Donna Montran and “Chin Chin” play at the Grand Opera House in Canton, Ohio on 1 April 1920

 Donna Montran – Vaudeville

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,
“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]

Grand Opera House, Canton, Ohio Source:
Grand Opera House
Canton, Ohio

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 – – Accessed 3 September 2016.
[iii] The Cahn-Leighton Official Theatrical Guide 1913-1914 – Page 510 – via Google.


Donna in New Philadelphia, OH, at the Union Theatre – 10 April, 1920


It had been a busy week. We now know “Chin Chin” played at the Park Theatre in Youngstown on Thursday[i] and the Victoria Theatre in Steubenville on Friday. It was back to the train and headed west about an hour to New Philadelphia for a one-night show at the Union Opera House on Saturday, April 10th.

The Daily Times 3 April 1920
The Daily Times
3 April 1920 Source:

The initial notice for the show appeared in The Daily Times (New Philadelphia) on April 3, 1920, which was the Saturday before the Saturday show. The Daily Times was the major newspaper of the area with a circulation of 2,575 per the Julius Cahn Theatrical Guide of 1914. Advertising during the subsequent days let folks know many of the particulars of the show, including two car loads of scenery, seven sets, indoor circus, and, of course, the Clown Saxophone Band would be there. Besides the stars, Walter Wills and Roy Binder, Ethel Lawrence and George Usher are mentioned in articles.

The Daily Times (New Philadelphia, OH) April 8, 1920, Page 5 Source:

On April 8th, the Daily Times did run a photo showing 16 of “Chin Chinners.”  I don’t see Donna in this group, but with 65 women in the show that is understandable.

The show itself appears to have gone off without a hitch. According to the “Daily Times” of April 12th, the show had the “biggest crowd of the season.” However, across the street, three men robbed the Union Restaurant at gunpoint during the show. I’ll bet that disrupted theatregoers from having a bite after the show.  Three gunmen — $19.00 taken. They apparently didn’t know what they were doing as they left $40 in silver in the cash register and just took the folding money.

Union Opera Theater – New Philadelphia, OH

(This article was updated.  See: Update – Union Opera Theater – New Philadelphia, OH.)

The Hotel Reeves (New Philadelphia, OH)
Crop of card00072_fr.
Source: Card Cow

I have not been successful determining the exact location of the Union Opera House. Some articles indicate that it was “near the courthouse.” A review of the 1921 City Directory for New Philadelphia indicates that it was “at rear of Hotel Reeves Building.” That same directory indicates that the Hotel Reeves was at 133-135 North Broadway[ii], which seems to be where the county courthouse is.

The Union Opera House had a capacity of 1,057 – 502 on the main floor, 230 in the balcony, 300 in the gallery, and 24 in box seats. The US Census indicates that the population of New Philadelphia, OH was 10,718,[iii] so the venue could hold nearly 10% of the population of the city. However, the city of Dover is adjacent to New Philadelphia and contributed another 8,000 to the population.

The Union Opera House was probably built in 1863[iv].

The Union Opera House was destroyed by fire in November 1893. Rebuild date is not known.

The Union Opera House operated until at least 1940.[v]

Specifications for the Union Opera House[vi]

  • Proscenium opening: 32×22 ft
  • Front to back wall: 42 ft
  • Between side walls: 66 ft
  • Apron 5 ft
  • Between fly girders: 43 ft
  • To rigging loft: 40 ft
  • To fly gallery: 23 ft
  • 11 Dressing rooms

Further Research

I have contacted the Tuscarawas Historical Society regarding information about the Union Opera House (Theatre) regarding the history and the disposition of the theatre.

According to the Julius Cahn Theatrical Guide, there were four newspapers associated New Philadelphia at the time; the “Times,” “Tribune,” the “Democrat,” and the “Reporter” (at Canal Dover). I have been unable to find copies of those papers. Find sources for the three papers and see if they have any articles regarding the show.


