Donna Darling Collection – Part 21

Treasure Chest Thursday
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.The Burns Theatre, Colorado Springs, CO

For Treasure Chest Thursday, I looked at three clippings from the Donna Darling Collection which mention The Burns Theater. I love it when there are handwritten notes with photos and Donna’s notes made analyzing these clippings quite easy. One clipping mentions “Colorado Springs” and the other says Barnes Theatre – Colo. Springs Sept 17-18.



I have cropped, edited, and sized these images for the web.

Key features:

  • The venue is the Barnes Theatre, Colorado Springs, Co. The theatre was part of the Western Vaudeville Managers’ Association.
  • The show is the “Donna Darling Revue with Sammy Clark”
  • Seven other acts were on the bill and also had three shows daily.
    • Billy Curtis and Lou Lawrence in “Is That The Custom?”
    • Bozo Fox & Company – Vaudeville’s Latest Surprise
    • Morrell and Blynor – Beauty, Grace, Speed
    • Nick Pallizi – The Wizard of the Accordeon [sic]
    • O’Brien Sisters and Mack – Bits of Musical Comedy Hits
    • Princess Winona – Indian Prima Donna
    • Zuhn and Dreis – Dementus Americanos Habitat North America


From other research, I know that the “Donna Darling Review [sic] with Sammy Clark” was a 1926 show.  On September 7th, 1926, the show played in Alton, IL and on October 9, 1926, the show played in Santa Ana, California so its playing in Colorado Springs on September 17 and 18 makes sense.


Sept 17, 18, 1926 – Colorado Springs, CO – Burns Theatre – Donna Darling Review


Donna played at the Burns Theater previously during her Chin Chin performances.  See: Donna in Colorado Springs, CO, November 19, 1919, at the Burns Theatre.

Donna in Fort Collins, CO at the Empress Theatre – November 20, 1919

Donna in Fort Collins, CO at the Empress Theatre – November 20, 1919
Once again, I would like to thank the wonderful folks at the History Colorado Center.  They were able to do a lookup for me that proves that the “Chin Chin” show was in Fort Collins on November 20th, 1919. So, I was able to backfill another date for Donna and the “Chin Chin” show during November 1919.

It appears that the hype for the show began on 16 November with an announcement in the Fort Collins Express, which said:



“Chin Chin” ad – Fort Collins Express – 20 Nov 1919  


Empress Theatre

One Night Only 

Thursday November …. 20TH
That announcement was followed with typical “Chin Chin” display ads on the 19th and the 20th. They were unable to find anything else about the show, but I did find Herbert Lloyd’s Vaudeville Guide (1919 edition), which much information regarding the venue.

The Empress Theatre

Empress Theater – late 1920s
Courtesy: Fort Collins History Connection
The theatre was built in 1907 as the Orpheum Theater and was located at 161 North College, Fort Collins, Colorado. It changed name to the Empress Theater during an ownership change in 1914.The new owners, G. W. Thompson and H. F. Beier, intended the theater to play only the best road shows. Because women and children formed a large part of the patronage the theater provided for baby carriages and offered no offensive shows. 
The theater’s seating capacity was 799; it had a small proscenium, only 27 feet wide, which framed a 28 foot deep stage. 
10 years before Donna played, performers looked
out at the, then Orpheum, audience. 
It is unclear when the theater began silent movies, probably before “Chin Chin” played there.  In 1920, it showed a locally filmed movie, “The Girl From Fort Collins.”  In 1929 it entered the era of talkies and ran “the Jazz Singer.” 

The building appears to have been completely renovated.  For many years it was a barbecue restaurant known as  Nordy’s BBQ.  Today it is Hodi’s Half Note.  

Fort Collins Express – November 16, 1919. Page 8, via History Colorado Center.
Fort Collins Express – November 18, 1919. Page 8, via History Colorado Center.
Fort Collins Express – November 20, 1919. Page 8, via History Colorado Center.

Fort Collins History Connection – Fort Collins Timeline 1919.
Fort Collins History Connection – Fort Collins Timeline 1920.
Herbert Lloyd’s Vaudeville Trails Through the West, Page 87 – Archive.Org
Building Colorado Story by Story: The Sanborn Fire Insurance Map Collection.
   Sanborn Insurance Maps  Fort Collins March 1906 – No Theatre Present.
   Sanborn Insurance Maps  Fort Collins March 1909 – Orpheum Theater.
   Sanborn Insurance Maps  Fort Collins March 1917 – Empress Theater.

Donna in Colorado Springs, CO, November 19, 1919 at the Burns Theater

Donna in Colorado Springs, CO, November 19, 1919 at the Burns Theater

It was less than two weeks after Donna joined the “Chin Chin” before her superior skill was called out in a review.
The pre-show buzz began as it typically did with stories from the Press Agents ten days before the show. Again on the 11th, the Press Agents wrote, and the Colorado Springs Gazette reported about “Charles Dillingham’s Stupendous Musical Comedy ‘Chin Chin.”

