Donna at the Henderson Theater, Coney Island

Henderson’s Theater, Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York – Week of 6 September 1920. 

We know that Donna had finished a 5-week showing at B.S. Moss’ Broadway Theater on August 29th. We know she performed in that show because she was called out by name, Donna Montran, in one of the ads and in a promotion in the New York Clipper. I believe that after five weeks of solid shows, Donna took off a week before she began again at a new theater.

“California Bathing Girls” opened at Henderson’s Theater in Coney Island on September 6th for one week. Advertising included a short article and a small ad.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle – September 5, 1920

Ad for Henderson's Theater showing California Bathing Girls.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York), Sep 5, 1920 – Page 31 – Henderson’t Theater Ad.

At the Seaside Amusement Places
– – –
Henderson’s Theater.

At Henderson’s Theater a holiday week bill will be headed by Loney Haskell, character comedian, in a monologue. “Dream Stars,” a mixture of tunes and fun, will share the headline honors. Harry Murray heads the cast and is assisted b y Gladys Joye, Bernice La Rue and Julie Steger. Other acts on the bill are the Bathing Girls, Harry and Anna Seymour, Ed Furman and Bill Nash, Sully and Mack, Ed Hill in Hattie’s Creation”: Guy J. Samuel and Lily Leonhard and the Thames Brothers complete the bill.

Variety – September 10, 1920 – Page 5, Vaudeville – Column 4.

Luckily, an article in Variety on September 10, confirmed it was Donna Montran in the Henderson’s production. It is confusing because the article says “Now” and she was there “Now September 10th” however, the text says July 30th and then she was apparently between gigs. In any event, the article shows a photo of Donna sitting wearing a really beautiful hat and confirms that it was her in the California Bathing Girls at Henderson’s Coney Island.

The Variety article indicates that, “Donna Montran has an undeniable million dollar smile, oodles of personality and an elastic voice that hits the high registers smoothly and effectively – would make ideal $4 musical comedy stuff.” (I believe that “$4 musical comedy” refers to the price of a Victrola record.)

Remember that Donna played from July 26th until August 29th at the B.S. Moss’ Broadway Theater. Sometimes that show was called “Bathing Girls,” and sometimes it was called “California Bathing Girls.” However, at the same time (From August 9th until August 21st) there was another show, “Original California Bathing Girls,” playing in Philadelphia. So the question arises, was this another show or did Donna and the troupe make the 1-1/2 to 2-hour commute to Philadelphia every day. I don’t know. Certainly, it is possible.  The newspaper articles I have found for the Broadway Theater engagement are clear; Donna played it.  The Philadelphia engagement is not clear as it never identifies the bathing girls by name.

Again, documents show that Donna played at Henderson’s Theater in Coney Island and that show was California Bathing Girls. I think more research will be needed to determine if Donna played in two shows simultaneously.

Further Research

  • Try to find further evidence if Donna played in the Original California Bathing Girls in Philadelphia from 9 until 21 August 1920 to resolve the conflict

Sources

  1. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) Sun, Sep 5, 1920 · Page 31 – Henderson’s Theater – Via Newspapers.Com http://www.newspapers.com/image/60005902
  2. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) Sun, Sep 5, 1920 · Page 30 – Via Newspapers.com https://www.newspapers.com/image/60005892
  3. Variety – September 10, 1920 – Page 5, Vaudeville – Column 4 (bottom) – Donna Montran

————- Disclaimer ————

Donna at the Metropolitan Opera House, Philadelphia, PA, August 9-21, 1920

Background
I have long been looking for when Donna made the shift from being in the “Chin Chin” production to being in the “California Bathing Beauties.” The last “Chin Chin” production that I know of was on May 21, 1920 in Geneva, NY at the – Smith Opera House. I knew that she appeared in the “California Bathing Beauties” at the Plaza Theater in Bridgeport, CT on December, 30, 1920. That is seven months and I could not believe that she went that long without other performances. I had poked around looking for later “Chin Chin” productions but hadn’t much luck finding anything. I thought I’d see if I could find other “California Bathing Beauties” productions in 1920.

I went to one of my favorite newspaper sites, Elephind.Com. Elephind is particularly good because they not only search the Library of Congress’ six million items, but also millions of additional items including the California Digital Newspaper Collection, Pennsylvania State University, and many more.

My search criteria was narrow but simple: Search all Text for “California Bathing Beauties” and the year of “1920.” The results, 6 matches in the (Philadelphia) Evening Public Ledger, two of which were in August 1920. I was then directed to the Library of Congress site where I could broaden my search a little bit. I searched just the Evening Public Ledger for “Metropolitan AND Bathing” and found 26 instances. A few of them weren’t what I was looking for, but the vast majority were helpful.

I like to use a narrow search criterion, find something relevant, and then broaden the search in a tightly defined environment.

