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 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
.