This week I took a look at ten photos from the Donna Darling Collection. Unfortunately, three of the photos were blurry or otherwise unusable. Of the remaining seven photos, five included uncle Russ as a child. One showed Russell and Donna and one showed Russ with Sammy. One photo showed all three. There were also two additional photos of Donna but both were family type photos and not part of her vaudeville life.
Some of the photos were badly damaged but I was able to clean them up significantly. For each of the photos, I have:
Original scanned image.
Original cropped image.
Edited PSD (Adobe Photoshop Elements) image
Edited JPG image
With each edited version of the photo, I added a caption. I am certain about the individuals shown, however, the dates are by guess and by golly.
Donna was born Madonna Montran. She used Donna Montran in her early vaudeville days. She then used Donna Darling as her stage name. I don’t believe that she ever used the surname Amsterdam. Sometime after 1935, Donna lived with a man named Russell Kees. Although I don’t believe that Donna and Russell were ever married, Donna and her two children, Russell and Sylvia began using the Kees surname. Sammy was born Samson Amsterdam. He used the stage name of Sammy Clark for many years. If the names aren’t confusing to you, you are good.
I have uploaded the seven photos to Google Photos. The downloads from Google Photos are generally of sufficient quality to work for most situations. However, if you need a higher quality image of any of the photos let me know and I’ll send you one.
Donna in Bridgeport, CT, at Poli’s – June 30-July 2, 1927.
We know Donna played in Warren, PA, in early May, but don’t know where she, Sammy, and Hal Dixon were until the played at Poli’s Theater in Bridgeport, CT from June 30 until July 2, 1927.[i][ii]
From the advertising it is clear that the movies had taken over. Irene Rich in a Warner Bros. silent feature, “The Climbers” was top billing. Even for the opening night, the “Donna Darling Revue” was promoted after “Amateur Night” in the “Amusements” article regarding what was playing at the Poli, which read:
AMATEURS TONIGHT AT POLI’S VAUDEVILLE
In addition to the amateur presentations tonight, Poli’s Vaudeville theater offers a splendid new program today.
Irene Rich leads an all-star cast through the screen version of the stage success “The climbers.” Commander Byrd’s start over the Atlantic is in Pathe News and a short Mack Sennett comedy completes the photoplay bill.
Heading the vaudeville contingent is Stan Stanley and company in a bit of farce, hokum and burlesque. The captain Boys present their six beautiful fashionettes in an elaborate dance act. Modern Vaudeville Frolics includes Donna Darling, Sammy Clark and Hal Dixon; Watts and Reingold in “Their Own Way,” and William Moore as “The Chef” contribute entertainment of high caliber.[iii]
I’m still searching for other Donna Darling showings during 1927. This may have been her last show in 1927 as her son, Russell, was born less than two months later. I do know she played in Mount Carmel, PA in April 1928.
Cinema Treasures photo of the Palace Theater shows the glory the theater once had.[vi]
Poli’s was, in some ways, kind of an early multiplex. Built in 1922 by Sylvester Z Poli, the Palace and Majestic Theaters were separate theaters within the same building complex separated by the Savoy Hotel. The Poli Palace was the larger of the two theaters and was the largest theater in Connecticut until 1975[iv]. According to Historic Buildings of Connecticut, Mae West also played the Poli Palace in 1927.[v] The Majestic Theater closed in 1971 and the Palace Theater closed in 1975. The theater has been vacant for 40 years and the city is hoping to redevelop the property.