Donna Darling Collection – Part 17

Treasure Chest Thursday
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.California Bathing Beauties

For this week’s Treasure Chest Tuesday, I’m looking at several photos from the Donna Darling Collection. First, Image 0174 is a photo of Donna Darlings Bathing Beauties in a “Beach Promenade.” In most of the advertisement billings, this show was called, “The California Bathing Beauties. The show probably began in July 1920 at Moss’ Broadway at 41st and appears to have played in Philadelphia, Washington DC, Coney Island, Baltimore, Albany, Alexandria (IN), Wilkes-Barre, Reading, New Haven (CT), and Bridgeport (CT).

I have not learned who the other five women are in the photograph, but it is clearly Donna in the top back.

Photo of the Donna Darlings Bathing Beauties in a Beach Promenade
Donna Darlings Bathing Beauties in a Beach Promenade – cropped, edited, and resized for the web. See Note Below.

Photos 0194

Next, I looked at the Donna Darling Collection Item 194 – a set of seven photographs.

Two of the photos are of Donna holding Russell – one as a baby and one as a toddler with both Donna and Russell in swimming suits. Next are two photos of Russell. In one he is sitting in a walker of some sorts and the other he is standing behind a life ring aboard the SS Virginia out of New York. In 1930 Donna, Sammy, and Russell went to Panama for work. Russell would have been about three, which looks right for this photo. A Wikipedia article[i] indicates that the SS Virginia was built in 1928, was part of the American Line whose route was New York to Havana, to the Panama Canal, then on to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Photo of Russell Amsterdam (Kees) & Donna Montran c. 1927
Russell Amsterdam (Kees) & Donna Montran c. 1927

Photo of Russell Amsterdam (Kees) & Donna Montran - c. 1930
Russell Amsterdam (Kees) & Donna Montran – c. 1930.

Photo of Russell Amsterdam (Kees) in walker circa 1928
Russell Amsterdam (Kees) in walker c. 1928

Photo of Russell Amsterdam (Kees) (aboard S S Virginia) circa 1930
Russell Amsterdam (Kees) (aboard S S Virginia) c. 1930
Photo of Sammy Clark Amsterdam (with car) - 1927
Sammy Clark Amsterdam (with car) – 1927

Next is a photo of Sammy Clark Amsterdam standing alongside a car. I don’t know cars well enough to identify what it is. [If anyone that can identify it I’d love to hear from you. – Please, use the comment form below.] The license plate indicates it was in Michigan in 1927.

The final photo is something of a mystery. This is clearly Donna holding a baby, but the baby doesn’t appear to be Russell. I believe the baby is Sylvia and I believe the man is Harvey Knight, Donna’s stepfather. If so, this would be from 1932. [Photo below.]


December (XX) 1924 – The Bathing Beauty Review featuring Donna Darling and Murry Earle played at the Al Ringling Theatre in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

Photo of Harvey Knight, baby Sylvia Amsterdam & Donna Montran on right - circa 1932.
Probably, Harvey Knight, the baby appears to be Sylvia Amsterdam (Kees) & Donna Montran is on right – circa 1932.


[i] Wikipedia Article: SS Brazil (1928) –


I have a higher quality image of Donna Darlings Bathing Beauties available for family members and vaudeville buffs. Please contact me via eMail or the contact form below for a copy. Cite “Image 0174.”

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The meetings of Dick Brown – Donna, Dorothy, & Cecelia

The most fascinating stories in our family histories are often about how and where our ancestors met. These stories are often lost in just a couple generations. We, obviously, know where and when we met our spouses and often know when, how, and where our parents met. Knowing how our grandparents met is unusual, and knowing how our great grandparents met is rare — Our oral histories usually don’t go back that far. As such, it is really important to document how and where our ancestors met so their stories can pass down to future generations.

The story of my grandfather’s meeting of my grandmother and of his wives is elusive. I’ve put together what I have from oral history and some documents that I’ve found. I know something of two of the three stories and know nothing of the third.

As many of you know my grandmother, Donna, was in vaudeville. The story is that in 1929 and 1930 the vaudeville stage became increasingly difficult to find work. The depression was tough on live show business. My grandmother and her husband, Sammy Amsterdam decided to travel to Panama because the depression hadn’t really hit Panama yet and there was work there. We don’t know what work Sammy found while in Panama, but we know that Donna became a

Donna on Right, c. 1930

“Cabaret Girl” at the Fort Amador Beach Club in Panama. (See: Donna Cabaret Girl in Panama.html.) My grandfather was in the Army, stationed in Panama, (See: Road Trip Clifford Dick Brown. and met my grandmother while she was working at a club there. We don’t know if he knew that Donna was married at the time, but according to oral history, he fell in love with her at first sight. He told his best friend that he was “going to marry that girl.” We also don’t know if his attentions broke up the marriage between Donna and Sammy or if they were already estranged when Dick first saw Donna. We do know that when Donna and Sammy returned to the States, in March of 1930, they were estranged. The two show up on separate pages of the passenger list, both indicating that they paid their passage themselves. Donna indicated her home as in Detroit, at her mother’s address; Sammy indicated his home as in New York, at his mother’s address.

It appears that, sometime in 1931, Dick got out of the service and went to see Donna. Donna got pregnant. Sammy knew that the child could not have been his, but, according to oral history, he remained married to Donna long enough to “give the child a name” then quietly divorced her.

Dick wanted to marry Donna and bring her and her children to Minnesota. Donna, however, had moved to Chicago and was very connected to the nightclub scene there. She wasn’t about to give up the glamor and excitement of 1930s Chicago for the rural life of northern Minnesota. Dick apparently saw the life that Donna was providing his daughter (probably neglectful) and decided that his daughter would be better off with him. He took their daughter, without Donna’s permission, and went to Minnesota with her. Donna sic’d the police on him and he was arrested for child-napping. Luckily, the Lindbergh Law, which made kidnapping a federal offence, had a provision that excepted parents for their own minor children or things could have been a lot worse.

In any event, after a big whoop-de-doo, between the governors of Minnesota and Illinois regarding extradition, (See: Article) Dick went to prison (or jail) sometime after April 1935. He couldn’t have been there very long. (Note: Clifford Brown and Richard “Dick” Brown are the same person.)

Family oral history says that once Dick got out of prison, he went to see Donna one last time. He still loved her and wanted to marry her. She, once again, told him “NO.” After Donna’s rejection, Dick went to a bar/restaurant in Chicago. There, he met a young woman, Dorothy Louise Wilhelm. Her parents owned the place. They began to date, and in February 1936 Dick and Dorothy were married.

Dick and Dorothy divorced and Dick took care of his mother in the Pillager/Motley Minnesota area for many years. Dick married Cecelia Ann Squires in March of 1975 after his mother went into a nursing home. I have no knowledge of how or where he and Cecelia met. I would love to hear the story of their meeting if anyone knows it.

If you know anything of these stories that I have left out, please let me know and I’ll include it in an update.

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