Donna Montran and “Chin Chin” play at the Grand Opera House in Canton, Ohio on 1 April 1920

 Donna Montran – Vaudeville

I have long known that “Chin Chin” played on 20 March 1920 at the Laird Opera House – in Greenville, PA and that they played at the Sandusky Theatre in Sandusky, OH on April 5th, but the 16 days between was a mystery until I searched Genealogy Bank. I now have one more date and location for Donna’s vaudeville career — The Grand Opera House in Canton, Ohio.

The first advertising I see for “Chin Chin” appears to have been on March 26th where there was a small notice of booking and a small advertisement for the show.

The Sunday, March 28th edition of the Sunday Repository, has ads and articles on several pages. On page 31 is there is an article:

Musical Melange With Dancing And Comedy Head Theater Bill

That includes a photo of “Tom Brown’s Clown Saxaphone Band” and a short paragraph which reads;

“Chin Chin,” in which Cantonians saw Doyne and Dixon several years ago, probably is like no other stage production ever conceived. It is just as coherent as its name and it is full of surprises for the beholder. One unusual stage feature follows another rapidly, while pretty girls and catchy music are plentifully interspersed.

That paragraph is followed up with a major article (7 paragraphs) elsewhere on the page titled: “CHIN CHIN” WILL SHOW AT GRAND.” The article doesn’t provide any new information but does highlight many of the acts and songs. There is also a substantial ad on page 45.

Over the ensuing days there were several other short articles and advertisements; however, after the show ran, an article after the show (April 2) had a great write-up. Under the headline,
LARGE AUDIENCE SEES MUSICAL COMEDY AT GRAND THURSDAY
“Chin Chin” Is Presented Here For Second Time—Comedians, Clown Band And Chorus Score Principal Hits of Big Production

The fourth and last paragraph of the article reads, “The best dance of the evening was presented by Wills and Irene McKay, a diminutive lass, whom Wills was able to whirl about as he pleased. Wills’ next best number was an imitation of a famous pianist. Donna Montran made a beautiful “goddess of the lamp. Starr Dunham did some fair work as a dancer. The chorus was provided with various costumes of unique design.”[i]

Donna was a beautiful woman.

Grand Opera House, Canton, Ohio

The Grand Opera House opened on 30 October 1890. Oscar Cobb, who designed more than 300 opera houses, designed the Grand.[ii]

Grand Opera House, Canton, Ohio Source: www.garrisonhouseephemera.com
Grand Opera House
Canton, Ohio

Different sources provide different Seating capacities from 1,000 to $1,400 over the years. I use 1,218 as my preferred capacity: Floor, 550; Balcony, 320; Gallery, 300; Boxes, 48.[iii] It had a 36×28 foot stage.

In 1920, the Thomas Waltenbaugh managed the Grand Opera House. The Grand had already begun showing movies by 1920. The week that “Chin Chin” played at the theater, the silent film, “Mary’s Ankle” starring Douglas MacLean and Doris May showed every other day that week. It appears that by April of 1920, the theater was still trying to bring in high-class live shows, but when they couldn’t, they showed silent films. Like so many of the grand theaters of the time, the Grand began a slow decline as it showed movies and presented burlesque shows. Bethel Tabernacle bought the Grand Opera House in 1946.

 

What Donna and the “Chin Chin” case would have seen – a full house.
Grand Opera House, Canton, Ohio
Source: The Internet – Joseph N. Rubin Productions
[Personal Note:  I was originally going to subscribe to Newspaper Archives and see what more I could find about Donna and her career. I had all kinds of problems. I had an account with them several years ago and tried to login with my old account. It told me I couldn’t log in so I requested a password reset.  I reset my password then tried to log in again. Again no luck.  Then I tried to just subscribe. It said I couldn’t use the email address that I had before. So, I tried calling them.  On hold…. On hold…. On hold…. Then I was told to leave a message, I did letting them know that I wanted to renew my subscription.  Never got a call back.  Tried calling again. On hold… On hold… Finally, I gave up.  I can only imagine how frustrated I’d be if I were trying to cancel a subscription and received the same lack of service.  Anyway, I decided to renew my long expired account with Genealogy Bank.  Worked like a charm.  I then took a look and found “Chin Chin” playing at the Grand Opera House in Canton, Ohio on 1 April 1920.]

