Hotel Metropole – Panama City, Panama – 20 Feb 1930
Treasure Chest Thursday
By Don Taylor
For this week’s Treasure Chest Tuesday, I’m looking at a menu from the Donna Darling Collection.
According to my memories of talks with Donna, immediately after the 1929 stock market crash, many people stopped going to the theatres for vaudeville shows. Basically, they started canceling the shows they had booked, and the performers were left high and dry. Donna and Sammy decided to go to Panama City, Panama, where the depression hadn’t come to.
While in Panama City, Donna had a birthday. To celebrate, Donna had a birthday dinner at the Hotel Metropole, Santa Ana Plaza, in Panama City, Panama. The menu for that dinner survived. Guests had options of Baked Hallibot [sic], Tenderloin Steak, and Broiled Spring Chicken.
What I found most interesting was that she was celebrating her “25th birthday.” Donna commonly lied about her age. However, the 37-year-old must have been a real beauty (or deluding herself) to have pulled of saying she was only 25.
I suspect that Grandpa Dick was at the dinner and that something happened that Sammy didn’t like. In any event, it was only five weeks after this dinner that Sammy and Donna returned to the States. When they returned, they were estranged. They were in separate cabins, and each was heading “home.” Sammy to his mother’s house in New York City and Donna to her mother’s house in Detroit.
To my knowledge, Donna’s return from Panama signaled the end of Donna’s show business career.
I have able to find 20 of the 29 days that February the venues that “Chin Chin” played during the month. Beginning in Minneapolis, the show played across Wisconsin, they had a few shows in Indiana before arriving in Michigan. The cast and crew played in Bay City on the 25th and moved on to Saginaw on the 26th.
Saginaw News Courier – February 19, 1920 – Page 9[i]
Chin Chin Coming
Charles Dillingham’s greatest Musical Comedy success Chin Chin is coming to Saginaw Thursday, February 26, for one performance at the Auditorium. This play appeared first at the Globe Theater in New York for two solid years and is now on a transcontinental trip touring the middle-west for the first time.
In the leading roles will be seen Walter Wills and Roy Binder who come with the stamp of approval won in such productions as “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Red Mill,” “Hitchy Koo, etc. The company Is the largest musical company aggregation on the road today comprising 65 people, mostly girls and Tom Brown’s famous Clown Saxophone band. Charles Dillingham’s name is associated with the biggest and best theatrical Enterprises such as the Hippodrome and Globe Theater in New York some of his latest Productions are “Jack O’ Lantern” with Fred Stone, “The Canary” with Julia Sanderson and Joe Cawthorn, “Hip Hip Hooray” with 1200 associates with “Everything” which has suppressed all records at the New York Hippodrome
Chin Chin is a fantastic production which in Oriental and Old English costuming, in seven sets, including the most startling surprises ingenious trickery and grotesque dancing in plenty, affording an entertainment that is clean and wholesome, proving hilarious amusement for both young and old, which qualities are the making of a particular success of the theatrical magnate, Charles Dillingham.
The following day, the newspaper carried a “Chin Chin” standard announcement indicating the Auditorium manager, W. S. Butterfield” was pleased to announce the coming of “Chin Chin” on Thursday, February 26th.
Also, on the 20th was a very odd article, that I’ve not seen before that may give insight into the theatre audiences of 1920.[ii]
There appears to be little doubt that Charles Dillingham’s production of “Chin Chin,” with Walter Wills and Roy Binder in the lead will play to a capacity audience at the Auditorium when it is presented there next Thursday evening.
R. H. Burnside of the Dillingham forces, who staged “Chin Chin,” recently said that it was only the old-time musical show—the kine put on in a hurry and made up of old stuff—that was suffering.
“If there is any trouble at all,” he said, “it comes from the growing public demand for something better, more skillful, larger. People in the road towns as a rule don’t see the metropolitan production and they are getting tirie of it. What used to go in the small town goes no longer, they demand a play as large, as clever, as sparking and as capably played as the New York audience gets. The small town mind is growing with brutal rapidity, and as it grows the old standards of musical comedy cease to please. If we are going to keep in the game we will have to give them something more stimulating to the imagination, more artistic, with more originality, and a simplier yet larger horizon. Such is exactly the case of Charles Dillingham’s only company appearing on the road this season in that everlasting and delightful production of ‘Chin Chin’ with Walter Wills and Roy Binder in the leading comedy roles.
