Donna Montran and “Chin Chin” played at the Rajah Theatre in Reading, PA, on 24 April 1920
By Don Taylor
We know that April, 1920, was a grueling month for the “Chin Chin” cast. On April 22nd they played Frederick, MD. On the 23rd they traveled the 65 miles north to Carlisle, played there one night then on the 80 miles to Reading for another two shows – a matinee and an evening show.
The first advertising I found was in the Reading Eagle, starting on April 18th. There was a standard ad on page 16, along with a lengthy article about the show.[i]
Coming to the Rajah Theatre matinee and night, Saturday, April 24, Charles Dillinghan’s “Chin Chin,” the musical comedy which is one of those tales of love and wishing common to the Arabian Nights.
All impossibilities are crowded into it, jumbled together like the figures in a dream in the end it resolves itself into a vehicle for the display of the clever grotesqueries of the two clever “turn” artists, Walter Wills and Roy Binder. Mr Wills, whose body seems made of rubber, and whose facial expressions change as quickly as the wheel of fortune gives Chin Hop It Paderewsky, Mlle Falloffski, a gendarme and a ventriloquist, transformations accompanied by such curious tricks and poses such tumbling, dancing, imitating such a running fire of jokes and fun-making that the audience fairly screams with laughter. Mr. Binder gives in rapid succession Chin Hop Lo, the widow, a coolie, and the ringmaster, lightning changes of mood, manner and get-up that provide the audience to mirth. George Usher makes an aggregable and picturesque Aladdin.
The danseuse is Irene McKay, and astonishing acrobatic and step performer whose twinkling feet are full of speed and syncopation. Her number with Mr. Willis entitled “Dance Poetic,” is a remarkable performance ending with a surprise to the audience.
The favorite songs are “The Chinese Honeymoon,” “Good-bye Girls,” “I’m Through” “Volet,” “The Gray Dove,” and “Love Moon.” The most recalled dance and song numbers are the “Teddy Bear Dance,” (without words), “Go Gar Sing Gong-Jue,” “Temple Bells,” The Rag of Rags,” and “Bally Moony.”
The clever saxophone sextette by Tom Brown’s Clown Band is one of the most amusing and delightful bits of the play. The company is one of the largest organizations presenting a musical comedy on the road today. There girls and girls.
There were adds and articles daily in the Reading Eagle or the Reading Times from the 18th through the 23rd. I did not see any that called out Donna directly, but a couple mentioned “Love Moon” being sung, which was a song sung by the Goddess of the Lamp (Donna’s role).
It is likely that the “Chin Chin” cast had off on Sunday, April 26th. However, the show must go on and it played at the Hippodrome in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.
The Rajah Theatre was initially built in the 1800s as a market with a Masonic Temple on its upper floors. It was built on a potter’s field of a cemetery. Although the cemetery interred were supposed to be reinterred at another location, in the early 1800s there were still 30 uncovered during the building during 1873.[ii] It was converted to a theatre in 1886 and became the Academy of Music.
The 1913 Theatrical Guide indicates that the Academy of Music had a seating capacity of 1,341 – 795 on the Main Floor, 341 in the Balcony, and 206 in the Gallery. Besides the Academy, there were four other theaters in Reading at the time, the Orpheum, Hippodrome, Lyric, and Palace Theatres.
In 1917, The Academy of Music was purchased by the Rajah Shriners, renamed the Rajah Theatre, and became the vaudeville house that “Chin Chin” played at.
In May 1921[iv] the Rajah burned and underwent substantial rebuilding. The theatre reopened on September 10, 1922.
