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
‘CHIN CHIN’ OF PRESENT
RECALLS PAST GLORIES
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.
We do not know if the company took off on November 16th and 17th or played somewhere we do not have a newspaper record of. Based upon Walter Wills and Nora Seiler being married on the 15th, I suspect that the company had two days off before they began shows again. In any event, the Chin Chin company passed by Colorado Springs to go to Pueblo for one night show, on November 18th, at the Grand Theater.
Small towns, like Pueblo was in 1919, often have the greatest coverage of an event like “Chin Chin” coming to town. Pueblo was no exception to having a lot of coverage of the event. Pre-show coverage for the Pueblo engagement began November 9th, 1919. The Pueblo Chieftain reported:
“CHIN CHIN” COMING NEXT
It is with a great deal of pleasure, in fact pride, that Manager Anderson of the Grand theater announces the coming of Charles Dillingham’s greatest musical comedy success, “Chin Chin” on Tuesday, November 18.
This play appeared first at the Globe theater in New York for two solid years and is now on a transcontinental trip touring the west for the first time.
In the leading roles will be seen Walter Wills and Roy Binder, who came to us with the stamp of approval won in such productions as “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Red Mill,” “Hitchy Koo,” etc., etc., etc.
The company is acceded to be the largest musical comedy aggregation on the road today, comprising sixty-five people, mostly girls and Tom Brown’s famous Clown Saxaphone band. Charles Dillingham’s name is associated with the biggest and best theatrical enterprises, such as the Hippodrome and Glove theater in New York. Some of his latest productions are “Jack O’Lantern,” with Julia Sanderson and Joe Cawthorp; “Hip, Hip, Hooray,” with 1200 associates, and “Everything,” which has surpassed all records at the New York Hippodrome during the season 1918-1919.
“Chin Chin” is a fantastic production, rich in Oriental and Old English costuming. In seven sets, including the most startling surprises, ingenious trickery and grotesque dancing in plenty, affording an entertainment that is clean and wholesome, proving hilarious amusement for both young and old, which qualities are the making of and particular success of the theatrical magnate, Charles Dillingham.
Absolute capacity houses have greeted “Chin Chin” everywhere, therefor mail orders should be dispatched immediately to insure location desired.
The next day, November 10, 1919, the Pueblo Chieftain reported on page 2 more about the show.
Charles Dillingham’s production, “Chin-Chin,” one of the biggest hits emanating from Broadway, will be presented at the Grand Opera House on Tuesday, Nov. 18.
Altho the name savors of the Oriental the show is intensely American.
Aladdin and his lamp, toys coming to life. Teddy bears dancing and similar things give the watcher the feeling of taking part in a good fairy tale and recall of the Teddies for more of their amusing dance is expressive of the sort of fun one has through the play.
In Fact, a chorus which can really dance, adds to the rhythmic effect in tone and motion which the designers of such entertainment mean to give. Really pretty chorus girls who can sing and dance, wearing the most picturesque Chinese and fancy costumes, effective stage settings, giving colorful backgrounds for the work of the principals and chorus, much fun and clever solo work make up n entertainment of unusual merit.
The Pueblo Chieftain continued the “Chin Chin” hype on the 11th were it reported:
At the Grand Opera house Tuesday night, November 18, the everlasting “Chin Chin” is announced. There is but one company presenting this, the greatest American musical comedy.
Seven gorgeous settings make up the stupendous production of Charles Dillingham’s “Chin Chin.” The principal comedians are Walter Wills and Roy Binder.
The book is by Anne Caldwell and R. H. Burnside, the lyrics by Miss Caldwell and James O’Dea, the music by Ivan Caryll, so well remembered for his ingratiating melodies in “The Pink Lady” and “The Little Cafe.”
This riot of run, feast of music, bevy of feminine beauty with pretty dresses, swift and grotesque dancing and lots of prankish amusement, including Tom Brown’s Clown Band as the famous Saxophone Sextette, promises a most enjoyable entertainment, with Charles Dillingham’s own company presenting this wonderful spectacle.
In this musically rich show such numbers as “Violet”, “The Grey Moon”, “The Love Moon”, “Goodbye Girls, I’m Thru”, and the comedy song, “Go Gar Sig Gong-Jue”, always receive spontaneous applause. Seat sale opens Saturday.