[i] I just learned of this performance this week
[ii] Ancestry.Com – U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 – New Philadelphia, Ohio, City Directory, 1921, pages 136 and 219.
[iv] Web: Cinema Treasurers, Quaker Cinema, Comments, Comment by Joe Vogel on January 5, 2010, See
[v] Web: Times-Reporter Article posted March 16, 2014, “Local History: Night spots aplenty in the late 1930s” by Jon Baker, staff writer.
———- DISCLAIMER ———-

Donna Montran and “Chin Chin” play at the Victoria Theatre in Steubenville, Ohio on 9 April 1920

“Chin Chin” at the Victoria Theatre, Steubenville, Ohio

By Don Taylor

 We know that Chin Chin played on April 5 at the Sandusky Theatre in Sandusky, OH on April 5th and played at the Faurot Opera House in Lima, OH on April 6th. We don’t know if the show was on holiday Wednesday and Thursday, or not, but they resumed playing Friday, April 9th at the Victoria Theatre.

The Steubenville Herald-Star began speaking about the coming attraction on April 3 in their “AT THE THEATRE” Column on Page 5. They wrote:

1920-04-03-SteubenvilleHeraldStarApril32C1920-ChinChinAdCROPMelodious, artistic and diverting is “Chin Chin”, scheduled for the Victoria theatre Friday night, April 9th. To Walter Wills and Roy Binder are entrusted the principal parts, supported by a company of clever comedians and a beautiful chorus. In their songs, “The Chinese Honeymoon”, “Go Gar Sig Gong-Jue” and “Temple Bells’, the two clever comedians Wills and Binder make a decided hit and are always recalled again and again. In this charming fantasy with a Chinese atmosphere there are also a score of other songs that are the fascinating, whistling kind, and several unique dances that carry the snappy comedy along delightfully.[i][ii]

On April 4th was one of the most interesting articles about the show “Chin Chin” I have come across. Sadly, parts of the article are not legible, but what is readable in my version is fascinating. It said:


The Importance of Women Choristers in “Chin Chin”
It was not the custom for women to appear publicly in the theatres of Europe either on stage or in the auditorium until many years after the death of William Shakespeare. The women who did venture to the theatre always were masked. Most of Shakespeare’s heroines were acted in his days by boys. There are no records of women acting on the English stage until after the Restoration, when the floodgates of licenses were let down ________________ of owmen choristers in opera is of comparative recent ________ tribute in such entertainments as those which managers like Mr. Charles Dillingham presents __ which “Chin Chin” to be offered at the Victoria Theatre Friday night, April 9 is a notable example.
The bare thought of only a male chorus of twenty-four voices in “Chin Chin”, no matter how attractive these voices might be, would be likely to have a very disastrous effect upon the box office receipts. Undoubtedly audiences of today would not be so easily satisfied as were the ancient Greek audiences, truthfully speaking it is the great number of really youthful and vivacious girls that prove the biggest drawing card for the most interesting of Musical Comedies “Chin Chin” Order seats now.[iii]

I agree that having fifty plus attractive women added to the success of “Chin Chin” at the box office and have seen advertising articles highlighting that fact before, but I had never seen anyone tie it to Shakespeare and Greek plays before.

Again, on April 7th, the Steubenville Herald-Star newspaper had another article on page three. I can’t tell if it is fact or show business fiction nor if it gives insight into the life of Walter Wills or only insight into the culture of the time, but it is an interesting story.

“Chin Chin” at the Victoria Theatre….

Same Day Ad for “Chin Chin” at the Victoria Theatre Steubenville Herald-Star, April 9, 1920

Walter Wills and Roy Binder in this fantasy have become a couple of Chinamen who have more or less thrilling adventures in the pursit of the Lam which brought to its possessor all manner of happiness.

Both of the comedians have studied closely in the mannerisms and idiosyncrasies of Chines personality, and one of them had least has a more than casual acquaintance with the Chinese Language.

Wills once had a Chinese Servant from whom he picked up a great deal of useful knowledge. Wills is very fond of fruit, of which he was in the habit of eating a quantity every evening. One day he happened to say to his servant that he was not feeling very well. The Chinaman grumbled and then said, “You eat too much fruit—makes belly ache!” Wills took the tip and cut down on his fruit allowance….[iv]

Victoria Theatre

For those of you who follow my Blog, I normally have a short history of the theater. I have about a half a dozen sources I typically go to find information including Julius Cahn Theatrical Reports and several “go to” websites such as Cinema Treasures. But, in the case of the Victoria Theatre in Steubenville I found virtually nothing. I even messaged the Jefferson County Historical Society asking about the theatre but received no response from them.