The pre-show buzz continued with an article on the 14th and again on the 15th with “What Press Agents Say.”  Also on the15th there appeared an here-to-unseen photograph of “‘The Four French Dancing Dolls’ in Charles Dilingham’s stupendous production of “Chin Chin, coming to Burns Theater next Wednesday evening.”  The woman on the far left looks surprisingly like Donna. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any further sources for the image and can’t confirm that it is Donna.

Again, on the 18th, “What Press Agents Say” ran a rehash of “The Evolution of ‘Chin Chin,” which has run in other papers. Also, in the newspaper of the 18th, there was a small advertisement by the Burns Theater indicating “Chin Chin” was coming, Wednesday, November 19th.  They ran a similar ad on the 19th indicating the show was tonight.

In a very unusual action, the Colorado Springs Gazette published a review of the show in the next day’s paper.  It is somewhat unusual for a review to run subsequent a one-show production.  The review said
Spectacular and Tuneful Musical
Comedy Retains Much of Charm
Which Made It Success

The “Chin Chin” of the past and this “Chin Chin’* of the present are two separate and distinct attractions, only distantly related, in fact; yet this current production was gulped down by a hungry audience at the Bums last evening as eagerly as if it had been the original. “Which only goes to show what limited theatrical opportunities will do to a people who are commonly supposed to he somewhat critical.

From this it is not to be judged that today’s “Chin Chin” is impossible. It is simply that it suffers by comparison. Were it not that its reputation had preceded it probably it [sic] would have been received without more than a word or two of dissent. For it did offer an evening’s entertainment.
Generally, the production is spectacular; somewhat the worse for the handling and a bit faded, but still possessing a glitter that made for friendliness. Numbers produce a sense or activity and a couple of comedians of slapstick tendencies kept things going where musical numbers fall. There is no music worth mentioning. Melodies of years gone by, “Goodbye, Girls, I’m Thru,” “Temple Bells,” “Love Moon,” et cetera, are on the program, but they simply account for so many minutes of playing time, there being no one in the company with a voice, sufficient even to get these over. Yes, there Is music; too; the clown band, a saxophone quintet which aroused, and legitimately, the only real enthusiasm of the evening.

Walter Wills and Roy Binder appear in the varied roles In which Montgomery and Stone once carried the play along with the greatest joy, and not without some degree of success. Particularly did Mr. Wills appear to good advantages in his ragtime Paderewski and in his mad dance with Miss Irene McKay. For the most part the comedy is of a low type which is not so noticeable when everyone is putting the full amount of life into h!s work, but which becomes woefully apparent otherwise. Miss Donna Montran. a stunning type, is the only other one likely to he remembered after the curtain. [Emphasis min

 Wow, how exciting, Donna “A stunning type” and likely to be remembered.

The Burns Theater

The Burns Theater was built in 1912 for $300,000 on Pikes Peak Avenue near Tejon Street. In 1928 it was turned into a movie house and renamed the Paramount Theater.  Several years later it was renamed the Chief Theater.  The theater was demolished in 1973 and is now the site for a drive-through for US Bank.




Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO), November 9, 1919, Page 33 via Genealogy Bank
Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO), November 11, 1919, Page 10 via Genealogy Bank
Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO), November 14 1919, Page 7 via Genealogy Bank
Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO), November 15, 1919, Page 12 via Genealogy Bank
Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO), November 18, 1919, Page 6 via Genealogy Bank
Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO), November 19, 1919, Pages 2 & 12 via Genealogy Bank
Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO), November 20, 1919, Page 2 via Genealogy Bank
Cinema Treasures, Chief Theater, 21 E. Pikes Ave, Colorado Springs, CO 80903
Opera in Old Colorado, Opera Houses, Pueblo, Grand Opera House.

Donna in Denver, Nov 9-15, 1919 at the Broadway Theater

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Donna in Denver, Nov 9-15, 1919 at the Broadway Theater

Donna must have been amazed by the organized chaos that followed the show’s end in Omaha.  It was pack up everything, the trunks of show clothing, as well as the elaborate scenery.  Get it to the train station and head for Denver to be ready to perform there the next day. It was a tight venue change, but the company had done it before. 
Chin Chin ad – 6 Nov 1919 – Denver Post

The Denver pre-show buzz had begun. On November 2nd, a week before the show, the Denver Post reported in “ATTRACTIONS” that, “In the not very far distance there are several big attractions booked for the theaters and picture palaces of Denver. The Dillingham musical comedy, “Chin Chin,” will follow “Seven Days Leave” at the Broadway. On November 6th, ads began to run for “Charles Dillingham’s greatest musical comedy production, ‘CHIN CHIN’. Company of 65 mostly girls, Tom Brown’s famous clown saxophone band.”