“People have been looking at the old things so long they are tired. For a long time they looked at them because they didn’t know the stage could offer anything better. Now they are rebellious, and it is up to the producers to make good.”
The Saginaw News Courier does a particularly good job at promoting the show. The following day is a lovely article describing the show.[iii]
“Chin-Chin” has a name of magic—music that is sorcery—bebars and little furry things that open their mouths amazingly and wave their ears when you are expecting it; coolies, little Chinese maids, mandarins, tiny children, clowns and bareback riders (with the really, truly, big white circus horse rambling gently and fatly around the ring), toys that wig-wag their little arms, a great stir of fun, a dainty little maid, a Japanese doll woman, and Aladdin—the figure that looms high in all child’s minds, be they Chin Chop Hi, the slaves of the lamp. All this and so much more that no one ever could tell you about if he thought until he went round in a circle, you can find in this clear, sweet, beautifully colored, musically rich show.
For “Chin Chin” throws the splendor of its dazzling light over your thoughts; it gilds the heart and melts the years away. There is the chop-chop song that rouses all the mirth you have under your waistcoat. There are dozens of bits of fun, or beauty, or wonder, or color, each a separate delight.
This show of wonders come to the Auditorium for one performance next Thursday evening February 26, and mail orders for tickets are now being filled as received at the Auditorium Box office.
The next day, the newspaper had a wonderful description of how many of the 30+ women in the show were selected.[iv] On the same page was an image of “Tom Brown’s Famous Clown Saxophone Band.”[v]
In the chorus of “Chin Chin” to be seen at the Auditorium next Thursday evening, there are 30 girls. More than two-thirds of those girls have never been seen either here or in New York. The chorus is said to be made up of some of the most beautiful young women ever seen on the stage. They have been chosen from the ranks of the prettiest girls of every state of the union.[vi]
By an arrangement that was made with a talking machine company, out of town applicants for positions in the chorus who were unable to go to New York were the engagements were made, had their voices recorded on disk records at the various agencies and the same were sent to Manager Charles Dillingham for consideration. All of the applicants wrote that they were anxious to begin their stage career under his direction.
The competition lasted for two months and those selected were given contracts and were notified to be ready for rehearsal. By this means Mr. Dillingham believe that he has secured a unique chorus, well chosen for voice and beauty, the engagements being unprejudiced by any personal reasons.
Among the typical beauty chorus are two from Chicago, one from Denver, one from Boston, three from California, two from Philadelphia, two from Cleveland, one from Sioux City, two from New Orleans, one from Tallas, Tex., one from Duluth and one from Cheyenne, Wyo.
One result of this original scheme of selection is the report from Mr. Dillingham’s stage manager that he find in the chorus a maximum of enthusiasm, intelligence and ambition, thus rendering his work much less strenuous and fatiguing than usual and furthermore giving promise of specially fine ensemble work. Main orders are now being filled and the regular advance sale will open Tuesday.
Saginaw apparently did not have enough hotel accommodations to meet the needs of the “Chin Chin” company. As such the show took out ads looking for “Furnished Rooms for the Members of the “Chin Chin” Company. I can’t imagine that happening today.
There were advertising articles and visual ads every day until the show.
After the show there was a rare review article about the show that mentioned Donna having a radiant voice as the Goddess of the Lamp.[vii] (Note: The bold emphasis is mine.)
“CHIN CHIN” IS PLEASING TO BIG AUDIENCE By Joseph W. Brady.
A Good performance of the long established musical comedy favorite, “Chin Chin,” was given at the Auditorium Thursday evening; and that it was good is proven by the unmistakable verdict of the large audience, which at times came near to stopping the chow by insistence upon more than full measure; as in the dance by Walter Wills and Irene McKay, and the appearance of the clown saxophone band under Lew Gould’s leadership. The much used descriptive tern, “colorful,” is decidedly applicable to “Chin Chin,” which is fairly resplendent in richness and variety of costuming and staging, abundant in incident, and replete with musical number that long since came into vogue and which prove their quality aby their continued hone on popular favor. The presenting company, Thursday night, carries a very much alive chorus and one that actually sings pleasingly and in volume sufficient to justify its numbers; in addition to all of which the girls are good to look upon. In solo singers there are also a number who actually sing and who have worthwhile voices, which is particularly true of radiant Donna Montran, Goddess of the Lamp, Ethel Lawrence, the Violet Bond of the evening, contributes to the song pleasure of the production, as does also the clever Sen Sen work of Neva Larry, and the male honors in vocalism are achieved by Stare Dunham acceptably cast in the role of Aladdin. There is also given much and good dancing, and the circus specialties introduced in the second act are highly diverting and picturesquely presented.
