Donna at the Metropolitan Opera House, Philadelphia, PA, August 9-21, 1920

Background
I have long been looking for when Donna made the shift from being in the “Chin Chin” production to being in the “California Bathing Beauties.” The last “Chin Chin” production that I know of was on May 21, 1920 in Geneva, NY at the – Smith Opera House. I knew that she appeared in the “California Bathing Beauties” at the Plaza Theater in Bridgeport, CT on December, 30, 1920. That is seven months and I could not believe that she went that long without other performances. I had poked around looking for later “Chin Chin” productions but hadn’t much luck finding anything. I thought I’d see if I could find other “California Bathing Beauties” productions in 1920.

I went to one of my favorite newspaper sites, Elephind.Com. Elephind is particularly good because they not only search the Library of Congress’ six million items, but also millions of additional items including the California Digital Newspaper Collection, Pennsylvania State University, and many more.

My search criteria was narrow but simple: Search all Text for “California Bathing Beauties” and the year of “1920.” The results, 6 matches in the (Philadelphia) Evening Public Ledger, two of which were in August 1920. I was then directed to the Library of Congress site where I could broaden my search a little bit. I searched just the Evening Public Ledger for “Metropolitan AND Bathing” and found 26 instances. A few of them weren’t what I was looking for, but the vast majority were helpful.

I like to use a narrow search criterion, find something relevant, and then broaden the search in a tightly defined environment.

The Bill – August 9th through August 21st

Advertising began on August 2nd with a small ad that indicated “Up in Mary’s Attic” was opening August 9. Appearing with the silent movie was the “Original California Bathing Girls” who were to be in person. This pairing showed a great match. “Up in Mary’s Attic” was the story of a young woman who would inherit a fortune if she remained single until she was twenty-one. However, she actually not only married her gym teacher she had a child and hid the child from the conniving son of the principal in the attic of her dormitory. One of the scenes in the movie includes Mary, played by Eva Novak, in a bathing suit. Eva began show business as a Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty before her first movie in 1917.[1] It is very likely that Donna knew Eva as they were both Mack Sennett bathing beauties about 1915. I wonder how she felt following the film star as a vaudeville show. I wonder even more how Donna felt as she saw Eva’s career skyrocket as Tom Mix’s love interest in 10 of his western movies and 130 credits, from 1917 to 1966, to her career.

Up in Mary's Attic (1920) - Ad 1

Advertising on August 3rd let the readers know that there were three showings daily. A matinee at 2:30 that only cost 25¢ and evening shows at 7:00 and 9:00 PM with 25¢ and 50¢ seats.[2] Advertising on the 4th and 5th continued the same information.

The first articles about the show begin on August 7th where the Evening Public Ledger reports:


A BATHING girl revue, “The California Bathing Girls,” in person will be given in conjunction with the showing of “Up in Mary’s Attic.” A photoplay at the Metropolitan Opera House. The girls present a revue entitled “A Beach Promenade.”

“Up in Mary’s Attic” is said to be free from slapstick and grotesque antics. The picture tells a comic story of a romance in a boarding school.

The Charming Eva Novak will be seen in the leading feminine role and Harry Gribbon in that of the instructor who marries in secret.


While While the “Original California Bathing Girls” was at the Metropolitan, another show, “Rube Bernstein’s Bathing Beauties,” a burlesque show, was competing playing at the Bijou. The paper on the 7th included a photo of Louise Mersereau, one of the “Bathing Beauties” at the Bijou.

Clearly to compete for theatergoers, the Metropolitan Opera House had two promotions. First, “Six Navy aeroplanes, obtained through the courtesy of Lt. Com. C. Gulbranson, will fly over the city Monday and Tuesday and distribute 100 passes.”[3] I wonder of Donna had anything to do with promoting that idea. Remember, she distributed passes for Birth of a Nation from an aeroplane in 1915.

In addition, as a promotion, sailor Jim White, “the strong man of the Navy” pulled a heavy truck before the 7 and 9 PM shows in front of the Metropolitan. [4]

The show began on the 9th and the
paper on the 10th reported that “hundreds were turned away.” 

Advertising on August 14th
indicates that the movie, and the show, are held over for another week. Also,
very interesting is that the ads begin to show one of the bathing beauties.[5]  It kind of looks like Donna, but I don’t
think so. If it is not her, then, who is it? Also, if it is not she, when did
Donna become the headliner for the show.
    

Also, of particular note, beginning on
the 16th there was a contest to enter the movies.[6]

EACH LADY
ATTENDING THE ABOVE PERFORMANCE UP UNTIL THURSDAY EVENING, MAY LEAVE HER PHOTO,
WITH NAME AND ADDRESS ON BACK THEREOF, AT BOX OFFICE.A REPRESENTATIVE COMMITTEE
WILL SELECT MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL AND ANNOUNCEMENT OF WINNER WILL BE MADE ON
SATURDAY, AUG 21.

A chance of a life-time to be starred in a Fine Arts Production.

The last three shows were on August 21st.[7]  I haven’t been able to find in the paper who
won the contest. It would be interesting to find out.

Theater: Metropolitan Opera House (Philadelphia).

Philly Met Broad St” by Smallbones Licensed under Public Domain

via Wikimedia Commons.

There is an article about the Metropolitan
Opera House in
Philadelphia on Wikipedia.

However, the article does have an error. The Wikipedia article says, “In 1928, while still being used
as a performing venue for operas, the house began presenting silent films to
the public.” From my research presented here, we know that in 1920 the
Metropolitan Opera House played the silent film ““Up in Mary’s Attic.”