The theater had two more fires, both in 1935, but recovered quickly from them.[v]
In 2000, the building received a $7 million facelift and became the Sovereign Performing Arts Center (named for Sovereign Bank). Today, it is the Santander Performing Arts Center (for the Santander Bank) and is home for the Reading Symphony Orchestra, the Reading Civic Opera Society, and hosts a variety of events.[vi]
Specifications for the Academy of Music (Rajah Theatre)[vii]
Proscenium opening: 35.5×32 ft
Front to back wall: 32 ft
Between side walls: 76 ft
Apron 2 ft
Between fly girders: 45 ft
To rigging loft: 55 ft
To fly gallery: 30 ft
10 Dressing rooms
Today, the Rajah Theatre is the Santander Performing Arts Center.
For this week’s Treasure Chest Tuesday, I’m looking at a page from the Donna Darling Collection. There were three images on this page. One an ad and two short articles all relating to playing at the Majestic Theatre, Dubuque, Iowa.
The advertising has a handwritten note which says, very faintly, “Dec 12 to 15 – Dubuque, Iowa.” This is consistent with a Newspaper Archive article I found previously, in the Dubuque Telegraph Herald dated 12 Dec 1926, Page 18[i]. The clipping shows that the Majestic Theatre was part of the “Western Vaudeville Managers Association.” The ad also indicates that the show was “starting today for 4 days.”
The first article reads:
A well poised revue with originality in every detail down to the fantastic stage settings, is the headline stage attraction on the Majestic’s new bill which opened Sunday. The Donna Darling Revue, with a five-person cast including the irrepressible Sammy Clark, is one of the best review acts to visit Dubuque this season. It is a wholesome, if ludicrous combination of song, dance and laughter.
The second article reads:
DARLING AND CLARK AT MAJESTIC TODAY
Popular Comedian And Singer And Their Assistances To Present Song And Dance Revu.
Donna Darling and Sammy Clark, well known and popular wherever vaudeville is liked, head the bill opening at the Majestic today and continuing through the rest of the week. They are assisted by Barring and Lazur and Hal Dixon, and they will present a comedy, song and dance revu. Miss Darling formerly headed her own revu and for years was a singer in music comedy. She will provide the songs, some of the dancing and Clark will furnish the fun. He is widely known as a comedian and his work is said to rank with the best of them. Their assistants are singers and dancers. The act is well staged and comes highly recommended.
The venue is the Majestic Theatre. The theater was part of the “Western Vaudeville Managers Association.”
The show is the “DONNA DARLING REVUE With Sammy Clark assisted by Hal Dixon and Company.
Also on the bill:
Jack Sparling and Herm Rose in “The Coming Champion”
The Geralds in Musical Gypsies” and Their Mandolino.
“Spangles,” a 1926 Universal release starring Marion Nixon and Pat O’Malley.[ii]
Donna at Rialto, Swiss Gardens, & American Theatres, plus three photos.
Treasure Chest Thursday
By Don Taylor
For this week’s Treasure Chest Tuesday, I’m looking at image DSCN1468 from the Donna Darling Collection. This image includes 5 objects; two newspaper clippings and three photographs.
The Two Clippings
The first clipping shows “Donna Darling & Co with Sammy Clark in a Singing and Dancing Revue in Five Scenes” as an added feature to the Rialto Theatre in Racine, Wisconsin, show on Sunday. With them are four other vaudeville shows.
Boyd Senter “Jazzologist Supreme”
Denyle Don & Everett “Up for Air”
Bennett & Lee “Vaudeville Etiquette”
Dallas Trio “A Comedy Novelty”
This clipping is the identical advertisement I had seen previously in the Journal Times, Racine, Wisconsin, 31 July 1926, Page 11. (Thanks to Newspapers.Com.)
The second clipping is a very short one that says:
DONNA DARLING and SAMMY CLARK are enjoying a long run at the Swiss Gardens, Cincinnati, O., with their vaudeville revue. They will remain there until July 31 and then open in Chicago at the American on Aug. 20.
My previous research indicated that Donna and Sammy played at the Swiss Gardens July 23rd thru July 31st. However, I did not know they played at the American Theatre in Chicago August 20th. Thanks to this clipping I was able to add the location of the Swiss Gardens Theatre as being Cincinnati, Ohio and was able to add a new venue, The American Theatre in Chicago on August 20.
