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.
Saturday Night Genealogy Fun
By Don Taylor
The Weekly Genealogist, produced by NEHGS, regularly has a survey question designed to make you think about your ancestors’ lives. They recently had a question asking if you or your ancestors traveled “across the country” not by airplane. In this case, “across the country” was a trip of more than 1500 miles.
Randy Seaver, in his blog, Genea-Musing, suggested taking that idea, cross country trips, and write about it.[i] I thought about the question and realized that with Detroit to Portland, Oregon, is over 2300 miles, my grandmother, mother, and I have all have had such travels, several times.
My Cross-Country Trips
I’ve made trips across the country several times.
When I was in the service, (Christmas 1969) three of us drove a Ford Falcon station wagon from San Francisco to Minneapolis. One person drove, one sat in the passenger seat, and one person slept in the back. Each person would rotate positions every three hours. We only stopped for gas and made the 2000 mile trip in less than 34 hours.
My second cross country trip was when I left Oregon to go to training in Vallejo, California, in 1972. After training, we knew I was heading to a ship at sea, so my wife and son moved from Oregon to Minneapolis. I drove Mary (my first wife), and our son Matt, the 1600 miles back to Minnesota, where they lived during my time at school. I flew from Minneapolis to San Francisco to training and again to the Philippines for my first cruise aboard the USS Kitty Hawk.
The next cross-country trip was when I moved Mary-Alice from her home in Maine to Minneapolis. Just a little over 1500 miles, it only barely qualified for this list. That trip was in her Dodge Caravan, loaded to the top with stuff. We arrived in Minneapolis just after the “Great Halloween Blizzard of 1991.” Before I had told Mary-Alice that Minnesota was colder than Maine, but we didn’t get as much snow. When we got to Minnesota, Interstate 94 was two ruts heading up out of the Saint Croix river valley because of the 28 inches of snow the Twin Cities had received. She gave me that look, that said, “We never had this much snow in Maine in October.”
In 1998, Mary-Alice and I moved to Long Beach, California (about 1900 miles). I drove the car and Mary-Alice drove her van. We kept in contact with little radios. When we got to the Mohave Desert, she kept asking where the desert was. We drove through it during a “once-in-a-century” flower bloom. It was gorgeous, entire hillsides yellow with flowers.
In 2000, Mary-Alice and I moved from Long Beach to Boston, Massachusetts. Our van was over-loaded with stuff and relatively old, so I was afraid to try the shorter 3000-mile northern route because of the mountains on the way. So, we took the 3200 mile-route through Phoenix, El Paso, and Dallas. That was a brutal trip. We stopped at a weird motel in Tennessee and had a difficult time finding our room. Little did we know that the 200 rooms were downstairs from the 100 rooms.
I made the trip between Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon, as an infant, twice with my mother. I don’t remember either trip and rely only upon my mother’s telling of the stories.
My Mother’s Cross-Country Trips.
Back in 1950, my mother got a job with an outfit that sold magazines door to door. They had a crew of kids, my mother was 18, and moved city to city. I know they started in Detroit and ended in Portland, Oregon, in just a few months, stopping at cities and towns all along the way. I still wasn’t born yet but was born a few weeks after her arrival in Portland.
In 1953, my mother was pregnant with my sister, Glennis. Mom like the hospital I was born in and decided she wanted her second child to be born in the same hospital. She hitch-hiked from Minneapolis to Portland, Oregon (1700 miles) with 3-year-old me. Wow—What a trip that must have been for her.
My mom and Budgar traveled between Minneapolis and Phoenix (over 1600 miles) many times.
On one occasion she traveled between Phoenix and Minneapolis by herself and then continued with me to Clarksburg, West Virginia (about 2600 miles in total).
My Grandmother, Donna
My Grandmother was a fantastic traveler. She was born in Albion, Michigan and lived there until about 1914 when she went to California to be one of Max Sennett’s Bathing Beauties and to be in the movie, “Birth of a Nation.”
She traveled from California to Massachusetts in 1915 and lived in the Boston area for a few years.
