Chin Chin at Chatterton Opera House, Bloomington, IL – 1 Nov 1919

Chin Chin
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.Donna joined the “Chin-Chin” show on 30 October 1919 and found no let up. Travel, show, then travel again to the next venue. It was a non-stop different town every night.

On Oct 30, 1919, Donna joined the “Chin Chin” cast. She  played one night there, then traveled the 50 miles to Urbana, IL. One night there at the Illinois Theatre. Then traveled 100 miles to Bloomington, IL, and performed at the Chatterton Opera House, again for one night, November 1st, 1919. So her time with “Chin Chin” went.

Preshow Advertising

The Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL) is the first newspaper I’ve found that advertised that Chin Chin was coming to Bloomington’s Chatterton Opera House. It was a return engagement of the “Gigantic Musical Fantasy.” It was also advertised in “The Vidette,” the weekly student-published paper of the Illinois State Normal University.

Image courtesy of the Milner Library, The Vidette Digital Archive.

Also, in the Vidette was:

“Chin Chin”

Such entertainments as are presented to us by artists like Walter Wills and Roy Binder have more of the spirit of the early Italian pantomime with the addition of music and the modern ballet. Sometimes they resemble the origin of Spanish comedy which was generally in sharp outlines as of skeletons in quick movement as of marionettes. Though the comic spirit pervades every part of such works of which “Chin Chin,” coming to the Chatterton on Saturday, Nov. 1st, is a notable example they cannot be said to be strictly comedy “Chin Chin” is billed as a fantasy, but more strict definition might be applied by using the word extravaganza, which is a combination of comic incidents leavened by dancing in music with a rough and ready element of satire pervading the whole..

One article about the show provided some genealogical information regarding star Walter Wills.

The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois) – 30 Oct 1919, Thu – Page 12, Column 2 “With Chin Chin Company.” Via

With Chin Chin Company.

Walter Wills, a nephew of the late George Wills, the well known retired musical comedy artist, is with the Chin Chin Company, which appears at the Chatterton Saturday night. The young make is well known in Bloomington and has visited his uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. George Wills, at their home, 409 East Front street, on several occasions. He is the son of the late John D. Willis, of Wills, Henshaw and Tenbroeck fame. The son is an eccentric dancer and comedian and is said to possess talent equal to his father and uncle. He will be the guest of his aunt, Mrs. George Wills, on Saturday and Sunday.


In a rare after the show review, the Pantagraph published, on the “Theaters” page, two days after the show the following

“Chin Chin” Does Well.

A large audience enjoyed an acceptable presentation of the well known musical comedy “Chin Chin” Saturday night at the Chatterton. Altho several seasons old, “Chin Chin” continues a favorite, especially with the children, and the Saturday night production was all that was expected. The piece was presented by a large company which sang acceptably the song numbers and worked industriously to put over a pleasing performance, although the comedy was not up to the standard of former companies. The saxophone sextet was an appreciated feature of the evening.

Chatterton Theatre[i]

Chatterton Opera House, BLOOMINGTON, ILL – Courtesy Gerald a. DeLuc, via Cinema Treasures

The Chatterton Theatre opened on April 7, 1910; it replaced the Grand Opera House, which fire destroyed. According to the 1921 theatrical guide, H. D. Merritt managed the 1,300 capacity theatre. Other statistics for the theatre included the following:

Proscenium opening: 34×32 ft
Front to back wall: 37 ft
Between side walls: 68 ft
Between fly girders: 50 ft
To rigging loft: 60 ft
To fly gallery: 24 ft
14 Dressing rooms

Nearby info hotels included Illinois, Hills, Commercial, Metropole, Berry, Phoenix. Railroads included the “Big 4” and Lake Erie & Western, Chicago & Alton, and the Illinois Central. Newspapers: Besides the Pantagraph, for which I have found several articles, there was also the “Bulletin,” an evening paper five days a week.

In 1923, the theater was renamed the Illini Theater. It closed in 1933. The building became part of the MARC Center. By 2011, the building operated as a comedy club for a few years and closed again in July 2014. The building became the Abundant Life in Christ Church and stands today.[ii]


[i] The Julius Cahn-Gus Hill Theatrical Guide and Moving Picture Directory, Vol 20, 1921. Page 149.

[ii] Ibid.

Donna in the News – Seven New Venues

Chin Chin
In the News
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.“Donna in the News” is my reporting of newly found newspaper articles and advertising regarding my grandmother, Madonna Montran (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 I researched “Chin Chin,” the show Donna joined in October 1919, while it was already on tour. Thanks to, I was able to learn of seven new appearances of “Chin Chin.”

Date in 1919 Theatre Location
Nov 1 Chatterton Opera House Bloomington, IL
Nov 3 Plumb Theatre Streator, IL
Nov 4 Dixon Opera House Dixon, IL
Nov 5 Greene’s Cedar Rapids, IA
Nov 6 Berchel Des Moines, IA
Nov 21 Sterling Theater or
Rex Theatre[i]
Greeley, CO
Dec 9 Arcade Theatre La Grande, OR

The Greeley showing was an exciting find because the theater wasn’t identified. On November 27, 1919, the Windsor Beacon (Windsor, CO) reported:

The Windsor Beacon, Windsor, CO – Nov 27, 1919


“Chin Chin” was the attraction which took many Windsor people to Greeley last Friday night. Among those known to have attended were:

Dr. and Mrs. T. B. Gormly…

(Note: Windsor is about ten miles northwest of Greeley.)


The 1921 Julius Cahn-Gus Hill Theatrical Guide reports Both the “Republican” and the “Tribune” as newspapers that serviced Greeley. I’ll need to find sources for those newspapers when I write more about “Chin Chin” playing in Greeley.

Because of those newly available online articles, I was able to add another seven venues for Donna’s “Chin Chin” tour.

New information added to her career list:

    • Nov 1, 1919 – Bloomington, IL – Chatterton Opera House
    • Nov 3, 1919 – Streator, IL – Plumb
    • Nov 4, 1919 – Dixon, IL – Dixon Opera House
    • Nov 5, 1919 – Cedar Rapids, IA – Greene’s
    • Nov 6, 1919 – Des Moines, IA – Berchel
    • Nov 21, 1919 – Greeley, Colorado – (Sterling or Rex Theatre)
    • Dec 9, 1010 – Arcade Theatre – La Grande, Oregon

– – – Disclaimer – – –


[i] Vaudeville Trails Thru the West “By one who knows” – Herbert Lloyd, page 98, reports only one theatre in Greeley, Colorado, the Sterling Theatre. It indicates the Sterling operated on Thursday for a 3PM matinee and an 8:15 PM night show. This could have been a special Friday night show. Alternately, the 1921 Julius Cahn-Gus Hill Theatrical Guide for 1921 indicates that a second theater, the Rex Theatre, J. Lynch, Mgr. had a seating capacity of 800 and also played Traveling Companies.