Donna in Eau Claire, WI, at the Grand Theater – Feb 12, 1920

I didn’t know that Donna and the “Chin Chin” company were in Minneapolis on February 1st until I read the newspapers announcing “Chin Chin” was coming to the Grand Theatre. That bit of information will provide keys to finding further newspaper articles.

“Chin Chin” ad
Feb 1, 1920
Eau Claire Leader via
Newspapers.com
Advertising for “Chin Chin” began unusually early for the Eau Claire showing on Feb 1st. I found it unusual that the initial ad for the show specifically featured Roy Binder and not his co-star Walter Wills. On another page of the Feb 1st paper, there was a photo of the two that duo with a caption stating that “the company is now playing in Minneapolis to crowded houses.” Unfortunately the photo is particularly blotchy.

There was another of those unusual ads on February 4th that featured Roy Binder, and not Walter Wills. Finally, on February 5th a regular ad shows in “Eau Claire Reader.” Those ads continued on the 6th and 7th. Also on the 7th ran a nice little article which stated:

“CHIN CHIN” HERE 12TH.

“Chin Chin” has a name of magic – Music that is sorcery – bears and little furry things that open their mouths amazingly, and wave their ears when you aren’t expecting it; coolies, little nifty Chinese maids, mandarins, tiny children, clowns and bareback riders (with the really, truly, big white circus horse ambling gently and flatly around the ring), toys that wigwag their little arms, a great stir of fun, a dainty little maid, a Japanese doll woman, and Aladdin – the figure looms high in all child’s minds, be they three or thirty – and Chin Hop Lo, with his partner in mischief, Chin Hop Hi, the slaves of the lamp. All this and so much more that no one could ever tell you about.

The Eau Claire Leader has another article which ran on the 8th. This advertising article includes a photo of two of the cast members either dancing or in some kind of embrace. I can’t tell from the blotchy scan if it is Donna in the photo or not. I think it is, but I can’t tell for sure. There were only four women in the show that were ever highlighted so the photo certainly has a one in four chance of being Donna. The same photo ran again on the 12th, this time the image available is somewhat better. As I look at the photo more and more I think it is probably Irene McKay and not Donna. Hopefully, we will find a clearer version of this photo somewhere.

Finally, in the February 11th paper we learn why the focus on Roy Binder. That article headlines with:

MAIN INTEREST LOCALLY IN “CHIN CHIN” IS BINDER
Eau Claire Boy and Walter Wills Constitute Principal Feature of Musical Comedy.


It looks like the show was a hit. A post show review says, “Donna Montran, stately goddess of the lamp, carried off honors for her singing, particularly of ‘Violet.’”

In another post show article where is mention that the Kiwanis were expecting the Tom Brown Saxophone Sextette to play at their meeting but the band couldn’t because much of the “Chin Chin” company had to go to Chippewa Falls to find hotel lodging. The show played at Janesville the next night, so having some of the company needing to stay in Chippewa Falls must have been due to inadequate facilities in Eau Claire.

The Grand Opera House

Grand Opera House, Eau Claire, WI
Photo Courtesy: Eau Claire 

The Grand Opera House was once the cultural center of Eau Claire. In the early 1870’s, a woefully inadequate, even by 1870 standards, Music Hall was built. In the early 1880’s the editor of the “Free Press” newspaper ran a series of articles and editorials promoting the building of an Opera House. In 1883, the Grand Opera House was built on Barstow, between Main and River (today Graham) Streets.

In 1897 the Grand Opera House hosted its first motion picture, casting its “magic shadows upon a sheet.”

The Julius Cahn Report for 1913-1914 states that the Grand Opera House had a 32 x 32 foot stage and a capacity of just over 1200, 508 on the floor, 382 in the balcony, 300 in the gallery and 12 boxes.

After World War I, the theatre began a slow decline. “Chin Chin” played in 1920 early in the theatre’s decline. In 1923, the theatre “closed for the summer;” by 1930 it was closed for good. The building was demolished in 1938.

