My grandmother, Donna, was a good cook. My mom says that Donna didn’t let her into the kitchen much and Donna never taught my mother how to cook. Consequently, I am sad to say, my mom is one of the worst cooks I’ve ever known. She cooked a turkey once and didn’t remove the giblets bag before cooking.
However, Donna was a good cook and generally cooked “comfort food.” I remember eating a lot of “hot dish” as a kid. Even if it wasn’t in a casserole bowl, the meat, vegetables, and starch were all cooked together into a single dish – Things like chicken & dumplings, Hungarian goulash, and, of course, chili-rice. No recipes were passed down that I know of. However, the recently found Donna Darling collection had one handwritten recipe for her chili rice.
I forgot that she used tomato juice often when cooking. She cooked rice and elbow macaroni in a mix of tomatoes and tomato juice often. I hadn’t heard of the “Mexene chili powder” used in this recipe until I looked it up and found that it is a brand name and is still available.
I think it is interesting that her recipe calls for a tablespoon of fat. They must have had really lean hamburger in those days. Anyway here is Donna’s recipe:
Grandma Donna’s Chili Rice
1 Tablespoon fat
¾ cup chopped celery
1 cup “ onions
1 cup “ gr peppers
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 can tomatoes
¾ cup rice
Mexene chili powder
1 can tomato juice
No directions were with the note, but I think it is just a put it all together and cook until the rice is eatable. I guess use the Mexene Chili Powder to your personal taste.
Anyway, I’m going to have to make up some of Grandma Donna’s Chili Rice and see if taste memories kick in.
Please, if you makes some, I’d love to see a picture of your finished product and your comments about it.
We know that Donna had a show advertised as “Donna Darling and Earle in a Song and Dance Romance” in 1924. The Standiford Studio in Louisville, Kentucky took this photo entitled, “Donna Darling and Earle.”
Donna and Earl played in Oakland California in June 1924, and at the Melba Theatre in Dallas, TX in July 1924. Seemingly like an easterly movement, I extrapolate they could have been in Louisville in August 1924. Of course, I could be entirely wrong. As a matter of fact, I would expect a photo like this to be taken towards the beginning of a tour rather than the end. In either event, the photograph is likely taken in 1924.
Continue research and find dates when Donna and Earle played in Louisville, KY.
The first newspaper clipping in the collection is one that screams in big print, “DONNA MONTRAN.”
It then speaks of her as “BROADWAY’S NEWEST FIND – Under Personal Direction of Tom Rooney.” The advertising also acknowledges her vocal instructor, Louis Howard Croxson, and her dancing master Alexis Kosloff. The clipping also shows that she is playing at B. S. Moss’ Broadway Theatre. Knowing that made it easier to find the paper and issue that the item ran in. (Emphasis mine.)
The clipping is a paid advertisement she took out promoting herself. I was able to find it in “Variety” newspaper, dated August 20, 1920, it was a half-page ad on the back cover of the trade newspaper. The ad also includes a collection of quotes about Donna that we will see many more times.
VARIETY, July 30
“Donna Montran ha an undeniable million dollar smile, oodles of personality and an elastic voice that hits the high registers smoothly and effectively—wood make ideal $4 musical comedy stuff.”
“Donna Montran is here. Take leading part well in beach promenade.”
“Donna Montran was the bathing girl prima donna and had as pleasing a voice as any girl should need.”
“N. Y. CLIPPER”
“The music was tuneful and the song, “India, My Own,’ with words and music written by Donna Montran, was sung by the author with good effect. Miss Montran is pretty, possessed of a fine figure and has a smile and personality that count.”
“EVE. MAIL” (July 26)
“There is the pretty, dainty Donna Montran, whose swimming hasn’t destroyed her voice.”
“Donna Montran. A blo/??
young lady who contributes /??
explanatory singing, manage /???
part well and exhibited some /????
Donna married Thomas Rooney on November 24, 1915, in Waltham, MA. So, it is clear that she and Tom were together for quite a few years. I am a little surprised that the very independent Donna would go for the phrase, “Under Personal Direction of Tom Rooney.” (I definitely need to do more research about him.)
Lewis Howard Croxson
Louis Howard Croxson was a vocal teacher who had a studio in the Metropolitan Opera House building. Apparently, he was well known in New York stage circles. Among those he had instructed were Miss Tossa Kosta of “The Chocolate Soldier,” Miss Dorothy South of the “Wild Cat,” Miss Patricia Ryan, Carl Hayden, the Australian concert singer, Misses Irene Castle, Josie Colline and Bertha Shalek, his sister in law.[ii] Through this ad we learn he also instructed vaudeville star, Donna Montran.[iii]
Alexis Kosloff taught Russian Ballot and was very well known in New York. He danced in the imperial Russian Ballet before coming to America and was a writer, choreographer, and dance instructor. His book, Russian ballet technique, as taught by Alexis Kosloff: Method of practising foundation steps, potpourri of exercises, suite of dances, with descriptions and music, is a classic. He taught Donna how to dance. No wonder reviews of her shows often praised her dance ability. She was trained by the best and she gave him credit in this advertisement.
Clearly, it was important for Donna to promote herself. During a time when women were typically demure, she stood up and promoted herself. Showing herself as being personally managed by Tom Rooney, taught voice by Louis Howard Croxson, and taught Dance by Alexis Kosloff was her way of saying she was the “real deal.” Advertising in “Variety” was a way to gain prestige exposure with theater agents and others who could book her act.
Follow-up / Future Research
Thomas Valentine Rooney, Donna’s 2nd husband.
Endnotes & Sources
[i] The Donna Montran Collection news-clipping is torn and the last words on each line of this quote are missing. Unfortunately, the Archives.Org image of that paper also is cut off on the right causing the words on the right to be missing.
When my Grandmother, Madonna Montran (AKA Donna), passed away in 1976 it was several days before my mother was informed of the death. When she went to Donna’s apartment she found that everything had been removed, the apartment cleaned, and the apartment up for rent already. She was told by the building manager that everything was either trashed or given to the Salvation Army. Well… Not everything.
Apparently, Donna’s friend, Virginia Hagen, saved some of the photos and other documents of Donna’s. Those items were put into a trunk and remained “lost” for over 40 years. Virginia’s daughter inherited the trunk and searched the internet for information on the “nearly famous” vaudeville star, Donna Darling. (Donna Darling was her stage name.) She quickly discovered this blog site and contacted me. She gave me a chance to digitize many of the items. I was able to digitize 357 images. Some of the images are large photographs, others are scrapbook pages with several articles, and several are groupings of thumb-sized photos. Newspaper clippings from the 1920s in contact with acid rich paper don’t do so well over time. Likewise, many of the photos were glued into the albums causing damage. Additionally, because Donna knew who the individuals were, there was no reason to label most of the photos.
I decided to process the collection about 10 images at a time. As I process the images, I hope to identify the people, places, dates, and anything else I can figure out from the images. Some of the images aren’t appropriate for posting to the internet, such as my grandmother’s social security health card. (The word “Medicare” isn’t on it, yet.)
The First 10 Images
The first ten images are a miscellaneous group of loose items. They included:
Business Card from Amsterdam Hosiery & Gift Shop. There are four sides to this business card, including one side showing birthstones for the various months. I believe this was her ex-husband’s parents shop.
Blue Cross Blue Shield identification card for Donna Rossberg. I have never understood her Rossberg connection. This card confirms she used the Rossberg name sometimes but I have never found a legal connection (marriage) between Donna and “Red.” Something to investigate sometime.
A 1970 photo of me holding my son, Matthew. Sadly, the photo is badly damaged.
A photo of me. I have the same photo in my personal photos and have always thought it was from about 1956. However, Donna’s copy has our Fridley address written on the bask, indicating it was more likely 1958.
A 1910 photo of Madonna Montran. At the age of 17 Donna had her first professionally done photoshoot. One of those photos became the picture used on the sheet music of “In the Heart of a Fool.” Another photo from that photo shoot is in this first batch of photos. The original has many scrapes, nicks, and creases. I touched up the image slightly to remove the blemishes from the photo (not from her). Without a doubt, you can see how incredibly beautiful she was. Amazing photo is it posted above.
Next is a photo of “Donna on Ocean Liner – Carabean [sic] Sea.” I believe this to be about 1930. Donna and Sammy went to Panama in 1930. While in Panama, Donna met my grandfather. Also, while in Panama Donna and Sammy became estranged. Although they returned on the same ship, they appear on different pages of the manifest and reported living at different addresses. He, his mother’s address in New York and Donna her mother’s address in Detroit.
Next is a photo of Freddie Braddock that appears to have been taken in San Antonio, Texas in June 1952. I have no idea who this person is nor what his relationship to Donna was. Another thing to investigate.
A 1954 “Honorable Withdrawal Card” from the Laundry Workers’ International Union. I knew that Donna worked in laundries. I also recall her being very pro-union. She said that the rich get rich by exploiting the poor and that unions curb that exploitation. This card really triggers memories for me. I think I should research the LWIU and learn more about this important aspect of Donna’s later life.
There were three letters from me. One made me feel bad. It was a letter from me to Donna apologizing for not visiting her when I was in Minneapolis on military leave. I promised her that I’d visit her on my next return home on leave. Sadly, she died before I returned to Minnesota.
There is a wedding photo of myself and my first wife. I think it is in better condition than the copy that I have.
My son, Matthew, is the subject of a March 1976 photo. He is on the side of a hill.
Donna’s Medicare card from 1966.
A photo of my mother, Sylvia, from Christmas 1970.
And last, but not least, there is a photo of an unknown man in a vintage automobile. The car has “suicide doors” and odd fold out windows. I don’t know what type of car it is. (But, I’ll bet a car buff could tell me.) I’m thinking it might be Russell Kees (the significant other of Donna, not Donna’s son). I definitely need to do more research in this photo.
So, the first ten images yielded 16 items. Only 247 more images to go. This is going to be fun.
Many thanks to Norma White and to Valerie Lumley for taking care of the collection all these years. Once again, thank you, Norma White, for allowing me to digitize the Donna Darling Collection.
Search again for Donna’s connection to Red Rossberg. Were they ever married?
Who was Freddie Braddock and what was his relationship to the family?
Investigate and research the Laundry Workers’ International Union.
Determine the kind of car it is (below)? Who is the driver? When might the photo be from?
Henderson’s Theater, Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York – Week of 6 September 1920.
We know that Donna had finished a 5-week showing at B.S. Moss’ Broadway Theater on August 29th. We know she performed in that show because she was called out by name, Donna Montran, in one of the ads and in a promotion in the New York Clipper. I believe that after five weeks of solid shows, Donna took off a week before she began again at a new theater.
“California Bathing Girls” opened at Henderson’s Theater in Coney Island on September 6th for one week. Advertising included a short article and a small ad.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle – September 5, 1920
At the Seaside Amusement Places
– – – Henderson’s Theater.
At Henderson’s Theater a holiday week bill will be headed by Loney Haskell, character comedian, in a monologue. “Dream Stars,” a mixture of tunes and fun, will share the headline honors. Harry Murray heads the cast and is assisted b y Gladys Joye, Bernice La Rue and Julie Steger. Other acts on the bill are the Bathing Girls, Harry and Anna Seymour, Ed Furman and Bill Nash, Sully and Mack, Ed Hill in Hattie’s Creation”: Guy J. Samuel and Lily Leonhard and the Thames Brothers complete the bill.
Luckily, an article in Variety on September 10, confirmed it was Donna Montran in the Henderson’s production. It is confusing because the article says “Now” and she was there “Now September 10th” however, the text says July 30th and then she was apparently between gigs. In any event, the article shows a photo of Donna sitting wearing a really beautiful hat and confirms that it was her in the California Bathing Girls at Henderson’s Coney Island.
The Variety article indicates that, “Donna Montran has an undeniable million dollar smile, oodles of personality and an elastic voice that hits the high registers smoothly and effectively – would make ideal $4 musical comedy stuff.” (I believe that “$4 musical comedy” refers to the price of a Victrola record.)
Remember that Donna played from July 26th until August 29th at the B.S. Moss’ Broadway Theater. Sometimes that show was called “Bathing Girls,” and sometimes it was called “California Bathing Girls.” However, at the same time (From August 9th until August 21st) there was another show, “Original California Bathing Girls,” playing in Philadelphia. So the question arises, was this another show or did Donna and the troupe make the 1-1/2 to 2-hour commute to Philadelphia every day. I don’t know. Certainly, it is possible. The newspaper articles I have found for the Broadway Theater engagement are clear; Donna played it. The Philadelphia engagement is not clear as it never identifies the bathing girls by name.
Again, documents show that Donna played at Henderson’s Theater in Coney Island and that show was California Bathing Girls. I think more research will be needed to determine if Donna played in two shows simultaneously.
Try to find further evidence if Donna played in the Original California Bathing Girls in Philadelphia from 9 until 21 August 1920 to resolve theconflict.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) Sun, Sep 5, 1920 · Page 31 – Henderson’s Theater – Via Newspapers.Com http://www.newspapers.com/image/60005902
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) Sun, Sep 5, 1920 · Page 30 – Via Newspapers.com https://www.newspapers.com/image/60005892
Variety – September 10, 1920 – Page 5, Vaudeville – Column 4 (bottom) – Donna Montran