The Bill – August 9th through August 21st

Advertising began on August 2nd with a small ad that indicated “Up in Mary’s Attic” was opening August 9. Appearing with the silent movie was the “Original California Bathing Girls” who were to be in person. This pairing showed a great match. “Up in Mary’s Attic” was the story of a young woman who would inherit a fortune if she remained single until she was twenty-one. However, she actually not only married her gym teacher she had a child and hid the child from the conniving son of the principal in the attic of her dormitory. One of the scenes in the movie includes Mary, played by Eva Novak, in a bathing suit. Eva began show business as a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty before her first movie in 1917.[1] It is very likely that Donna knew Eva as they were both Mack Sennett bathing beauties about 1915. I wonder how she felt following the film star as a vaudeville show. I wonder even more how Donna felt as she saw Eva’s career skyrocket as Tom Mix’s love interest in 10 of his western movies and 130 credits, from 1917 to 1966, to her career.

Up in Mary's Attic (1920) - Ad 1

Advertising on August 3rd let the readers know that there were three showings daily. A matinee at 2:30 that only cost 25¢ and evening shows at 7:00 and 9:00 PM with 25¢ and 50¢ seats.[2] Advertising on the 4th and 5th continued the same information.

The first articles about the show begin on August 7th where the Evening Public Ledger reports:


A BATHING girl revue, “The California Bathing Girls,” in person will be given in conjunction with the showing of “Up in Mary’s Attic.” A photoplay at the Metropolitan Opera House. The girls present a revue entitled “A Beach Promenade.”

“Up in Mary’s Attic” is said to be free from slapstick and grotesque antics. The picture tells a comic story of a romance in a boarding school.

The Charming Eva Novak will be seen in the leading feminine role and Harry Gribbon in that of the instructor who marries in secret.


While While the “Original California Bathing Girls” was at the Metropolitan, another show, “Rube Bernstein’s Bathing Beauties,” a burlesque show, was competing playing at the Bijou. The paper on the 7th included a photo of Louise Mersereau, one of the “Bathing Beauties” at the Bijou.

Clearly to compete for theatergoers, the Metropolitan Opera House had two promotions. First, “Six Navy aeroplanes, obtained through the courtesy of Lt. Com. C. Gulbranson, will fly over the city Monday and Tuesday and distribute 100 passes.”[3] I wonder of Donna had anything to do with promoting that idea. Remember, she distributed passes for Birth of a Nation from an aeroplane in 1915.

In addition, as a promotion, sailor Jim White, “the strong man of the Navy” pulled a heavy truck before the 7 and 9 PM shows in front of the Metropolitan. [4]

The show began on the 9th and the
paper on the 10th reported that “hundreds were turned away.” 

Advertising on August 14th
indicates that the movie, and the show, are held over for another week. Also,
very interesting is that the ads begin to show one of the bathing beauties.[5]  It kind of looks like Donna, but I don’t
think so. If it is not her, then, who is it? Also, if it is not she, when did
Donna become the headliner for the show.
    

Also, of particular note, beginning on
the 16th there was a contest to enter the movies.[6]

EACH LADY
ATTENDING THE ABOVE PERFORMANCE UP UNTIL THURSDAY EVENING, MAY LEAVE HER PHOTO,
WITH NAME AND ADDRESS ON BACK THEREOF, AT BOX OFFICE.A REPRESENTATIVE COMMITTEE
WILL SELECT MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL AND ANNOUNCEMENT OF WINNER WILL BE MADE ON
SATURDAY, AUG 21.

A chance of a life-time to be starred in a Fine Arts Production.

The last three shows were on August 21st.[7]  I haven’t been able to find in the paper who
won the contest. It would be interesting to find out.

Theater: Metropolitan Opera House (Philadelphia).

Philly Met Broad St” by Smallbones Licensed under Public Domain

via Wikimedia Commons.

There is an article about the Metropolitan
Opera House in
Philadelphia on Wikipedia.

However, the article does have an error. The Wikipedia article says, “In 1928, while still being used
as a performing venue for operas, the house began presenting silent films to
the public.” From my research presented here, we know that in 1920 the
Metropolitan Opera House played the silent film ““Up in Mary’s Attic.”

[1] IMDB
Database entry for Eva Novak – See: WWW.IMDB.COM
–  http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0636834/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm
[2] Evening Public Ledger. (Philadelphia
[Pa.]), 03 Aug. 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib.
of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045211/1920-08-03/ed-1/seq-8/ 
[3]
Evening Public Ledger. (Philadelphia [Pa.]), 07 Aug. 1920. Chronicling America:
Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045211/1920-08-07/ed-1/seq-12/
[4] Evening Public Ledger. (Philadelphia [Pa.]), 07 Aug. 1920. Chronicling America:
Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045211/1920-08-07/ed-1/seq-12/
[5] Evening Public Ledger. (Philadelphia [Pa.]), 14 Aug. 1920. Chronicling America:
Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045211/1920-08-14/ed-1/seq-6/
[6] Evening Public Ledger. (Philadelphia [Pa.]), 16 Aug. 1920. Chronicling America:
Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045211/1920-08-16/ed-1/seq-8/
[7] Evening Public Ledger. (Philadelphia [Pa.]), 21 Aug. 1920. Chronicling America:
Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045211/1920-08-21/ed-1/seq-10/

————- 

DISCLAIMER

 ————-

newspapers.com