A number of sources indicate that the old Opera House was haunted and the hauntings have continued on in the replacement building. According to Haunted Places, the “old Opera House site is home to a spirit who moves chairs and closes doors.“

According to Haunted Chippewa Valley[i], says the building that replaced it still says Opera House on the outside and in the front there is a plaque with a picture and information about the former site and theatre.

Further Research

Visit the site of the Grand Opera House and get a photo of the plaque and information about the theatre.
Find information regarding “Chin Chin” playing in Minneapolis.

Endnotes


[i] Bell, Devon. 2013. Haunted Chippewa
Valley
.

Donna in Winnipeg, MB, Canada, at the Walker Theatre – January 19-24, 1920


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Graph by Danny Blair
University of Winnipeg

Chin Chin plays the Walker Theatre, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, January 19-24,
1920


I still don’t know where Donna and the “Chin Chin” company was before they arrived in Winnipeg. The show was in Calgary, January 8th to the 10th, but where they were the 11th to the 18th is not known yet. What I do know is that it was bitter cold that week in Winnipeg.  Lows in the minus 30s; highs in the minus 20s.  Bitter Cold. It didn’t reach zero the entire month. 

The first advertisement I could find for “Chin Chin” coming to Winnipeg was the Manitoba Morning Free Press dated 1 January 1920 in a short note – “Coming to the Walker”

Manitoba Morning Free Press
January 1, 1920
Courtesy: Ancestry.Com

COMING TO WALKER

– – – – – – – – – – – – –
Chinese Atmosphere Surrounds
“Chin Chin”

Melodious, artistic and diverting is “Chin Chin,” scheduled for the Walker theatre soon. 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 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.


Both the Manitoba Morning Free Press and the The Winnipeg Tribune began running advertisements for the show on January 10th. On the 10th there was also a short blurb in the Winnipeg Tribune about the show.

Unfortunately, Ancestry.Com does not appear to have any copies of the Manitoba Morning Free Press for the week of 17 to 22 January, 1920 and Newspapers.Com does not have issues of The Winnipeg Tribune for the same period either. I have been unsuccessful finding other sources for these newspapers, so it is unlikely, I will be able to find reviews of the show.  Neither paper of the 23rd or 24th indicate anything other than small ads that typically run during the tail end of a run.

Theater

The Walker Theatre

The Walker Theatre was a pretty incredible theatre. It was built in 1906 at the cost of $250,000. It was huge. It seated 1,798 people and had a 80 foot wide stage. The stage was 40 feet deep and 70 feet high. As such it was designed for extravaganza’s like “Chin Chin” and its 60 plus individuals.

The building was initially intended to be part of a large block but only the theater was built. Consequently, the entrance juts out oddly and the theater external walls are quite blank and plain.

The building was used for live performances until it closed in 1933. It was taken over by the city for taxes in 1936. In 1944 it was sold, renovated for motion pictures, renamed the Odeon Theatre, and reopened in 1945. It operated as the premier single-screen theater in downtown Winipeg for many years.

In 1990, it was purchased by the Walker Theatre Performing Arts Group who restored the building’s original architectural features and reopened the theater for live performances in March, 1991. The theatre was also designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1991. In 2002, the theater was renamed the Burton Cummings Theatre for the Performing Arts.

Burton Cummings Theatre in Winnipeg, Manitoba
by Ccyyrree – Own work.
Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Today the theater has been restored to its former glory.  It is a venue for live performances, primarily musical. For example, in March 1015 Celtic Thunder will play there. Check them out on their website.

Further Research
Continue my research regarding where the “Chin Chin” show & company was the week before and the two weeks after Winnipeg.

