I’m still looking to find more about Donna’s time in the Spring of 1924. I know she was in Bridgeport, CT in early February but have nothing on her whereabouts until she appears in Billings, Montana, at the Babcock Theater on May 17th and 18th. There is a lot of time and there are many places between the two shows. More to research.
I know very little (yet) about Donna’s “Novel Song and Dance Romance.” We do know that the Babcock Theater advertised it as a headline act within its vaudeville offering for the day Featuring “Donna Darling” in their “Five Big Acts” for the day. [i]
The Billings Gazette of May 18th shows a photo of “Donna and the Boys” on Page 16. [ii]
Unfortunately, all the copies I could find of the paper, both Newspapers.Com and Newspaper Archive.Com, have really poor quality images of the paper. If anyone has access to the original papers and would do a photo image of the paper I’d really love it. In the meantime, I’ll put trying to find a copy of it on my “want to do list.”
I also know on June 2nd she is in Oakland, California. Although it is only two weeks later, I doubt she went that distance without a few shows along the way. So much more to research.
In 1896, A. L. Babcock opened the Billings Opera House. Mr. Babcock operated that theater until September 22, 1906 when the building burned. Mr. Babcock built a new theater, the Babcock, a few blocks away and opened it just over a year later, on December 23, 1907.[iii]
At the time it was built, at the time was considered the largest theater between Minneapolis and Seattle.
The Julius Cahn Gus Hill Theatrical Guide, 1922 Supplement, reports that the Babcock Theatre seated 1200 people and the stage was 36×32 feet.
On February 21, 1935, the Babcock Theatre was rented out for a prize fight. It was a real “smoker.” The fire chief ask there be no smoking in the theatre, however, the patrons didn’t listen and a fire broke out under the boxing ring. The theatre entrance lobby and 13 rows of seating under the balcony were all that survived. The roof collapsed during the night, the proscenium
arch failed, the stage was ruined and the amazing pipe organ demolished. The owner at the time considered rebuilding as entirely apartments or hotel, but decided to rebuild as a theatre. Within six months it was rebuilt. The reopening was a huge affair with the street being closed to handle the crowds, bands playing, and telegrams from Hollywood celebrities including Katherine Hepburn, W.C. Fields, Mae West, and Bette Davis [iv].
Today, after extensive renovations from 2008 through 2012, it houses 14 apartment units, retail shopping, and again operates a theatre for live performances.[v] The next live show scheduled at the Babcock is D. L. Hughley[vi], stand-up comedian, the original host of “Comic View”, and the eponymous character of The Hughleys.
Ninety years after Donna Darling and Company performed, comedy is still alive at the Babcock.
Find a better quality image of The Billings
Gazette, 18 May 1924, Page 16.
Note: This post was reformatted on 27 April 2018.
[i] The Billings Gazette (Billings, Montana) 17 May 1924, Sat • Page 3 – Advertisement: Babcock Theatre – “Donna Darling and Company “ Source: Newspapers.Com, et al. [ii] The Billings Gazette (Billings, Montana) 18 May 1924, Sun • Page 16 – Feature Vaudeville_Act. Source: Newspapers.Com, et al. [iii] United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Registration Form – Babcock Theatre Building – Page 13: http://www.nps.gov/nr/feature/places/pdfs/13000153.pdf [iv] United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Registration Form – Babcock Theatre Building – Page 22: http://www.nps.gov/nr/feature/places/pdfs/13000153.pdf [v] Wikipedia: Billings, Montana; the historic Babcock Theater http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billings,_Montana [vi] Babcock Theater website – http://www.babcocktheater.com/
When Donna joined the “Chin Chin” company, the company had been on the road since August, 1818, sixty-five weeks. The show had played from San Diego to San Francisco. It came to Decatur, Illinois, in October, 1919, and was the starting place to again cross the country, this time on a northern route to Seattle, Portland, and other cities in the Northwest.
