Donna Montran and “Chin Chin” play at the Oil City Opera House in Oil City, Pennsylvania on 15 March 1920
We know that “Chin-Chin” played at the Franklin Opera House in Franklin, PA, on March 12th. Certainly, the troupe played somewhere Saturday and Sunday, the 13th and 14th, but I have not discovered where—Yet.
Preshow Advertising appears to have begun on March 10th with a standard “Announcement to the Public” about the show coming. The same announcement ran on March 11th. There was also an “Amusements Ad” which spoke about Charles Dillingham and his previous successes and about some of the music in the show. That ad ran again on March 12th. There is no mention of Donna nor her role in the show.[i]
On the 12th ran a common “girls ad” for the show (See above.) and on the 13th a different advertisement ran. There was no Sunday paper for the News-Herald. The show may have sold out before Monday the 15th because there were no ads in the Monday paper.
I have not found any reviews or post-show information on this presentation.
Oil City Opera House
The Oil City Opera House is one of the few theaters that do not appear to have made the transition into film. It is not listed in any of the theater guides I have found. The Julius Cahn Gus Hill Theatrical Guide for 1913-1914 reports that the Oil City Opera House seated 1,023 people – 389 on the lower floor, 302 in the Balcony, 300 in the Gallery, and 32 in the box seats. The stage was 32 ¼ x 24 feet.[ii]
The Julius Cahn guild mentions that there were two newspapers, in Oil City, first the Blizzard with a circulation of 3,000 and the “Derrick” with a circulation of 6,075. I have not found either of them available online. The newspaper articles and advertising I have found are from the “News-Herald” in Franklin, PA, which is about 8 miles away.
The Oil City Opera House was first built in 1872 at the head of Center street. It burned in February 1884. In the summer of 1885, several businessmen purchased the site and began construction of a new opera house. The site again burned during the 1890s.[iii] I’m not sure what would be considered “the head of Center Street.” But based on my guess, today it currently appears to be the site of an old (1940s?), abandoned bank building and a parking lot.
[i] The News-Herald (Franklin, Pennsylvania) · Wed, Mar 10, 1920, · Page 10, via Newspapers.com. [ii] The Julius Cahn Gus Hill Theatrical Guide for 1913-1914, Page 589. [iii] Babcock, Charles A. 1919. Venango County, Pennsylvania: her pioneers and people. Volume I. Via Google Books – https://goo.gl/3Mx8na
Donna Montran and “Chin Chin” play the Carlisle Opera House on 23 April 1920
Finishing their one-night show On April 22nd at the Frederick City Opera House, the cast and crew of “Chin Chin” packed up and rolled the 65 miles north to Carlisle, PA for the show the next night at the Carlisle Opera House.
Pre-show advertising on April 17th indicates, “there is no leading lady in this organization, although a number of beautiful women, principals and otherwise, song birds and actresses are in the cast. It appears that she who is to enjoy the place of honor as first favorite is left to the choice of the public.”[i]
However, two days later there was an advertising article which called out Donna specifically – “Miss Donna Montran as the goddess of the lamp sings some pleasing songs and has a very attractive personality.”[ii]
The show appears to have gone on without a hitch, and the show packed up and headed east to Reading for a show the next night.
Carlisle Opera House
Carlisle is the county seat of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. Currently a small town of about 20,000, in 1920 the borough’s population was about 11,000. The theatre is said to have seated over 1000 people; however, the stage size was relatively small. The proscenium opening was only 26 feet wide and 20 feet high.[iii]
It is unclear to me when the Carlisle Opera House was built; however, it was certainly in operation before 1888, when the Dickenson College Glee Club sang there.[iv]
In 1898, the Carlisle Opera House building in Carlisle housed a barber shop, billiard room. and bowling alley on the ground level, with the opera house on the second floor, and Masonic meeting rooms on the third floor.”[v]
It appears to have been closed sometime between 1955 and 1959 as it was opened on May 9, 1959, for a presentation of “Hansel and Gretel” put on by the students of Dickinson College.[vi]
The building was destroyed by fire in August 1972 in a fire that killed two people.[vii]
I have long known that “Chin Chin” played on 20 March 1920 at the Laird Opera House – in Greenville, PA and that they played at the Sandusky Theatre in Sandusky, OH on April 5th, but the 16 days between was a mystery until I searched Genealogy Bank. I now have one more date and location for Donna’s vaudeville career — The Grand Opera House in Canton, Ohio.
The first advertising I see for “Chin Chin” appears to have been on March 26th where there was a small notice of booking and a small advertisement for the show.