Sources:

Ancestry.Com – Manitoba Morning Free Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada)
Newspapers.Com – The Winnipeg Tribune
Historical Canada – http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/walker-theatre/
Burton Cumings Theatre for the Performing Arts – http://www.burtoncummingstheatre.ca/venue/
Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burton_Cummings_Theatre

Donna in Vancouver, BC, Canada, at the Avenue Theater –December 25-27, 1919

Chin Chin Ad – Dec 20, 1919, Page 10
Vancouver (BC) Daily World
Source: Newspapers.Com

I haven’t found where Donna was before the showing at the Avenue Theater on Christmas Day, 1919. The “Chin Chin” company was in Pendleton, Oregon, on December 10th. I am sure that the company continued west, probably played in and around Portland, then headed north. They probably played in Seattle area before continuing on to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Advertising appears to have begun with a short article on the 13th of December letting people know that the show was commencing on Christmas Day – No holiday rest for the “Chin Chin” cast. The article points to the show’s success at the Globe Theatre in New York for two years and by the box office receipts during its road tour. There is also reference to the composer, Ivan Caryll, the writers, and the leading roles played by Walter Wills and Roy Binder.[1]

On December 20th, there was a long article explaining the show and many of its highlights. Also on the 20th was the first of many standard “Chin Chin” ads. Articles and ads continue on the 23rd.

The show began on the 25th and the newspaper the following day calls out Donna by name. “Donna Montran, as the “Goddess of the Lamp,” is a lovely singer and sings sweetly, as does Ethel Lawrence as “Violet Bond.” The reviewer went on to slam the other singers saying that the “producers had put looks before voices.”[2]

Theater
The Avenue Theatre opened on April 10, 1911 at the northwestern corner of Main and Georgia. The seating capacity was just over 1,200[3]. George B. Howard managed it. In 1914, it was taken over by Klaw and Erlanger (Theatrical Syndicate) as a theatre for touring companies such as “Chin Chin.”[4]

Neither the Julius Cahn Gus Hill Theatrical Guide (1913-1914) nor the 1922 Supplement include any Vancouver, BC, theatres. I did find another guide from the 1930s that mentioned the Avenue Theatre, but it indicated that the theatre hadn’t supplied any information regarding itself.

Herbert Lloyd’s “Vaudeville Trails Thru the West” (1919) does include Vancouver, BC, theatres. The Columbia, Orpheum, and Pantages’ Theatres are covered in detail, but nothing about the Avenue.

Avenue Theatre [Main and Georgia Streets]Photograph by Walter E. Frost
Source: City of Vancouver Archives

The theatre fell into disuse about 1930 and was demolished about 1936[5], It was only a 25 year-old building.

Today the location is part of the “Golden Gate Center.”

Endnotes

[1] Vancouver Daily World (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) · Sat, Dec 13, 1919 · Page 8. Newspapers.Com
[2] Vancouver Daily World (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) · Fri, Dec 26, 1919 · Page 11 – Newspapers.Com
[3] Article: “The Organization of Professional Theatre in Vancouver, 1886-1914” by ROBERT B. TODD – Source: University of British Columbia Library, Open Journal Systems – http://ojs.library.ubc.ca/index.php/bcstudies/article/viewFile/1035/1073
[4] Ibid.
[5] Vancouver As It Was: A Photo-Historical Journey – ELECTRIC VAUDEVILLE – https://vanasitwas.wordpress.com/2014/08/09/electric-vaudeville/.

“Chin Chin” plays Smith Opera House – 21 May 1920

Donna & “Chin Chin” Play the Smith
Opera House in Geneva, New York, May 21, 1920.

Many thanks to the Northern New York Library Network and their New York State HistoricNewspapers site. Because of their efforts, I learned that “Chin Chin” played in at the Smith Opera House in Geneva, New York on 21 May 1920. This was probably one of the last shows of the Chin Chin company and the last one that I have found so far.

Ad for “Chin Chin”
Geneva Daily Times
May 15, 1920
Source: NY State Historic Newspapers

This was a one night show so the pre-show advertising was very important. The initial ad for the show, which ran on May 15th, contained more detail than the show’s advertising typically had. It informed the reader that “Chin Chin” was a company of 70, mostly girls, the famous saxophone band, Mlle. Falloffski, grotesque dancing two car loads of scenery and much more. (I’ve always wondered what “grotesque dancing” was.) There was a more standard “Chin Chin” ad on the 17th. Articles apparently provided by the “Chin Chin” publicist were published on May 19th and 20th. Neither had any mention of Donna.