After the Decatur performance many of chorus girls left the company to go home for a vacation. New girls joined the company there and rehearsed between shows and were to go on with the principals for the trip west once more. There was one new principle with them, the woman who sang the part of the “Goddess of the Lamp.” That new principal was Donna Montran.
The Decatur Review had an interesting note about the demands that the show put on its company. It said
NO SIX HOUR DAY HERE.
“Coal miners who think that six hours a day, five days a week, constitute a week’s work should travel with one of these transcontinental companies, which make long jumps to make one and two night stands.
“The company, which played here played at Hannibal, Mo. Wednesday, left that place Thursday morning at 5 o’clock, reached Decatur between 11 and 12 o’clock, played a matinee from 3 until 5:30 and another full performance that evening.”
According to the Decatur Review on October 31st, Chin Chin taxed the capacity of the Lincoln Square Theater. They also say:
PLEASE 2,600 PERSONS
“Donna Montran, who only recently joined the company as the leading soprano as the Goddess of the Lamp, lacked volume but the performance as a whole please the 2,600 people who saw it.
“The dancing was unusually good, the chorus well trained and the fifty-five people in the company were exceedingly well costumed.”
Lincoln Square Theater
In 1860, the Priest Hotel was built on the site, which some say was an ancient burial ground. The hotel’s name changed to the New Deming in 1880. It again changed name in 1892 to the “Decatur and Arcade Hotel.” The hotel burned in 1904. The hotel was rebuilt, but in 1915 it burned again. Two people were confirmed to have died in the second fire and several other people were missing, their bodies having never been found.
After the 1915 fire, the site was rebuilt, this time into the Lincoln Square Theater. It was built with a fireproof intent using steel, cement, and fireproof brick. The theater hosted many celebrities of the time including Houdini and Ethel Barrymore. Jack Dempsey appeared there in the September before Donna and the Chin Chin company was there in October.
Since the 1930s the theater has been considered haunted.
The theater had a difficult time during the heyday of motion pictures and closed after December 1980, except for an occasional music show. It closed completely in 1990.
However, also in 1990, Lincoln Square Theater, Inc., was established to determine the viability of saving the structure. Studies of the building found it to be sound and activities were undertaken to renovate and restore the facility. Several donations helped stabilize the building in the 1990s and in 2004, a $1.75M grant for restoration was received. Restoration began in 2005 and is currently ongoing.
Despite the renovation and restoration the Lincoln Square Theater is still considered to be one of the most haunted theaters in the country. Troy Taylor has a regular tour of haunted places in Decatur which includes the Lincoln Square Theater. See http://www.haunteddecatur.com/ for details of his tours.
On December 24th, 1919, Donna joined 139 other people in wishing Roehm and Richards a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year via an ad taken out in the New York Clipper. They all hoped that Health and Prosperity will be with them always.
New York Clipper – 24 December 1919
My thanks to Fulton History
I wish all my friends and blog readers a Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with health, prosperity, and happiness.
Once again, I would like to thank the wonderful folks at the History Colorado Center. They were able to do a lookup for me that proves that the “Chin Chin” show was in Fort Collins on November 20th, 1919. So, I was able to backfill another date for Donna and the “Chin Chin” show during November 1919.
It appears that the hype for the show began on 16 November with an announcement in the Fort Collins Express, which said:
TO THE GENERAL PUBLIC FOR THE FIRST TIME IN TEN OR MORE YEARS CHARLES DILLINGHAM OF THE NEW YORK HIPPODROME GLOBE THEATRE PRODUCER OF “JACK O’ LANTERN” WITH FRED STONE “THE CANARY”with JULIA SANDERSON and JOE CAWTHORN “HIP HIP HOORAY” “EVERYTHING” ETC., ETC., ETC. FAVORS OUR CITY AGAIN WITH ONE OF HIS RICH AND GIGANTIC PRODUCTiONS.