The Sunday, March 28th edition of the Sunday Repository, has ads and articles on several pages. On page 31 is there is an article:
Musical Melange With Dancing And Comedy Head Theater Bill
That includes a photo of “Tom Brown’s Clown Saxaphone Band” and a short paragraph which reads;
“Chin Chin,” in which Cantonians saw Doyne and Dixon several years ago, probably is like no other stage production ever conceived. It is just as coherent as its name and it is full of surprises for the beholder. One unusual stage feature follows another rapidly, while pretty girls and catchy music are plentifully interspersed.
That paragraph is followed up with a major article (7 paragraphs) elsewhere on the page titled: “CHIN CHIN” WILL SHOW AT GRAND.” The article doesn’t provide any new information but does highlight many of the acts and songs. There is also a substantial ad on page 45.
Over the ensuing days there were several other short articles and advertisements; however, after the show ran, an article after the show (April 2) had a great write-up. Under the headline,
LARGE AUDIENCE SEES MUSICAL COMEDY AT GRAND THURSDAY
“Chin Chin” Is Presented Here For Second Time—Comedians, Clown Band And Chorus Score Principal Hits of Big Production
The fourth and last paragraph of the article reads, “The best dance of the evening was presented by Wills and Irene McKay, a diminutive lass, whom Wills was able to whirl about as he pleased. Wills’ next best number was an imitation of a famous pianist. Donna Montran made a beautiful “goddess of the lamp. Starr Dunham did some fair work as a dancer. The chorus was provided with various costumes of unique design.”[i]
Donna was a beautiful woman.
Grand Opera House, Canton, Ohio
The Grand Opera House opened on 30 October 1890. Oscar Cobb, who designed more than 300 opera houses, designed the Grand.[ii]
Different sources provide different Seating capacities from 1,000 to $1,400 over the years. I use 1,218 as my preferred capacity: Floor, 550; Balcony, 320; Gallery, 300; Boxes, 48.[iii] It had a 36×28 foot stage.
In 1920, the Thomas Waltenbaugh managed the Grand Opera House. The Grand had already begun showing movies by 1920. The week that “Chin Chin” played at the theater, the silent film, “Mary’s Ankle” starring Douglas MacLean and Doris May showed every other day that week. It appears that by April of 1920, the theater was still trying to bring in high-class live shows, but when they couldn’t, they showed silent films. Like so many of the grand theaters of the time, the Grand began a slow decline as it showed movies and presented burlesque shows. Bethel Tabernacle bought the Grand Opera House in 1946.
What Donna and the “Chin Chin” case would have seen – a full house.
Grand Opera House, Canton, Ohio
Source: The Internet – Joseph N. Rubin Productions
[Personal Note: I was originally going to subscribe to Newspaper Archives and see what more I could find about Donna and her career. I had all kinds of problems. I had an account with them several years ago and tried to login with my old account. It told me I couldn’t log in so I requested a password reset. I reset my password then tried to log in again. Again no luck. Then I tried to just subscribe. It said I couldn’t use the email address that I had before. So, I tried calling them. On hold…. On hold…. On hold…. Then I was told to leave a message, I did letting them know that I wanted to renew my subscription. Never got a call back. Tried calling again. On hold… On hold… Finally, I gave up. I can only imagine how frustrated I’d be if I were trying to cancel a subscription and received the same lack of service. Anyway, I decided to renew my long expired account with Genealogy Bank. Worked like a charm. I then took a look and found “Chin Chin” playing at the Grand Opera House in Canton, Ohio on 1 April 1920.]
[i] “Repository” (Newspaper) (Canton, Ohio) – 2 April 1920 – Page 14 via Genealogy Bank. Emphasis mine. [ii] Web: Joseph N. Rubin Productions – Grand Opera House – https://sites.google.com/site/josephnrubin/grandoperahouse – Accessed 3 September 2016. [iii] The Cahn-Leighton Official Theatrical Guide 1913-1914 – Page 510 – via Google.
It had been a busy week. We now know “Chin Chin” played at the Park Theatre in Youngstown on Thursday[i] and the Victoria Theatre in Steubenville on Friday. It was back to the train and headed west about an hour to New Philadelphia for a one-night show at the Union Opera House on Saturday, April 10th.
The initial notice for the show appeared in The Daily Times (New Philadelphia) on April 3, 1920, which was the Saturday before the Saturday show. The Daily Times was the major newspaper of the area with a circulation of 2,575 per the Julius Cahn Theatrical Guide of 1914. Advertising during the subsequent days let folks know many of the particulars of the show, including two car loads of scenery, seven sets, indoor circus, and, of course, the Clown Saxophone Band would be there. Besides the stars, Walter Wills and Roy Binder, Ethel Lawrence and George Usher are mentioned in articles.
On April 8th, the Daily Times did run a photo showing 16 of “Chin Chinners.” I don’t see Donna in this group, but with 65 women in the show that is understandable.