A similar article appeared in the November 12th Pueblo Chieftain newspaper. Besides the above information, it added that “‘Chin Chin‘ has rivaled even ‘Flordora‘ in its popularity.” It also added that, “even during war times ‘Chin Chin‘ has been doing a record business on the road, near army camps and elsewhere.” It also reiterates that, “‘Chin Chin’ is a show that is clean and wholesome fun, offending no one.”
The buzz was kept alive with an article, in the November 13th, 1919, issue of the Pueblo Chieftain, which included photos of some of the cast.
Do you remember when you were just a tiny chap, how you would read the “Thousand and One Nights” or the wonderful adventures of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” and “Sinbad, the Sailor,” and all the rest of those fascinating characters, and how from out of them all emerged “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp” as the prime adventure of them all? And not Aladdin – a very modern aladdin – very much in love with an American girl appears in Charles Dillingham’s “Chin Chin” which comes to the Grand Opera house Tuesday, November 18. In this musical concoction everything comes Aladdin’s way upon wishing and rubbing the wonderful lamp, thereby causing many strange and wonderful situations.
Walter Wills and Roy Binder as the two slaves of the lamp keep the audience in constant laughter through seven scenes and the three acts that cover one hundred and fifty minutes of the most enjoyable fun.
Among the many features in this gigantic show are also the Teddy Bear Dance, Tom Brown’s Clown Saxophone Band, a real circus tent with an “honest-to-goodness” big white circus horse circling around the ring while Mlle. Falloffski performs the most daring and screamingly funny bareback stunts.
On November 14, 1919, the Pueblo Chieftain ran another article regarding “Chin Chin” titled. “The Evolution of ‘Chin Chin.’”
There appears to be no doubt that Charles Dillingham’s stupendous production of “Chin Chin” with Walter Wills and Roy Binder in the lead will duplicate its record of absolute capacity audiences at the Grand theater on next Tuesday night.
It was during the run of “The Lady and the Slipper” that “Chin Chin” was evolved.
The idea of a circus horse and Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp found favor with Charles Dillingham for a production of magnitude and wonders.
Several months elapsed before Mr. Dillingham was in a position to send for Anne Caldwell and R. H. Burnside and to hand them over the matter that had been collected by manager and comedians. Upon completion of the book, lyrics had to be written. Miss Caldwell had to submit a series of songs and those in turn were discussed carefully. With the book and lyrics in completed form, Ivan Caryll, the composer, was called into conference. He went to the South of France to write his music. In the meanwhile Charles Dillingham put himself into communication with Wilhelm, an eEnglish artist, and the scheme of coloring seen in “Chin Chin” was evolved. Then came into action those responsible for the mechanical construction of the scenery — electricians and property makers.
After months of labor and research everything was in shape for Burnside to begin his labor in making the whole matter practical by rehearsing the company. The final outcome of the matter was an expenditure of $75,000 before the curtain could be raised on the first presentation of “Chin Chin.” The result was the biggest Charles Dillingham success. Seat sale opens tomorrow.
On the 15th, The Pueblo Chieftain ran another story in anticipation of “Chin Chin’s” arrival. I pretty much covered the same information that previous articles covered, however, there was a new photo of Walter Wills and Roy Binder shown.
The 16th saw the first ads for Chin Chin in the Pueblo Chieftain along with an article that included a large photo of 12 of the girls in the show along with photos of Walter and Roy. Again the quality of the newspaper image is not good enough to tell if Donna is included. The accompanying article is multi column and multi-page. Although the article provides much of the color and sounds of the show, it doesn’t provide much additional insight.
The Grand Opera House in Pueblo was built in 1890. When built, it was the largest theater in Colorado seating 1,200 people at a cost of $350,000. The building was destroyed by fire March 1, 1922. The loss was put at $700,000. Photos of the building after the fire show lots of ice so it must have been a miserable fire to fight.
Grand Opera Theater after 1922 fire
Today, the northwest corner of 4th and Main does not have the splendor that the old opera house had. It is a rather plain, nondescript, four story building.
Pueblo Chieftain (Pueblo, CO), November 10, 1919, Page 2 via Genealogy Bank
Pueblo Chieftain (Pueblo, CO), November 11, 1919, Page 9 via Genealogy Bank
Pueblo Chieftain (Pueblo, CO), November 13, 1919, Page 8 via Genealogy Bank
Pueblo Chieftain (Pueblo, CO), November 14, 1919, Page 6 via Genealogy Bank
Pueblo Chieftain (Pueblo, CO), November 15, 1919, Page 8 via Genealogy Bank
Pueblo Chieftain (Pueblo, CO), November 16, 1919, Page 15 via Genealogy Bank
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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.