IT IS THEREFORE WITH A GREAT DEAL OF PLEASURE AND IN FACT PRIDE THAT I ANNOUNCE THE COMING OF HIS GREATEST MUSICAL COMEDY SUCCESS “CHIN CHIN”
with WALTER WILLS and ROY BINDER IN THE LEAD A COMPANY OF 65 FORTY GIRLS 35 MEN BACK OF SCENES AND THE FAMOUS CLOWN SAXOPHONE BAND.
M. C. GERHART
One Night Only
Thursday November …. 20TH
That announcement was followed with typical “Chin Chin” display ads on the 19th and the 20th. They were unable to find anything else about the show, but I did find Herbert Lloyd’s Vaudeville Guide (1919 edition), which much information regarding the venue.
The Empress Theatre
The theatre was built in 1907 as the Orpheum Theater and was located at 161 North College, Fort Collins, Colorado. It changed name to the Empress Theater during an ownership change in 1914. The new owners, G. W. Thompson and H. F. Beier, intended the theater to play only the best road shows. Because women and children formed a large part of the patronage the theater provided for baby carriages and offered no offensive shows.
The theater’s seating capacity was 799; it had a small proscenium, only 27 feet wide, which framed a 28 foot deep stage.
It is unclear when the theater began silent movies, probably before “Chin Chin” played there. In 1920, it showed a locally filmed movie, “The Girl From Fort Collins.” In 1929 it entered the era of talkies and ran “the Jazz Singer.”
The building appears to have been completely renovated. For many years it was a barbecue restaurant known as Nordy’s BBQ. Today it is Hodi’s Half Note.
Donna’s next stop with the company of Chin Chin was in Boise, Idaho on December 4th to the 7th. The Idaho Statesman ran many agent supplied articles and advertising for the show. Articles began in the “What Boise Theatre Managers Say About Coming Attractions” on November 23rd. It begins with a photo of the Famous Clown Band and continues with a short article.
“To Walter Wills and Roy Binder are are entrusted the principal parts, supported by a company of clever comedians and a beautiful chorus, In their songs. “The Chinese Honeymoon,” “Go Gar Sig Gong-Jue” and “Temple Bells,” the two clever comedians, Wills and Binder, make a decided hit and are always recalled again and again. In this charming fantasy with a Chinese atmosphere there are also a score of other songs that are the fascinating, whistling kind, and several unique dances that carry the snappy comedy along delightfully.
In the November 27th paper we learn that Ethel Lawrence plays, “Violet Bond,” the rich American girl.
mn ad. The ad reminds us of just how big the show was, particularly for a road show. At the Pinney Theater, Boise, this was “the biggest show in years.” The show had “two car loads of scenery.” We need to remember in 1919 they were referring to railroad cars. The company was huge, 65, including 40 girls. Repeat 40 girls and 35 men back of the scenes. I don’t know if they just couldn’t count or what, because 40 plus 35 is 75 in my world. We knew there was a circus in the show with a horse that Mademoiselle Fallofski tried to ride. We also learn of a ventriloquist show. A list of some of the songs in the production is also included.
Good-bye Girls I’m Through
The Pekin Patrol
The Chinese Honeymoon
We are reminded that ticket prices were low, from $.50 to $2.00, there was a whopping 10% war tax added to the ticket sales.
War Tax (aside)
World War I economics were staggering. Federal Expenditures increased from 1.3 billion in 1916 to almost 16 billion, over 1000%, in two years. (1) To pay for the war the government enacted many new taxes. I think that calling it a “war tax” was really good. I wish taxes today were as clear. Certainly, we know how much our social security and medicare taxes are, but everything else is sort lost in the general economy. I wonder if we had a “war tax” today, would we have quite so many wars.
Back to the Show
On page 10 there was an interesting picture of Marie Cavanaugh and Margie Taylor, whom we haven’t see mentioned in advertising before.
Because of the grainy nature of the image I could find, I just can’t tell exactly what they are doing. I have been unable to find a higher quality photo of it elsewhere. It would be interesting to find a better photograph of them in this role.