Nov. 9th ad.

The “ATTRACTIONS” section of the paper, reported on November 9th, opening night, that “The first Musical Show of the season comes when “Chin Chin” opens at the Broadway Sunday night. This is a bright and gay conglomeration of fun and music that has been one of Dillingham’s most lucrative attractions for several seasons. The promise is that it will be played by a very capable company and that the production is in splendid condition.”

On page 46 of the paper, a large photo of Tom Brown’s famous “Clown Saxaphone Band as a part of “Chin Chin” was displayed. On page 48, we were reminded the show would be there all week with matinees Tuesday and Saturday, 9 shows in all.  With all the whoop-la the patrons must have been unhappy.  The paper on November 10th told us what happened.

“The storm in western Nebraska and eastern Colorado delayed the Union Pacific rain [sic] carrying the “Chin Chin” company for several hours and it did not arrive until 8 oclock. It was impossible then to have the scenery hung in time for a performance of that Dillingham musical comedy at the Broadway Sunday night. A crowd that would have filled the theater was turned away disappointed. The opening is deferred until Monday night.”

After opening on the 10th, the Denver Post reported on the 11th, in “AMUSEMENTS”:

“Delayed but undaunted, “Chin Chin” thrust its musical comedy presence on an anticipating public at the Broadway Monday Night — Just before the fire. 

“Chin Chin” is a real old-fashion later-day musical comedy. It has a plot as thin as the ham in a 10-cent sandwich but that does not need bother. It shows itself only at fleeting and infrequent intervals. “Chin Chin” gives employment to a large bevy of merry, merry, chorus girls. Luxuriantly blonde leading ladies, hard working comedians, cabaret voiced tenors, nimble dancers, a quintette of saxophone players and other entertainers of the same sort. 

Stage at Denver’s Broadway Theater

“It is the duty of these people to furnish simple pleasure to that vast percentage of theatergoers who check their intelligence with their wraps and accept whatover tinkling mirth and melody is passed out to them. The offerings of the many entertainers in “Chin Chin” seemed most acceptable and were accorded more than perfunctory approbation in the way of applause. The greatest hit was scored by the Tom Browne Saxophone Clown band. “Chin Chin” will be played through the remainder of the week and it being the first girl and and music show of the season, will doubtless attract many capacity crowds such as was present at the opening. As for its merits — one will go farther and fair worse.

F. E. W.
The 11th of November 1919 was the first Armistice Day holiday. (WW I ended on 11 AM on 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918.) Denver, like most cities, was busy with various celebrations to celebrate the Armistice.  The Broadway Theater, along with the cast of “Chin Chin” celebrated by having a special Armistice Day matinee on a Tuesday.
Saturday was a particularly busy day for Walter Wills, the cast’s headliner and leading comedian. Besides an afternoon matinee and an evening performance, he was married in the morning.  The Denver Post reported the wedding

‘The tinseled pretenses of the footlights were abandoned for romantic reality Saturday morning, when Walter S. Wills, leading comedian with the Chin-Chin company at the Broadway, appeared at the court house with Miss Nora Seiler on his arm and asked to be united in wedlock. Magistrate W. A. Rice married them. Miss Seiler is a member of the Chin-Chin chorus.”

The Broadway Theater

The Broadway Theater was one of the most respected theaters of its time. It opened in 1890, and had a stage forty feet deep and seventy-five feet high. According to Cinema Treasures, the theater hosted everything from grand opera to musicals and high drama, lectures, concerts, vaudeville, benefits, and school pageants.
The theater was converted to a movie theater in 1935.  A few years later it was converted to a Trader Vic’s, which was a popular tavern. 
The Broadway Theater was demolished in 1956 to make way for the Mile High Center and a Wells Fargo branch building. 

Today the site looks like.

Next, Donna and the Chin Chin company go to Pueblo.

Denver Post (Denver, CO) November 2, 1919, Page 51 via Genealogy Bank
Denver Post (Denver, CO) November 6, 1919, Page 14 via Genealogy Bank
Denver Post (Denver, CO) November 9, 1919, Pages 45, 46, & 48 via Genealogy Bank
Denver Post (Denver, CO) November 10, 1919, Page 4 via Genealogy Bank
Denver Post (Denver, CO) November 11, 1919, Page 6 & 15 via Genealogy Bank
Denver Post (Denver, CO) November 12, 1919, Page 18 via Genealogy Bank
Denver Post (Denver, CO) November 15, 1919, Page 12 via Genealogy Bank
Cinema Treasurers – Broadway Theater 
Google Maps