“Donna in the News” is my reporting of newly found newspapers articles and advertising regarding my grandmother, Madonna Montran (aka Donna Montran and aka Donna Darling). I am always excited when I learn of a new venue for my grandmother’s exciting show business career of the 1910s and 1920s.
Three New Venues discovered.
Another great week of Donna in the News with three new venues discovered and an intriguing note about Donna having been in a train crash.
The Rock Island Argus (Rock Island, Illinois) newspaper dated 29 March 1924 shows that Donna Darling and company played in a song and dance revue at the Fort Armstrong theatre. In another article, from March 31st, the paper indicated that she missed her first show at the Fort Armstrong because of a train crash. I wonder how bad of a crash was it? The crash has the potential of making another great story. I’m looking forward to additional research.
Next, is an ad from the News Record (Neehah, WI) newspaper dated 5 December 1924. The ad shows that the California Motion Picture Bathing Beauties, featuring Donna Darling played at the Neehah theatre on December 8 & 9.
Finally, from the The Record (Hackensack, NJ) dated 23 February, I learned that Donna Darling and Company played at the Lyric Theatre in Hackensack, for three days beginning February 24th.
I have long known that Donna played at the Cosmos Theater in Washington D.C. a couple times. First, she did the “California Bathing Girls” show on September 19-21, 1920. She then returned to the Cosmos in March 1921. The clippings that she had were from the September show as evidenced by the other acts on the playbill. The second clipping for the Crescent Theatre in Perth Amboy is confusing and proves I got something wrong in a previous posting.
Cosmos—“California Bathing Girls”
“The California Bathing Girls,” Tom Rooney’s Broadway sensation, the headline attraction at the Cosmos theater this week, foretells an early spring, if weight and daintiness of costumes and the unfolding of feminine buds be an indication. Donna Montran, an attractive singer, introduces the bathers one by one, and Anna La Toy executes some difficult and attractive poses….”
The Crescent—“As You Like It”
The clipping is from the Perth Amboy Evening News dated May 11, 1922, and shows Donna Darling & Company in “As You Like It” with Murray Walker and Jack Finney in a Song and dance cocktail. There wouldn’t be any question about the show and the date except I had previously determined that Donna and Company played B.F. Keith’s Greenpoint Theater the week of 11-17 May 1922 (See Donna Darling at B.F. Keith’s Greenpoint.) So, now I am confused. I’ll need to do a lot more research on her playing at both theaters to be sure of the dates.
What I learned:
Consequent to the above, I have updated the Donna Montran Timeline to include the following:
May 11, 1922 – Perth Amboy – Donna Darling & Company in “As You Like It” (Possible conflict with B. F. Keith’s Greenpoint)
For this week’s Treasure Chest Tuesday, I’m looking at two clippings from the Donna Darling Collection
The venue is the Cecil Theater in Mason City, Iowa
The show is the “Donna Darling and Girls”.
Also on bill
La France & Co., “World’s Greatest Head Balancers”
P. Wilson and Addie “As you like it”
Kelly and Carseth in “Days of ’95 and ‘25”
Flo Jordan and Boys in “A Whirl – A Twirl, and a Girl”
On The Screen – Betty Compson in “Ramshackle House”
In the clippings is also an article, “Musical Comedy Cecil Headliner.” It reads:
Head balancing Act Also on Vaudeville Program for This Week-End.
The Cecil theater vaudeville program is to be given today and Sunday shows more than ordinary promise. The five stage acts from the Orpheum circuit include several that should appeal to Mason City theater goers.
The Cecil will have a pretentious headliner on the vaudeville stage today in Donna Darling and Girls in songs and steps, a bevy of beautiful musical comedy beauties in the presentation of the latest songs and dances. Miss Darling is a former star with Flo Zeigfield and Chin Chin revue and is assisted by a number of lovely young women who present a routine of the latest popular catchy song numbers and also the latest dances. Special stage setting enhance the beauty of the offerings.
George P. Wilson is a woman hater and he voices his trials and tribulations with the fair sex from the vaudeville stage in a monologue he offers many special song numbers that are crammed with laughs. There is a genuine surprise in his sketch, “As You Life [sic] It.”
Luckily, the article mentions Mason City and a search found there are three places with the name, only Mason City, Iowa had a Cecil theater.
A search of IMDB found that “Ramshackle House,” starring Betty Compson was released on 31 August 1924. Movies at that time typically only had a three or four-month life, so I expect that Donna’s show at the Cecil probably took place in between September and December 1924.
Very little is known about Donna’s schedule in 1924. She probably played in Louisville, Kentucky in August, and Wisconsin in November and December. So, she was definitely in the right part of the country to have played in Mason City in September, October, or November 1924.
A search of Newspapers.com, Genealogy Bank, Newspaper Archives, Ancestry, Chronicling America, Old Fulton Postcards and other sites suggested by The Ancestor Hunt yielded nothing to further identify exactly when Donna played in Mason City. Additionally, Chronicling America does not indicate that any libraries include holdings of “The Mason City globe-gazette and Mason City daily times” for 1924.
Between Sep and Dec 1924 – Cecil Theater – Mason City, IA – Donna Darling and Girls
Determine what repositories may have archive records of 1924 “Mason City globe-gazette and Mason City daily times” newspapers that were published from 1918 to 1929.
This photo of Donna Darling up in lights had no accompanying descriptions in the Donna Darling Collection. So, let the detective process begin.
First, I determined that this was the B.F. Keith’s Greenpoint Theater located at 825 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn, NY. Cinema Treasures had several photos of this theater at various times. From the architecture, it is evident this is the same theater, also known as the RKO Greenpoint theater that was at 825 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, NY.
Next, I was interested in when this photo was taken. According to Wikipedia, The silent film “For the Defense” was released in 1922. For more detail, I needed to zoom in. The play board in front of the theater indicates that the movie. In vaudeville, typically any live shows ended the same date that a silent movie ended. So, I’m pretty sure that Donna played B.F. Keiths the week preceding May 18th.
Donna Darling and Company played B.F. Keith’s Greenpoint Theater the week of 11-17 May 1922.
[I posted this a full-sized image of this photo of B. F. Keith’s Greenpoint to Cinema Treasures.]
I need to do more research for the specific dates Donna was at this theater. I also need to research what happened to the theater.
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]
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.]
[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.