The text elsewhere on the same page let us know:
“Not for years has there been such a riot of artistically harmonized, faultlessly blended color upon any stage as Charles Dillingham’s production of ‘Chin Chin,” coming to the Pinney four days, December 4, 5, 6 and 7, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“A flash of burnt orange trailing off into crimson, and we have a tea shop in Pekin. A splendor of apple-green, bronze-green, dull blues and bright blues, and a Chinese Bazaar filled with quaint toys and curious idol images, swings into view. A shimmer of moonlight on porcelain walls and among cherry branches at bloom-time and a place terrace rises slowly into sight. Presto! and we are on the outside of the dressing-tent of a great circus. All flapping canvases and posters of gaudy hue. Presto! and we smell the sawdust. A beam from Aladdin’s ‘lamp’ and all is romance again, the romances of trees and flowers and vistas of a park.
“Nor does the shifting scene contain all there is of color. There are costumes of every primary tint and every pastel shade, flaunting vermillions, lurid yellows, vitreous greens, great splashes of purple, subtle lengths and ripples of pink and azure and violet — an iridescence, a play of pigments that astonishes the eye.
“The vibrations of sound, too, are no less vivid. The tinkle of bells, the blare of horns, the fanfare of trumpets, the bravura of the orchestra, the melody of the singing voice. Sounds musical and sound unmusical, rhythmic sounds and sounds that confuse the ear, sounds sweet, dulcet, silver-toned symphonies, and sounds harsh, croaking, discordant — the who marching, waltzing, syncopating as such sound will, a musical babel of humor and delight — such is ‘Chin Chin.’”
“Chin Chin” dancers at the American Legion
The Idaho Statesman has an interesting article on page 8 of the December 2nd paper. We knew from other papers that the Chin Chin group played in Twin Falls, Idaho on December 1st. We don’t know where the company was on December 2nd. But, on December 3rd, part of the show was 20 miles west of Boise in Nampa, ID. The Joseph Murray Post of the American Legion, which was 70 members strong, put on a smoker (boxing match) that also included, “vaudeville from the Orpheum circuit, and dancing by the girls playing in Chin Chin.” We don’t know if Donna was with that group, but I would like to think she supported the Legion and their promotional activities. Another article, this time published on December 5th, indicated that the program was a success with approximately 200 returned soldiers, sailors and marines attending.
The newspaper had a very interesting release on December 4th.
“In the chorus of “Chin Chin,” to be seen at the Pinney on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, there are 30 girls. More than two-thirds of these girls have never been seen either here or in New York.
“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, where 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 Charles Dillingham believes that he has secured a unique chorus, well chosen for voice and beauty, the engagements being unprejudiced by any personal reasons.
Review mentions Donna
A very positive review published on December 5th regarding of “Chin Chin” says that,
“The conventional leads of the show were eclipsed by the specialities. Donna Montran, the good fairy who appears when Aladdin’s lamp is rubbed, has the best voice in the company.”
Way to go Donna!
There is an interesting note in the Society pages on December 14th. Under “Burley” it mentions that:
“Mrs. C. A. Sunderlin has been much entertained during the last two weeks. Mr. and Mrs. S. Grover Rich have a dinner, followed by a box party for ‘Chin Chin,’ Tuesday [which would be 12/9/1919], in honor of the Sunderlins.”
From that note, it appears that “Chin Chin” may have played in Burley on the 9th. I was able to find the Burley newspapers from that period are available via interlibrary loan. I’ve ordered it and will see what it show. This is important because I am not finding the Chin Chin show anywhere until into February 1920.
The Pinney Theater
In 1892, James A. Pinney build the Columbia Theatre. In 1908 the Pinney theater was built on the same site. It was an ornate theatre designed for stage. In the 1920s it began the shift to primarily movies. On February 20th, 1940 they hosted the world premiere of “Northwest Passage” which was filmed at McCall, Idaho, which is about 100 miles north of Boise.
The Pinney was demolished in 1969 and is a parking lot today.