I know the theater existed in 1919, 1920, and 1921, but I know nothing more. Not when it was built, not its size, not is current status. If I learn more, I will post it. If you know more about the Victoria Theatre in Steubenville, please add it to the comments below. Thank you.

Further Research

Keep researching to determine if “Chin Chin” played on April 7th or 8th 1920.
Learn more about the Victoria Theatre of Steubenville, Ohio.


[i] Note: This newspaper has an unusually high number of errors. For the sake of readability, I have corrected most of the spelling and typesetter errors rather than creating a verbatim transcript.
[ii] Steubenville Herald-Star – Steubenville, Ohio – Apr 3 1920 – Chin Chin – via
[iii] Steubenville Herald-Star April 5, 1920, Page 3 via Find-my-Past.
[iv] Steubenville Herald-Star – Steubenville, Ohio – Apr 7 1920 – Page 3 –

———- DISCLAIMER ———-

Find your ancestors today! Find your ancestors today!

Donna in Lima, Ohio, at the Faurot Theater – 6 April 1920

by Don Taylor

The “Chin Chin” Crew packed up from the show Monday night in Sandusky, Ohio, traveled overnight the 100 miles to Lima, Ohio, to set up for another one night performance.

Advertising for the “Chin Chin” performance began in the Lima Daily News on 1 April 1920 with both an ad and a short article in the Theater and Movies section of the paper.

The article reads: And the Ad shows:
FAUROT–”Chin Chin” is scheduled for appearance at the Faurot on Tuesday night with Walter Wills and Roy Binder in the leading roles, assisted by the biggest musical comedy aggregation on the road today.

The Plot of “Chin Chin” is so arranged that there is ample opportunity for many vaudeville interpolations of a nature that assures one hundred and fifty minutes of entrancing hilarity.

To relate the tricks of the pair of Chinese as they go thru their Arabian Night’s take would require much space.

“Chin Chin” is a clean and wholesome play, in seven scenes, requiring two sixty-foot baggage cars; the company comprises 65 people, mostly girls who appear in rich oriental costumes of many designs and variegated colors.

The following Sunday another an article ran in the Sunday News which included a rare photo of Donna with fellow “prima donna” Ethel Lawrence.

Photo quality is not great, however,
Donna is clearly on the right.
The Lima News, April 4, 1920,

Also, that issue of the paper included a much more thorough advertisement about the show including the Clown Saxophone Band and the Funny Laughing Horse. Further advertising on the day before the show and the day of the showing was similar.

The show appears to have gone on without problems. We don’t know if the company played on the 7th or 8th or if they had a couple days off, but they were in Steubenville on April 9th.

Faurot Opera House

Faurot Opera House Block
Lima, OH
Source: Card Cow

Benjamin C. Faurot was a successful businessman in 1881 when he began construction on the Faurot Block. Facing Main and High streets, the building would be five stories high and include offices, stores, a music hall, the Lima National Bank, and the Faurot Opera House. The block design was in an “Americanized composition of the French Renaissance and Queen Anne.” It was a strikingly beautiful design and structure, so much so, that it is said to have so impressed New Yorkers that they used it as a model for theaters there.

The opera house opened in 1882 and was used for plays, vaudeville, and movies until June 1934.

Julius Cahn Theatrical Guide for 1913-1914 reported that the Faurot Opera House seated 1,183 people; 467 on the main floor, 266 in the balcony, 400 in the gallery, and 50 in boxes. It had a 30’ by 30’ stage with a five-foot apron.

The auditorium was used for storage for a time in the 1940s, then the Opera House was demolished in 1953 to make way for a Kresge Drug Store.

Further Research

The newspaper articles I found regarding this show were from The Lima News. However, other newspapers of the time included the Republican-Gazette, Times-Democrat, the Advertiser, and the German language Courier. These papers should also be searched for potential photos and articles.