Endnotes

[i] “Repository” (Newspaper) (Canton, Ohio) – 2 April 1920 – Page 14 via Genealogy Bank. Emphasis mine.
[ii] Web: Joseph N. Rubin Productions – Grand Opera House – https://sites.google.com/site/josephnrubin/grandoperahouse – Accessed 3 September 2016.
[iii] The Cahn-Leighton Official Theatrical Guide 1913-1914 – Page 510 – via Google.

 

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/., 

Donna in Decatur, IL, at the Lincoln Square Theatre – Oct 30, 1919

Donna in Decatur, IL, at the Lincoln Square Theatre – Oct 30, 1919

Ad – Chin Chin Tonight
at the Lincoln Square Theatre
Decatur Review 10/30/1919 – pg 5
Via Newspapers.Com 
When Donna joined the “Chin Chin” company, the company had been on the road since August, 1818, sixty-five weeks.  The show had played from San Diego to San Francisco. It came to Decatur, Illinois, in October, 1919, and was the starting place to again cross the country, this time on a northern route to Seattle, Portland, and other cities in the Northwest.
After the Decatur performance many of chorus girls left the company to go home for a vacation. New girls joined the company there and rehearsed between shows and were to go on with the principals for the trip west once more. There was one new principle with them, the woman who sang the part of the “Goddess of the Lamp.” That new principal was Donna Montran. 
The Decatur Review had an interesting note about the demands that the show put on its company.  It said

NO SIX HOUR DAY HERE.

“Coal miners who think that six hours a day, five days a week, constitute a week’s work should travel with one of these transcontinental companies, which make long jumps to make one and two night stands.

“The company, which played here played at Hannibal, Mo. Wednesday, left that place Thursday morning at 5 o’clock, reached Decatur between 11 and 12 o’clock, played a matinee from 3 until 5:30 and another full performance that evening.”

According to the Decatur Review on October 31st, Chin Chin taxed the capacity of the Lincoln Square Theater. They also say:

PLEASE 2,600 PERSONS

“Donna Montran, who only recently joined the company as the leading soprano as the Goddess of the Lamp, lacked volume but the performance as a whole please the 2,600 people who saw it.

“The dancing was unusually good, the chorus well trained and the fifty-five people in the company were exceedingly well costumed.” 

Lincoln Square Theater

Lincoln Center Theatre – circa 1952
Courtesy: Haunted Decatur
In 1860, the Priest Hotel was built on the site, which some say was an ancient burial ground. The hotel’s name changed to the New Deming in 1880.  It again changed name in 1892 to the “Decatur and Arcade Hotel.”  The hotel burned in 1904. The hotel was rebuilt, but in 1915 it burned again.  Two people were confirmed to have died in the second fire and several other people were missing, their bodies having never been found. 
After the 1915 fire, the site was rebuilt, this time into the Lincoln Square Theater. It was built with a fireproof intent using steel, cement, and fireproof brick. The theater hosted many celebrities of the time including Houdini and Ethel Barrymore.  Jack Dempsey appeared there in the September before Donna and the Chin Chin company was there in October.
Since the 1930s the theater has been considered haunted. 
The theater had a difficult time during the heyday of motion pictures and closed after December 1980, except for an occasional music show. It closed completely in 1990.  
However, also in 1990, Lincoln Square Theater, Inc., was established to determine the viability of saving the structure. Studies of the building found it to be sound and activities were undertaken to renovate and restore the facility. Several donations helped stabilize the building in the 1990s and in 2004, a $1.75M grant for restoration was received. Restoration began in 2005 and is currently ongoing.
Despite the renovation and restoration the Lincoln Square Theater is still considered to be one of the most haunted theaters in the country.  Troy Taylor has a regular tour of haunted places in Decatur which includes the Lincoln Square Theater. See http://www.haunteddecatur.com/ for details of his tours. 

Lincoln Theater Today

The Lincoln Theatre (Most Terrifying Places in America)

Sources:

Decatur Review (Decatur, Illinois) · Sun, Nov 2, 1919 · Page 16 – via Newspapers.com
Decatur Review (Decatur, Illinois) Thur, Oct 30, 1919, page 5 Via Newspapers.com
Decatur Review (Decatur, Illinois) · Fri, Oct 31, 1919 · Page 10 – via Newspapers.com
Where The Ghosts Live – America’s Most Haunted Theater – The Lincoln – Decatur, IL 
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