The three photos.
The first is a photo of Russell standing between two men, who are certainly brothers and are probably twin brothers. Russell was born in August 1927, so this photo appears to be from 1928 or 1929. I vaguely recall seeing them before, but I wasn’t able to find them in a quick search. I’ll keep a sharp eye out for twins in my other activities.
The second photo is of an unknown couple in swimming suits standing at a beach. Again, I do not know who they are, so I’ll keep an eye out for them in my future work.
Finally, is a badly damaged photo of a woman sitting next to the stairs leading to the porch of a house. She is wearing something of a sailor blouse and the house next door appears to have a “beach” porch. Again, I’ll add her to my unknown photos.
I updated Donna’s Career History with the following (new information in bold):
Donna and “Chin Chin” play at the Regent Theatre in Muskegon, Michigan, on 23 February 1920.
February 1920 was a busy month for the cast and crew of “Chin Chin.” They began the month in Minneapolis and played across Wisconsin, on to Indiana, and then up to Michigan. I know they played the Powers Theatre in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Feb 20th and 21st. They probably had off Sunday, 22 February. Then they opened for one night at the Regent Theatre in Muskegon, Michigan.
A standard “To the General Public” announcement was published by Paul J. Schlossman in the Muskegon Chronical on February 18th letting the General Public know that “Chin Chin” was coming to the Regent Theatre on Monday, February 23, 1920. There would be two shows, a matinee at 2:30 and an evening show at 8:15.
The Thursday paper before the show featured an article and a photograph. The article read:
Charles Dillingham’s Chin Chin, with a record of two solid years at the Globe theater, New York , and heralded as the greatest of all musical comedies comes to the Regent theater for a matinee and evening performance Monday, Feb. 23.
In the production of “Chin Chin” the producer, Chas. Dillingham is providing a glorious festival of fun and spectacular attractiveness, demonstrations of grotesque acrobatic specialties and dancing in numerous through this very musical concoction. Those who heard “The Pink Lady” and “The Little Café” cannot fail to anticipate with pleasure the prospect of hearing further gems in “Chin Chin” from the gifted composer, Ivan Caryll.
Charles Dillingham long ago established a reputation for good taste in his production so far as color, light, groupings, music and expression go to make up an ensemble. In the company are clever comedians, talented singers and dancers, besides plenty of beautiful, radiant women. The production in its original New York entirety will be seen here. By the box office returns, the most potent argument in the theater when the entertainments such this are under consideration, “Chin Chin” is the greatest and best.
Certainly the most exacting and sophisticated taste will ask for little or nothing more in facile playfulness, pretty dresses, swift dances and prankish amusement than this production has to offer.
Ivan Caryll’s score is rich with ingratiating melodies, and the various stage settings make attractive pictures.
It is unlikely that the cast and crew had off on February 24th, so I need to continue searching for a venue that they played that day. It is probably a town between Muskegon and Bay City (but not Grand Rapids). “Chin Chin” played in Bay City on the 25th.
The Regent Theater, designed by Detroit architect C. Howard Crane, was built by Paul Schlossman in 1916. None of the theatrical guides that I have indicate the specifics of the theater, however, other sources indicate the seating was 1,100. A new façade and marquee were installed in 1939. The theater was demolished in 1972 to make way for the Muskegon Mall. The mall was torn down in 2003.[ii]
Today, the location of the Regent Theater is an open park-like area with picnic tables next to the Muskegon Area Transit System.
Find a theater guide from the 1920s and incorporate theater specifics from it into this article.
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[iii] Image 10 Of Sanborn Fire Insurance Map From Muskegon, Muskegon County, Michigan. “. 2019. The Library Of Congress. Accessed August 16 2019. https://www.loc.gov/resource/g4114mm.g04122195001/?sp=10&r=0.498,0.987,0.434,0.213,0.
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.