“Chin Chin”

Newspapers.Com; The Lima News (Lima, Ohio) · Thu, Apr 1, 1920 · Page 11; The Lima News – Lima, Ohio – Apr 4 1920 – 15970948  

Faurot Opera House

Internet: The 419; “Finding Faurot: The Rise and Fall of one of Lima’s Greatest Contributors” by Kate Ellis;
Internet: Wikipedia; “Lima, Ohio” Leadership and growth,,_Ohio
Internet: Cinema Treasures, “Faurot Opera House” 135 N. Main Street, Lima, OH 45801, Closed, Demolished, 1282 seats.
The Cahn-Leighton official theatrical guide. 1913. New York, N.Y.: Publication Office, New Amsterdam Theatre Building. Page 519; via Google Books

———- DISCLAIMER ———-

Donna in Sandusky, OH, at the Sandusky Theater

“Chin Chin” plays the Sandusky Theatre, April 5, 1920

I don’t know where Donna was immediately before she played in Sandusky, Ohio. We are aware she played in Greenville, PA on March 20th, but don’t have any sightings of her or the show until “Chin Chin” plays in Sandusky on April 5th.
The first show advertising indicated that:
“Chin Chin” Sale Now On.

The seat sale for Charles Dillingham’s greatest of successes, “Chin Chin,” at the Sandusky next Monday night, opens at the theatre box office this morning.
This is the original Globe theatre, New York production. In its entirety, with the same cast that presented it to capacity audiences at the Euclid Opera house, Cleveland, earlier in the season.
This is without a doubt the biggest attraction ever seen on the local stage.
A cast is one the like of which was never seen in this city. It includes Walter Wills and Roy Binder, two particular stars, supported by a company consisting of some 60 odd artists, including Tom Brown’s famous clown saxaphone band.
The following day the Sandusky Star-Journal ran a more in-depth article about the show, which read[i]:
“Chin Chin”
“Chin Chin,” the fantastical musical comedy which met with such success in England and the United States, will be presented at the Sandusky Theater, next Monday night, April 5.
The production is somewhat on the lines of the old time pantomimes, having a scant plot and many musical turns, choruses, comic interludes and dances. From beginning to end it is very amusing, very light and really good fun. The scenery and costumes are elaborate in the extreme and some of the color effects are particularly pleasing and artistic.

What plot there is to “Chin Chin” has to do with Aladdin and his lamp, the magician, Abanazar, who tries to get the lamp and incidentally carries off Aladdin’s intended bride, the slaves of the lamp who do many and strange, things in their quest of the lamp, Aladdin’s step-mother, the widow Twankey and her maid, Fan Fan, who is apparently made of India rubber. The two chief characters are the slaves of the lamp and Walter Wills and Roy Binder in the parts are great laughter makers. Their parts call for acrobatic feats, comic songs, dancing and difficult actting. Irene McKay, is the Widow Twankey’s maid.

The first scene is the Toy Bazaar and in it some pretty dances by the toys fire given, the Teddy Bear dance being particularly quaint. In the next scene Aladdin sings “Goodbye Girls, I’m Through,” the very taking air of which is often repeated in the music.

Seats are now on sale at the theater box office. 