The Smith
Opera House

Stage of the Smith Opera House 1 April 1921
during a production of “Neighbors” by the Womens Club
Courtesy: Geneva Historical Society

Built in 1894 by William Smith, the Smith Opera House operated as the premier theater in the area for opera and vaudeville. Originally, it seated about 984 people, 425 on the floor level, 203 in the balcony, 300 in the gallery, and another 56 in the box seats.[i] The stage was relatively small, only 32 x 22 feet. As more and more of the theater’s engagements were movies, the theater switched to entirely movies in 1929. In 1931 the theater was converted to a 1400 seat movie theater. The theater continued a long decline and finally closed in the mid 1970s. In 1978 the theater was taken over by the City of Geneva. They worked with the Finger Lakes Regional Arts Council to preserve and restore the theater to its previous grandeur. In 2008 Finger Lakes council teamed with the Geneva Arts Development Council to change the focus of the facility and renamed the theater, Smith Center for the Arts.

Smith Center for the Arts (Today)
Photo by Marcbela [CC-BY-SA-3.0 )],
via Wikimedia Commons

Today, it is a beautiful, renovated facility that features live performances (such as the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra), films (such as “Vertigo”), and educational theatre (such as “Dog Loves Books” a musical for K-2). (See http://thesmith.org/ for details of about the Smith.)

[i] The_Julius_Cahn_Gus_Hill_Theatrical_Guide
1913-1914.pdf

Donna in Pendleton, OR, at the Oregon Theater – Dec 10, 1919

Donna in Pendleton, OR, at the Oregon Theater – Dec 10, 1919

I’m not sure yet where the Chin Chin group was on December 8th and 9th, but the on December 10th the company played a one night show at the Oregon Theater in Pendleton, Oregon.

Besides the usual advertising there was an “info ad” in the Dec 10, 1919, Eastern Oregonian which called out “Mina Montran.” It said, in part:

“Mina Montran, who is the leading singer, has the part of the Goddess of the Lamp. She is a young woman of attractive personality, handsomely gowned, and with a clear and sweet soprano voice admirably fitted to the requirements of this role. Her two solos, “Violets” and “The Gray Dove” are rendered with much feeling and win the enthusiastic applause of her hearers.”[1]

This is very odd and, so far, the only reference to her with the name “Mina.” We don’t know yet if it was just a typographic error in the paper or if she was trying on a new stage name. Further research will tell. We know that Donna had the part of the Goddess of the Lamp so this name difference was odd.

A “review” the day after the show also called out,

Two solos, “Violets” and “The Gray Dove,” were sung by Mina Montran, who as the leading singer, had the part of the Goddess of the Lamp.[2]

This second use of “Mina” indicates to me that it wasn’t a typesetting error.  We’ll see if we can find Donna and the “Chin Chin” company at another venue in the days preceding or following this venue.

The Oregon Theatre
The 1913-14 Julius Cahn Gus Hill Theatrical Guide reports Pendleton having a population of 5,500 people. The Oregon Theatre was on the second floor and could hold an audience of 684 people, 324 on the main floor with 160 in the balcony and another 200 in the gallery. The stage was a small 25 x 18 feet with a backstage width of 49 feet.


With only a one-night show it is unlikely that the cast stayed in any of the four recommended hotels, Pendleton (the nicest at $2.00/night), St. George, Bowman, or Golden Rule. They would have arrived, set up, did the shoe, packed up, and headed for the next town all in the same day.

Further Research

I have been unable to find out much information regarding the Oregon Theater in Pendleton. I have contacted the Umatilla County Historical Society to see if they can direct me to history regarding the theater.

Endnotes:

[1]  East Oregonian, Pendelton, Oregon (oregonnews.uoregon.edu) 1919-12-10 – Page 6 – CHIN CHIN PRESENTS BRILLIANT SPECTACLE. http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn88086023/1919-12-10/ed-1/seq-6/.,

[2] East Oregonian, Pendelton, Oregon (oregonnews.uoregon.edu) 1919-12-11 – Page 6 – COLOR EFFECTS MARK CHIN CHIN PERFORMANCE. http://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn88086023/1919-12-11/ed-1/seq-6/.,