The musical comedy, or musical fantasy as “Chin Chin” is appropriately enough called, the strength of the whole depends upon the keystone, which is the comedy and the comedians, and the evident amusement of Thursday night’s audience is proof enough of the excellent quality of the bill of fare served. Walter Wills and Roy Binder as custodians of the major part of the fun making, and they fit to a nicety as a team. Mr. Wills carries by far the greater part of the burden of work, and carries it masterly style, throughout a succession of roles which demand versality to an unusual degree in this very difficult business of being a really artistic mirth producer. He is ably abetted by his partner and by the very clever woman, Carrie Dale, who wears the Chinese equivalent of widow’s weeds as the Widow Twankey, and mother of Aladdin.
As a matter of justice, it is due the “Chin Chin” company appearing in Saginaw to stat that in the matter of consistently sustained work and indefatigable effort to please, as well as lively personal interest in the work in hand the aggregation established a record.
According to the Cann-Leighton Theatrical Guide of 1913-14[viii], the Auditorium was, by far, the largest theatre in Saginaw at the time. Its capacity was over 3,500 compared to 3,274 for the other three theaters in Saginaw combined.[ix] The theater was built in 1908, so it was only 12 years old when “Chin Chin” played there. Seating included 1,859 on the lower floor, 814 in the Balcony, and 820 in the Gallery.
The stage was very large — 50×32 feet. It had six stage pockets and a 10-foot apron.
According to the 1920 Census, Saginaw had a population of 61, 903. A theatre that held over 5½ percent of the entire town’s population was large indeed.
The Auditorium Theatre was closed and demolished in 1972.[x]
Today the site is an AT&T Parking Lot.
My known schedule for “Chin Chin” has a two-day gap between the Saginaw show and the Whitney Theater show in Ann Arbor on the 28th. There were direct connections between Saginaw and Flint, Owosso, Lancing, and Detroit. It is likely the show went to one of those towns before going on to Ann Arbor.
“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 find a new venue for my grandmother’s exciting show business career of the 1910s and 1920s.
This week I received a notification from Newspapers.com that I had 36 new hits on my alerts – 15 from “Montran,” 15 from “Walter Wills” (which suggests “Chin Chin”), and 6 from “Dona/Donna Darling” from seven different newspapers dated between 3 May 1920 and 5 March 1928.
The articles related to six shows during her career. Four of the shows I had previously in my list of Donna’s performances. They were:
Lyceum Theatre, Paterson, PA – May 7 -8 1920 – “Chin Chin.”
Colonial Theatre, Lancaster, PA – April 17, 18, & 19, 1922 – “Special Easter Show.”
Grand Theatre, Saint Louis, MO – July 7-9, 1923 – Donna Darling show.
Majestic Concerts – Brooklyn, NY – Mar 5, 1928 – Donna Darling and Somory [sic] Clark in “The Princess and the King.”
Adding more clippings to what I already had is always good. However, what is particularly cool about the Grand Theatre clipping is that the newspaper that speaks of Donna is written in German. I don’t know what it says. I tried OCRing the words and transcribing the text to no avail. All I really know is that the article mentions “Donna Darling” and was published during the week Donna was in Saint Louis, Mo. Hopefully, someone who reads German and German font will help me out.
The other two venues were new to me.
Fulton Opera House, Lancaster, PA May 29, 1920 – Chin Chin
Keeney’s Theatre – Brooklyn, NY – Aug 1921, Donna Montran.
So, I’ve been able to add two new shows that Donna was a part of. I will add All of these clippings to future venue writeups.
Donna Montran and “Chin Chin” played the La Crosse Theatre in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Wisconsin, on 10 February 1920
Thanks to my “Donna in the News” alert last January, I learned then that Donna, and the cast of “Chin Chin,” played the La Crosse Theater in La Crosse, Wisconsin, on February 10, 1920. Now, I’ve finally had a chance to further look at that theater and show. Besides those original articles from the 4th, 5th, and 8th, I was able to find additional articles from the 3rd, 6th, 9th, 10th, and 11th.
For a one-night show, the advertising for “Chin Chin” was spectacular. Every day there was something in the newspaper from eight days before the show until the day after the show. Promotion for the show began with a notice on February 3rd, that an Eau Claire boy was one of the show leads. Along with it was a standard “To the General Public” notice from the theater’s manager, F. L. Koppelberger.[i]
Eau Claire Boy in “Chin Chin”
Include ad The music of Ivan Caryll, which serves to illustrate the story of “Chin Chin,” which comes to the La Crosse theater on February 10th, and in which Walter Wills and Roy Binder, an Eau Claire boy, demonstrate their wonderful powers of drollery and skill in dancing. Ethyl Lawrence, as “Violet Bond” the American girls, is a charming little actress, and always succeeds in winning the good graces of the audience. Her rendition of the duet, “Love Moon,” with the aid of George Usher as “Aladdin,” is one of the particular bright spots of the show.
The following day, a photo of the “Pekin Girls” graced the paper[ii] along with a short article and the same announcement from the manager as on the day before.
The remaining advertisements are pretty standard.
Rarely is there a review for a show that has played and moved on to another city. However, the La Cross Tribune ran a modest review the day after the show. Although they didn’t mention Donna, they did mention that “those singing the leading parts last night had pleasing voices and encores were numerous.”[iii]
The La Crosse Theatre opened in 1900,[iv] but its history goes back to the 1860s when there was an opera house at the location. The Sanborn Fire Maps indicate it was an Opera House in 1891, but it appears to have had a very different footprint than the theater had in the 1920s. The early 1900s form for the theater was short lived. The theater was closed in 1927 and a new building, the Hoeschler Building was opened in 1930.
The James Cahn Theater Guide 1922 supplement indicated that the La Crosse theater had a seating capacity of 1,100 all on the ground floor. The stage was 68 feet wide, 36 feet deep, and 32 feet high.
[i] The La Crosse Tribune · Tue, Feb 3, 1920 · Page 4 – Via Newspapers.com.[ii] The La Crosse Tribune · Wed, Feb 4, 1920 · Page 10 – Via Newspapers.com [iii] The La Crosse Tribune · Wed, Feb 11, 1920 · Page 5 [iv] Cinema Treasures, La Crosse Theatre, La Crosse, WIS http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/57410
For this week’s Treasure Chest Tuesday, I’m looking at page “DSCN1452” from the Donna Darling Collection, which consists of two newspaper clippings and one photograph.
The first clipping is an ad for
VAUDEVILLE A Dazzling Dance Fantasy. “THE DONNA DARLING REVUE” in 5—Scenes—5 With Donna Darling, Sammy Clark and three stars. In a super song and dance revue with a dash of comedy.
Luckily, Donna wrote on the upper left corner, “La Cross | Dec 4-5.” From Newspaper Archive, I had previously learned that Donna had played at the Majestic Theater in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, on December 4 & 5, 1926.
The second clipping is a bit more problematic. It has a nice photo of Donna and says:
Donna began doing the “Donna Darling Review” with Sammy in April 1926, so the show must have taken place after then. The problem is that the two of them played:
The Grand Theater in Great Falls, Montana on Nov 26-27, 1926.
The Grand Theater in Macon, Georgia, on March 14-18, 1927.
The Grand Theater in Montgomery, Alabama, on April 1-3, 1927.
Plus, I have many open dates that she could have played at a “Grand Theater.”
For the clipping in question, other acts on the bill include:
Zehn and Dreis in “Dementus Americanos Habitat North America.”
Billy Curtis and Lou Lawrence in “Is That the Custom.”
Morell and Elynor (roller skating)
The Reginald Denny picture “Rolling Home.”
Luckily this bill was short-lived, only about two months. At every showing there was a different picture show. On November 26 & 27, the bill of these vaudeville acts played at the Grand Theater in Great Falls Montana along with the picture “Rolling Home.” I am confident that this clipping comes from this date and place.
Finally, there is a new photograph of Donna with Russell. Russell appears, to me, to be about two years old. Russell was born in 1927, so I’m fairly sure that the photo come from 1929 or so. This is a case where I wish I knew how to fix photos with Photoshop. I’d love to pluck out the white and have a nicer photo.