Various advertising and articles promoted the show in both English speaking papers during the week. 
Somewhat unusual for a one-night show, the Sandusky Register ran a review of the show after it left town.[ii] The review was quite positive although you can tell that the show was on its downward spiral.
Theatrical Notes
“Chin Chin,” at the Sandusky Theatre Monday night, attracted nearly a capacity house. That it merited this none who look it in win attempt to deny.
Rich in color, pretty girts, artistic setting and all of the other things that go to make up really worth-while musical comedy, it took a place high up among the best offerings that the now waning theatrical season has afforded locally.
-Sandusky got the original Globe theatre production and, consequently, saw it just about as the offering was presented in New York. The east was the same one that presented “Chin Chin” at the Opera House, Cleveland, some months back.
A better cast had probably never trod the Sandusky stage. It included Walter Wills and Roy Binder, worthy successors of the late Dave Montgomery and Fred Stone, who had the leading roles in the original production, together with some sixty odd artists, including one of the niftiest of nifty choruses and Tom Brown’s famous saxaphone band of clowns.
The chorus was composed of nearly thirty girls, some of whom, from time to time as the play progressed, assumed minor roles.
Arrangements were made by Charles Dillingham, who is presenting “Chin Chin,” with a talking machine company. Applicants for places who were unable to go to New York, had their voices recorded on discs. These discs were sent to Dillingham and, with photographs, influenced the manager’s selections.
“Chin Chin’s” music was written by Ivan Caryll, well remembered for his ingratiating melodies in “The Pink Lady” and “The Little Cafe.” The book is by Anne Caldwell and R. H. Burnside and the lyrics by James O’Dea.
Such, numbers as “Violet,” “The Gray Moon,” “The Love ‘Moon,” “Goodbye, Girls, I’m Through” and Go-Gar Slg Gong-Jue” never fail to get a hand. Sandusky enjoyed them all.
Testimony to the worth of “Chin Chin” as a theatrical offering, lies in the fact that the attraction ran for two years at the Globe theatre, New York, and that on the road it has been “packing ’em in everywhere.

Sandusky Theater

Photo Courtesy Cinema Treasures

Andres Biemiller built the Biemiller Opera House at the corner of Water Street and Jackson Street in 1877. When Biemiller first built the theater, it seated 1,500 people. However, the Donaldson Guide of 1894 indicates that it only seated 1,200[iii]. The building went through a succession name changes between 1905 and 1908. In May 1905, Carl Neilsen purchased the building, remodeled it and changed its name to the Neilsen Opera House. In 1906, John A. Himmelein acquired the building changed the name to Himmelein Opera House. Between 1907 and 1908 it was known as the Grand Theater. Finally, in 1908, the theater was leased to O. S. Hathaway, who changed its name to the Sandusky Theater.

The Julius Cahn – Gus Hill Theatrical Guide for 1913-1914 indicates that the theater held 1,164 people. Seating included 413 on the lower floor, 327 in the balcony, 400 in the gallery, and 24 in the box seats. It was a medium size stage, 34×28 but only had a 2-foot apron.[iv]

In 1913, the city of Sandusky had a population of just under 20,000 with an area population of about 25,000. The city supported three newspapers; the “Register” was the morning paper with a circulation of about 4,000. The evening paper was the “Star-Journal.” There was also a German language paper, the “Demokrat,” with a circulation of about 600. Three major railroads supported the city, The New York Central, the Baltimore & Ohio, and the Pennsylvania railroads.

The “Chin Chin” show played one night in Sandusky[v] and needed to move the 100 miles southwest to Lima, Ohio for the show the next night, so the “Chin Chin” cast would not have stayed in hotels in Sandusky.

The Seitz Amusement Co. leased the building in 1936 to show motion pictures and reduced the seating capacity to 800. They bought it in 1950 and sold it four years later. The building was demolished in 1955.[vi]

Further Research

Determine where “Chin Chin” played from March 21st until April 4th, 1920.


[i] Sandusky Star-Journal, Sandusky, Ohio; April 3, 1920, Page 8; via Newspaper Archive.

[ii] Sandusky Register, Sandusky, Ohio; April 6, 1920; via Newspaper Archive.

[iii] Donaldson, William H. 1894. The Donaldson, guide containing a list of all opera-houses in the United States and Canada, together with descriptions of their stages, their seating capacity, and the names of the managers of each; in conjunction with the Showman’s encyclopedia and the International professional register to which is added the complete code of the Donaldson cipher. Cincinnati, O.: W.H. Donaldson.

[iv] The Cahn-Leighton Official Theatrical Guide. 1913. New York, N.Y.: Publication Office, New Amsterdam Theatre Building.

[v] Sandusky Register – Sandusky, Ohio – 4 April 1920; via Newspaper Archive.

[vi] Internet: Cinema Treasures – Sandusky Theater – Water Street and Jackson Street, Sandusky, OH 44870. Per information contributed by elmorovivo;

———- DISCLAIMER ———-

Please subscribe to this blog.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner