a “Boarder,” Gottlieb is Saul’s wife’s maiden name. As such, she must be related. It is unclear if this is Sarah’s mother or an aunt.
The 1910 Census shows that the Amsterdam family moved to 1433 50th in Brooklyn. Saul was still in real estate (a broker now). Besides four-year-old “Eli,” Sarah’s mother, Rebecca Gottlieb, lived with them. Additionally, they had a servant living with them. Sarah’s three children were living, and Rebecca’s seven children were all alive in 1910.
The 1915 New York Census shows the Amsterdam family still at 1433 50th in Brooklyn. It documents the twins Herald and Bernard. Sarah’s mother, Rebecca Gottlieb, is still living with them. A new servant, Sadie Burcheska, is living with them. Samson is attending high school; Evelyn and Elias are also in school.
On 2 May 1917, Samson enlisted in the Regular Army at Fort Slocum, Winchester County, New York. On 18 November 1917, Samson was discharged from the Regular Army to enlist in the ERC—Enlisted Reserve Corps (now the U.S. Army Reserves). Samson was supposed to ship out on 26 November 1917 aboard the USS Aeolus (ID-3005); however, his name was stricken from the ship’s manifest. Instead, he remained stateside with the Medical Detachment of the 503rd Engineers. He was stationed at the Post Hospital, Fort Hamilton, NY, from October 1918 until January 1919, and stationed at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, from 28 January 1919 until his discharge on 5 June 1919.
I have been unsuccessful in finding Sammy in the 1920 Census, but the 1925 New York Census found him back home with his parents and three brothers, now at 86 Halsey Street. His occupation is listed as “Theatrical.” The building at 86 Halsey is still standing.
In March and April of 1926, Donna was doing her “Donna Darling’s Little Jewel Revue” in Michigan, Upstate New York, West Virginia, and Brooklyn. So, it must have been a whirlwind romance because Sammy and Donna married on 19 April 1926 in Manhattan. The two started the Donna Darling Revue with Sammy Clark the first week of May.
Marriage 1 – Madonna Mae Montran (aka Donna Darling)
Children of Samson and Madonna (Montran) Amsterdam
Sammy and Donna took their vaudeville show across the country. They played in New York, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Colorado, Texas, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, & Iowa, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, with stops in Ontario before returning to ending the show in July 1927, just eight weeks before Russell was born.
It appears that Sammy and Donna took off for several months but restarted the Donna Darling and Sammy Clark show in April 1928.
In 1929 Sammy and Donna went to Panama, where they worked.
Something happened between Sammy and Donna in Panama as they left the country estranged. The passenger list for their return in April 1930 shows them in different cabins and indicates Donna going home to her mother’s address in Detroit and Sammy going home to his mother’s address in New York. I have found no evidence they ever were together again.
In 1939 Sammy traveled to Cuba and returned.
I have not found Sammy in the 1940 Census. However, from May to July 1940, Sammy lived in Chicago, where he was initiated, passed, and raised as a Master Mason in the Henry Horner Lodge #402 in Illinois.
Military Service Again
By February 1942, Sammy had located to Odessa, Ector County, Texas. He lived at 613 W 9th Street and worked at a nightclub, the Village Barn, when he registered for the draft. He enlisted that following October in the Army Air Corps. His marital status was “divorced, without dependents.”
In May 1950, Sammy and his mother Sarah took a month-long trip to Europe. They sailed aboard the RMS Queen Mary to Cherbourg, France, and returned aboard the RMS Caronia in June 1950. Sammy’s address was 540 West Avenue, Miami Beach. Today, that address is a modern (built in 2005), luxury, high-rise condo, known as Bentley Bay North.
Marriage 2 – Elvie (Bolton) Anderson
In 1951 Sammy married Elvie (Bolton) Anderson in Dade County, Florida.
During the 1950s, Sammy had a theatrical booking agency in Miami Beach on Collins Ave. His home address was 6295 SW 116th Street.
Sammy lived in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia, when he died on 13 April 1979. He is buried at Riverside Cemetery in Macon
Events by Location
Florida, Dade Marriage 2 (1951)
Florida, Dade, Miami Beach 1950
Florida, Dade, Miami 1954-1955
Georgia, Bibb, Macon 1979 & Death
Illinois, Cook, Chicago 1940
New York, Brooklyn Birth, 1910-1915, 1925, 1930,
New York, Manhattan 1900-1905, Marriage 1 (1926)
New Jersey, Camp Merritt Military Service – 1917-1919
Texas, Ector, Odessa 1942
Texas, Lubbock, Lubbock Military Service 1942-1945
Do not confuse Samson Clark Amsterdam with Sam Amsterdam, born 26 December 1899 in Manhattan, New York, the son of Gerry Amsterdam, or Sam Amsterdam, born 26 November 1899 in Manhattan, New York.
1900 Census (F.S.), Family Search, 1900 – Saul Amsterdam – Head. “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MSJG-W37 : accessed 19 January 2022), Saul Amsterdam, Borough of Manhattan, Election District 13 New York City Ward 4, New York County, New York, United States; citing enumeration district (E.D.) 80, sheet 20A, family 347, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,241,084.
1910 Census (F.S.), Family Search, 1910 – Saul Amsterdam – Head – Brooklyn, New York.
City Directory (A), Ancestry.Com, Miami, Florida – 1955 – Page 42 – Amsterdam. U.S., City Directories, 1822-1995 –Miami, Florida, City Directory, 1955 – Image 23 of 414.
Find a Grave, Find a Grave, Sammy Amsterdam (1898-1979) – No Image. Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/54396367/sammy-amsterdam : accessed 26 January 2022), memorial page for Sammy Amsterdam (20 July 1898–13 April 1979), Find a Grave Memorial ID 54396367, citing Riverside Cemetery, Macon, Bibb County, Georgia, USA; Maintained by David Hutchins Israel (contributor 47406641).
Florida, U.S., Marriage Indexes, 1822-1875 and 1927-2001, Ancestry, Sampson Amsterdam – Elvie Anderson – 1951. Ancestry.com. Florida, U.S., Marriage Indexes, 1822-1875 and 1927-2001 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.
Masonic Record – Samson Amsterdam – ID 321333.
New York, New York City Marriage Records, 1829-1940, Family Search, Marriage: Samson Amsterdam & Madonna Montana – 19 April 1926. “New York, New York City Marriage Records, 1829-1940,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:247L-21S : 10 February 2018), Ida Barber in the entry for Samson Amsterdam and Madonna Montran, 19 April 1926; citing Marriage, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, New York City Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 1,643,705. https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:247L-21S.
New York, New York Passenger and Crew Lists, 1909, 1925-1957, Family Search, Amsterdam, Samson – Amsterdam, Sarah. “New York, New York Passenger and Crew Lists, 1909, 1925-1957,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:24TN-7NP : 2 March 2021), Samson Amsterdam, 1950; citing Immigration, New York City, New York, United States, NARA microfilm publication T715 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
New York, New York, U.S., Extracted Marriage Index, 1866-1937, Ancestry, Samson New York, New York, U.S., Extracted Marriage Index, 1866-1937 – Amsterdam – Madonna Montran – 19 April 1926 – (No Image).
New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957, Ancestry, Samson Amsterdam – Arrival 8 April 1930 to New York 8 April 1930. Year: 1930; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 1; Page Number: 82.
New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957, Ancestry, Year: 1939; Arrival:,; Microfilm serial: T715; Microfilm roll:
New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1905; Election District: A.D. 04 E.D. 11; City: Manhattan; County: New York; Page: 58
New York, U.S., State Census, 1915, Ancestry, Saul Amsterdam, Head. New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1915; Election District: 44; Assembly District: 16; City: New York; County: Kings; Page: 21.
New York, U.S., State Census, 1925, Ancestry, Saul Amsterdam, Head. New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1925; Election District: 26; Assembly District: 17; City: Brooklyn; County: Kings; Page: 22.
S., Abstracts of World War I Military Service, 1917-1919, Ancestry, New York – Samson Amsterdam. Original data: New York State Abstracts of World War I Military Service, 1917–1919. Adjutant General’s Office. Series B0808. New York State Archives, Albany, New York.
S., Army Transport Service Arriving and Departing Passenger Lists, 1910-1939,
The National Archives at College Park; College Park, Maryland; Record Group Title: Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774-1985; Record Group Number: 92; Roll or Box Number: 363.
S., Departing Passenger and Crew Lists, 1914-1966, Ancestry, Samson Amsterdam, Departs New York, 9 May 1950 aboard the Queen Mary. Sarah Amsterdam, Departs New York, 9 May 1950 aboard the Queen Mary. The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Series Title: Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels and Airplanes Departing from New York, New York, 07/01/1948-12/31/1956; NAI Number: 3335533; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85; Series Number: A4169; NARA Roll Number: 74.
S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007, Ancestry.Com, Probably. Number: 468-09-2273; Issue State: Minnesota; Issue Date: Before 1951.
S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014, Ancestry.Com, Number: 350-09-2088; Issue State: Illinois; Issue Date: Before 1951.
S., World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, Ancestry, Samson Amsterdam (No Image). National Archives at College Park; College Park, Maryland, USA; Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, 1938-1946; NAID: 1263923; Record Group Title: Records of the National Archives and Records Administration, 1789-ca. 2007; Record Group: 64; Box Number: 00241; Reel: 24.
S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947 (National Archives), Ancestry.Com, Sam Amsterdam. National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; WWII Draft Registration Cards for Texas, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947; Record Group: Records of the Selective Service
United Kingdom, Outgoing Passenger Lists, 1890-1960, Family Search, Samson Amsterdam – Departed England 2 June 1950. Image at Find My Past.Com. “United Kingdom, Outgoing Passenger Lists, 1890-1960”, database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:68PV-B8K1 : 28 October 2021), Samson Amsterdam, 1950.
United States Social Security Death Index, Family Search, Social Security Number: 350-09-2088; Issue State: Illinois; Issue Date: Before 1951.
 My own numbering system. Ancestor #6 would be the biological maternal grandfather. The I use the “S” to indicate a step-father and the “3” to indicate it is the 3rd stepfather.
 Samson is listed as Sampson, Samuel, and Sammy in different documents and are interchangeable in this document. (I try to use the name used in the source document.)
 Born Amsterdam, Russell used the surname Kees through most of his life.
 Sammy was aboard the S.S. Columbia between Panama and New York during the 1930 Census and is not listed there.
 Per Zillow, the home currently at 6295 SW 116th St. was built in 1998.
“Donna 100 years ago” is my reporting items relating to my grandmother, Madonna Montran (aka Donna Montran and aka Donna Darling). Hers was the exciting world of 1920s vaudeville. She crisscrossed the country with her many shows.
This week, from her original newspaper clippings, two items that placed her at the Majestic Theatre, in Elmira.
First, a clipping mentioning Majestic: Follow the Arrow (to) Keith Vaudeville. Besides Donna Darling and Boys – Elaborate Presentation of Songs and Dances are
“At the Party” – An Original revue of the Sunny South—Colonial settings Quaint Costumes
Manuel Romain’s “That Trio” – Vaudeville’s Sweetest Singers
Hunniford – Ventriloquist with a Production
Jean & White – In “Dance Varieties” and
Conway Tearle in “Bucking the Tiger”
Finally was a small clipping that mentions
(First Half) – Jean & White – Hunniford – Donna Darling Co. – Manuel Romaine Co. – At the Party.
None of the clippings had dates nor did any mention the state the theatre was located in.[i]
I was pretty sure this bill was from 1922 and Elmira, New York. Then I found an article on Page 19 of the January 29, 1942, Elmira Star-Gazette, which read,
In Elmira Theaters 20 Years Ago
MAJESTIC—“Bucking the Tiger” with Conrad Tearle and Keith Vaudeville featuring “At the Party” revue. Manuel Romain’s “That Trio,” Donna Darling and Boys, and Ventriloquist Hunniford and Jean and White.
Finally, advertisements in the Star-Gazette on January 28, 30, & 31 showed the same program would play at the Majestic on January 29th, 30th, & 31st (Monday, Tuesday, & Wednesday). The ad also used the same “Follow the Arrow” in the advertisement.
One hundred years ago, Donna’s vaudeville act, “Donna Darling & Boys,” played at the Majestic Theatre in Elmira, New York.
[i] There are seven Elmira’s in the United States and two in Canada.