In 1919, Donna traveled from New York to Decatur, Illinois to join the cast of “Chin Chin.” She then toured with the show to Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusetts before the show ended.
Known locations Donna was at during the “Chin Chin” Tour.
In 1922 & 1923, “Donna Darling and Company” went on the road. They started in New York and went to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.
In 1924, Donna went on another tour heading west from New York to include Montana, Oregon, and California with stops all over in between.
In 1926, Donna had another tour heading west from New York and including Texas, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Wisconsin, Michigan.
In 1927, Donna had another tour heading south from New York and across to New Orleans and back.
During her travels, virtually all of the trips were via train. A typical day, she’d board the first train out of a city, take the train with her crew, cast, and sets to another town, typically 2 to 4 hours away. The crew would unload and install the sets at the theater. She would then do a show or two that day. After the show, they’d head to a hotel for the night then head out again with the first train to another town. Sometimes, on longer travels, I’m sure they’d sleep on the train while heading to the next city. She had a train stuck in the snow in Nebraska for several days, a trestle washed out in Arizona (where they needed to carry their scenery past the wash-out on their backs), and had an earthquake break the tracks in California.
As I get more and more of her vaudeville career documented, I’ll create maps showing her travels and some of her many travel challenges.
I don’t know anything about my biological father’s life travels, nor do I know about his parents’ travels. I know that grandpa Dick was in the service and probably traveled cross country with that. He served in Panama, so I’m sure he at least traveled from Minnesota to the Gulf (or a coast) as a minimum. My great-grandmother Mary (Manning) Brown never traveled 1500 miles (to my knowledge), but she did travel the 1000 miles, from Kentucky to Minnesota, by oxen-driven wagon. That trip was with her grandparents, Enoch & Minerva (Toliver) Mannin. I think a 1000 miles trip by oxen-driven wagon is much tougher than twice that distance by train or automobile, so it should count.
For this week’s Treasure Chest Tuesday, I’m looking at three clippings from the Donna Darling Collection.
The first article is a short paragraph about “Dancing Girls at Orpheum”
DANCING GIRLS AT ORPHEUM
Donna Darling and her dancing girls headline the Orpheum bill for the first half of the week. “Songs and Steps” is the title of Donna’s act.
The Golden Bird, a trained canary….
Interesting. I had never heard of that act, and there are so many Orpheum theatres, it is impossible to know where, or even when, this show was playing.
Next, is an ad for the Orpheum Theatre with The Golden Bird headlining the ad with Donna Darling and Girls being the finale act. Donna’s show is billed as “The Musical Comedy Beauty Assisted by a Bevy of Bewitching Enchantresses in Songs and Steps.” I’ve seen “Donna Darling and Girls” before. She began that show sometime between August and September 1924. The movie Another Scandal was released in June 1924, so the show had to have been after that.
Finally, a third article for the show provides all of the remaining desired information. It was the Orpheum Theatre, Oklahoma City, Okla., for the week of September 6th (Sunday through Wednesday). The program played Sunday thru Wednesday – September 6th thru September 9th 1925.
The venue was the Orpheum Theatre in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It is “The World’s Best Vaudeville”
The show was the “Donna Darling and Girls, The Musical Comedy Beauty in Songs in “Songs and Steps”
Also on the Bill
Fox News “Modern Whaling” an Educational.
“Another Scandal” featuring Lois Wilson and an all star cast.
Althea Lucas and Co. in “An Artistic Triumph.”
Chad and Monte Huber, Late of So Long Letty” co. in “Dance Divertisements.”
THE GOLDEN BIRD, The Canary of Almost Human Intelligence, presented by LORRAINE EVON, The Charming Violinist.
Pat Barrett and Nora Cunneen in “Looking for Fun.”
My schedule of Donna’s shows had a huge gap before this clipping. She played July 26th in Decatur Illinois and September 20th in Sedalia, Missouri. Now, it appears that she did a Great Plains tour that summer.
September 6th thru September 9th 1925 – Orpheum Theatre, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – Donna Darling and Girls.
“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.