[1] IMDB
Database entry for Eva Novak – See: WWW.IMDB.COM
–  http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0636834/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm
[2] Evening Public Ledger. (Philadelphia
[Pa.]), 03 Aug. 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib.
of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045211/1920-08-03/ed-1/seq-8/ 
[3]
Evening Public Ledger. (Philadelphia [Pa.]), 07 Aug. 1920. Chronicling America:
Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045211/1920-08-07/ed-1/seq-12/
[4] Evening Public Ledger. (Philadelphia [Pa.]), 07 Aug. 1920. Chronicling America:
Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045211/1920-08-07/ed-1/seq-12/
[5] Evening Public Ledger. (Philadelphia [Pa.]), 14 Aug. 1920. Chronicling America:
Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045211/1920-08-14/ed-1/seq-6/
[6] Evening Public Ledger. (Philadelphia [Pa.]), 16 Aug. 1920. Chronicling America:
Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045211/1920-08-16/ed-1/seq-8/
[7] Evening Public Ledger. (Philadelphia [Pa.]), 21 Aug. 1920. Chronicling America:
Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045211/1920-08-21/ed-1/seq-10/

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100 Years Ago – Ida Mae Barber Knight – (1873-1953)


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23 December 1914 – Ida Mae Barber Knight

Ida Mae Barber Knight

One hundred years ago Ida Mae Barber (Montran) (Fisher) (Holdsworth) Knight was living with her husband, Harvey Watson Knight, in their new home on Lawndale Avenue in Detroit, Michigan. At the time it was 628 Lawndale[1]. In 1923, Ida’s daughter Madonna (Donna), registered a song “Beautiful Mother of Mine” and indicted her home address as 1456 Lawndale. At first I thought this was very confusing, that Harvey and Ida would move eight blocks away on the same street. Then, when I looked at their neighbors, I saw that many of the neighbors also moved the eight blocks with them[2]. That made me realize that the street was renumbered sometime between Feb 1920 (Census Date which said 628 Lawndale) and Feb 1923 (Donna’s song registration which said 1456 Lawndale.)

The Knight household in 1914 consisted of Ida and her husband Harvey. Ida’s daughter from a previous marriage(?), Madonna (aka Donna), was in California working in the movies and working as a Mack Sennett bathing beauty. Ida’s father, Franklin, had died previously. Harvey’s parents are believed to still be in Chatham, Kent, Ontario, Canada. (There is no evidence that I have found that puts them anywhere else.) Ida’s Mother, Sarah H Blackhurst (Barber) had been living at 1419 Clay Avenue in 1910 with Ida, Madonna, and “Boarder” Harvey Knight. According to the 1920 Census, Sarah was living in Manhattan with Madonna who was on the road in a Vaudeville act. So in 1914, it is possible that Sarah was living eight miles away from Ida on Clay Ave or possibly living with Ida and Harvey on Lawndale. Ida’s sister, Eva Louisa Barber Goff, was probably living with her husband and daughter, about three and a half miles away on 15th Street.

Harvey Watson Knight’s
WWI Draft Registration
Thanks to Ancestry.Com and the
National Archives and Records Administration.

It doesn’t appear that the 40-year-old Ida worked outside of the home and is presumed to have been a housewife. Her husband, Harvey, was an engineer. In 1914 he probably worked for Ireland Matthews at Beard & Chatfield Aves., which is about 1 mile away. (He was working there in 1917 for certain – See WWI Draft Registration.) Today, that site is the location of the Roberto Clemente Academy a Pre-K to 5th grade which was built in 2001[3].

Of course the international news of the day was about the war in Europe. On this date, 23 December 1914, was the beginning of the now famous “Christmas Truce.” A German soldier, Karl Aldag, reported that both sides had been heard singing hymns in the trenches. German troops coming into the lines bring Christmas trees. Some men begin to place them on the parapets of the fire trenches. Local truce on the front of 23rd Brigade.[4]

Nationally, the country was still talking about the Boston Braves. A newspaper article in the New York Tribune on December 20th described how mid-season trades made by Boston Braves manager George Stallings helped the team move from last place to first place. According to Wikipedia, the 1914 Braves are the only team to have been in last place on the 4th of July and go on to win the pennant. The Braves continued on to be the first team to sweep the modern World Series. In 1953 the Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee.

Detroit Front” by W. G. MacFarlane – Postcard.
W.G. MacFarlane, Publisher, Buffalo, N.Y. Toronto.
Scanned Postcard, dated 1914.
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The Detroit Tigers finished 4th in the American League in 1914; however, their famous outfielder, Tyrus Raymond “Ty” Cobb, took the batting title with a .368 season. Movie goers were anticipating the release of Mary Pickford’s “Cinderella” The Campus Martius Park was opened. See Photo on right.

Also in 1914 Detroit the “inter urban” cars of the Detroit, Almont, Northern R. R., which linked Detroit with Almont, about 50 miles to the north began service.

Endnotes
[1] 1920 Census, Ancestry.com, 1920; Detroit Ward 20, Wayne, Michigan; Roll: T625_812; Page: 19B; Enumeration
District: 613; Image:. Harvey Knight

[2] 1930
Census, Ancestry.com, Year: 1930; Census Place:
Detroit, Wayne, Michigan; Roll: 1061; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 0716;
Image: 77.0; FHL microfilm: 2340796.
[3] See
it to believe it Detroit Public Schools http://detroitk12.org/schools/clemente/
.
[4] “The
Christmas Truce of 1914” – http://www.1914-1918.net/truce.htm

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