“CHIN CHIN” DETAINED
“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
CHIN-CHIN COMEDIAN WEDS CHORUS GIRL
‘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.
On November 7th, 1919, Variety, mentions that Donna
Montran received a production engagement for “Chin Chin.” It must have been
extremely exciting for Donna. Chin Chin
was a Broadway production which opened at the Globe Theater on October 20th,
1914, and ran until July 3rd, 1915 (295 performances).
On March 5th,
1915, Victor Light Opera Company made a recording of “The Gems from Chin
Chin”. Below is a link to that recording.
The boys and girls who went to Chin Chin” last night had a good
time. It was the kind of a show that appeals to boys and girls. There was
plenty of downright foolishness, plenty of slap-stick comedy, plenty of lively
gingles. But if anybody expected more than that – Well anybody who did was
The biggest hit of the evening was the saxophone sextet, otherwise
known as Tom Brown’s clown band. It was a vaudeville “scream.” “Chin Chin,” in
fact, was more nearly a series of vaudeville acts than a comedy unit; the plot,
such as it was, was so loosely hung that it gave opportunity for almost any
sort of stunt, and stunts of most varied sort accepted the opportunity. Walter Wills and Roy Binder were, of course, far and away the ablest
of the cast. Each held five separate and distinct parts at one or another
period of the three acts and both deserved the applause of those who care for
rough comedy. Marian Sleeman, as the “Lady of the Lamp” in the “Chin Chin” version
of the old fairy story of Aladdi, [sic] easily outranked the other feminine voices in
the company, but Violet Tree, in the minor part of “Fan-Tan” won real
recognition by her cute sprightliness.
[Donna will later play the “Lady of the Lamp” but more on that in a later Blog.]
“Chin Chin” is playing a returning engagement which ends tonight after a matinee and
New Brandeis Theatre Building (c. 1910-1920) From the collections of the Omaha Public Library
The Brandeis Theatre was the premier theater in Omaha at the time. The seven story building was built in 1910 on Douglas street between 17th & 18th Streets. According to Nebraska Memories, it was dubbed “the most beautiful theater in America.” It first featured stage attractions and later converted to movies. The building was demolished in 1959 for a parking garage.
By April of 1919 Donna had relocated from Boston, MA to New York. She and Trixie Bressler took out an ad in Variety. Trixie had, in 1918, led Max Roger’s Review at Perry’s in Brooklyn and was one of the “Four Chicks” in a 1917 that traveled through the east.
Variety – Aug 1919
In August, 1919, Donna found work in a vaudeville show “Bonnets” by Charles Smith and Abel Green. Abel Green also worked as a cub reporter for Variety in 1919. Abel continued with Variety for many years and became the editor in 1935. He was editor of Variety until his death in 1973. Able was one of the great driving forces of Variety for nearly 40 years.
According to Sime’s Site, there are a myriad stories about Abel Green, about how he knew everybody who was anyone in show business. It is certain that he knew Donna from his early days when he was only 19 years old.
Charles Smith and Donna were probably “very close.” They show up living in the same household in the 1920 census. The 1920 census shows Sarah (Blackhurst) Barber as head of household living with granddaughter Madonna Montram [sic] and Charles Smith as a “Boarder.” You may notice that Madonna is reported to be only 23 years old, when she is actually 27. This is the first of many times we see her age progression slow down.
US Census 1920 – Manhattan District
Variety – 15 Sep 1919
From Variety we know that she is playing at the Colonial Theater in Lancaster on September 15th. However, Variety doesn’t tell us what show she was in. Presumably it was still “Bonnets” but her next show will be a huge break for her.
The Colonial Theater was quite new at the time Donna played there.
According to Cinema Treasures, The Colonial Theatre, which seated 1,250 people, was open in 1914. It was later acquired by Boyd Theatres and was renamed the Boyd Theatre.
Of interest, Abel Green shows up on a 1943 film reel regarding “Show Business at War.” Abel is the businessman clearly leading a group of people in an office setting. Thanks to nicoley132 for posting the video to YouTube
For further Research:
Lancaster newspaper for 15 Sep 1919 – See what is playing at the Colonial Theater.
Abel Green wrote several books including Inside Stuff on Popular Songs (1927), Show Biz, From Vaude to Video (1951), and The Spice of Variety (1952). It will be interesting to research them and see if any of them have material on Donna, Charles Smith, or “Bonnets”.