The show itself appears to have gone off without a hitch. According to the “Daily Times” of April 12th, the show had the “biggest crowd of the season.” However, across the street, three men robbed the Union Restaurant at gunpoint during the show. I’ll bet that disrupted theatregoers from having a bite after the show. Three gunmen — $19.00 taken. They apparently didn’t know what they were doing as they left $40 in silver in the cash register and just took the folding money.
The Hotel Reeves (New Philadelphia, OH)
Crop of card00072_fr.
Source: Card Cow
I have not been successful determining the exact location of the Union Opera House. Some articles indicate that it was “near the courthouse.” A review of the 1921 City Directory for New Philadelphia indicates that it was “at rear of Hotel Reeves Building.” That same directory indicates that the Hotel Reeves was at 133-135 North Broadway[ii], which seems to be where the county courthouse is.
The Union Opera House had a capacity of 1,057 – 502 on the main floor, 230 in the balcony, 300 in the gallery, and 24 in box seats. The US Census indicates that the population of New Philadelphia, OH was 10,718,[iii] so the venue could hold nearly 10% of the population of the city. However, the city of Dover is adjacent to New Philadelphia and contributed another 8,000 to the population.
The Union Opera House was probably built in 1863[iv].
The Union Opera House was destroyed by fire in November 1893. Rebuild date is not known.
The Union Opera House operated until at least 1940.[v]
I have contacted the Tuscarawas Historical Society regarding information about the Union Opera House (Theatre) regarding the history and the disposition of the theatre.
According to the Julius Cahn Theatrical Guide, there were four newspapers associated New Philadelphia at the time; the “Times,” “Tribune,” the “Democrat,” and the “Reporter” (at Canal Dover). I have been unable to find copies of those papers. Find sources for the three papers and see if they have any articles regarding the show.
“Chin Chin” at the Victoria Theatre, Steubenville, Ohio
By Don Taylor
We know that Chin Chin played on April 5 at the Sandusky Theatre in Sandusky, OH on April 5th and played at the Faurot Opera House in Lima, OH on April 6th. We don’t know if the show was on holiday Wednesday and Thursday, or not, but they resumed playing Friday, April 9th at the Victoria Theatre.
The Steubenville Herald-Star began speaking about the coming attraction on April 3 in their “AT THE THEATRE” Column on Page 5. They wrote:
Melodious, artistic and diverting is “Chin Chin”, scheduled for the Victoria theatre Friday night, April 9th. To Walter Wills and Roy Binder 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.[i][ii]
On April 4th was one of the most interesting articles about the show “Chin Chin” I have come across. Sadly, parts of the article are not legible, but what is readable in my version is fascinating. It said:
AT THE THEATRE
The Importance of Women Choristers in “Chin Chin”
It was not the custom for women to appear publicly in the theatres of Europe either on stage or in the auditorium until many years after the death of William Shakespeare. The women who did venture to the theatre always were masked. Most of Shakespeare’s heroines were acted in his days by boys. There are no records of women acting on the English stage until after the Restoration, when the floodgates of licenses were let down ________________ of owmen choristers in opera is of comparative recent ________ tribute in such entertainments as those which managers like Mr. Charles Dillingham presents __ which “Chin Chin” to be offered at the Victoria Theatre Friday night, April 9 is a notable example.
The bare thought of only a male chorus of twenty-four voices in “Chin Chin”, no matter how attractive these voices might be, would be likely to have a very disastrous effect upon the box office receipts. Undoubtedly audiences of today would not be so easily satisfied as were the ancient Greek audiences, truthfully speaking it is the great number of really youthful and vivacious girls that prove the biggest drawing card for the most interesting of Musical Comedies “Chin Chin” Order seats now.[iii]
I agree that having fifty plus attractive women added to the success of “Chin Chin” at the box office and have seen advertising articles highlighting that fact before, but I had never seen anyone tie it to Shakespeare and Greek plays before.
Again, on April 7th, the Steubenville Herald-Star newspaper had another article on page three. I can’t tell if it is fact or show business fiction nor if it gives insight into the life of Walter Wills or only insight into the culture of the time, but it is an interesting story.
AT THE THEATRE “Chin Chin” at the Victoria Theatre….
Walter Wills and Roy Binder in this fantasy have become a couple of Chinamen who have more or less thrilling adventures in the pursit of the Lam which brought to its possessor all manner of happiness.
Both of the comedians have studied closely in the mannerisms and idiosyncrasies of Chines personality, and one of them had least has a more than casual acquaintance with the Chinese Language.
Wills once had a Chinese Servant from whom he picked up a great deal of useful knowledge. Wills is very fond of fruit, of which he was in the habit of eating a quantity every evening. One day he happened to say to his servant that he was not feeling very well. The Chinaman grumbled and then said, “You eat too much fruit—makes belly ache!” Wills took the tip and cut down on his fruit allowance….[iv]
For those of you who follow my Blog, I normally have a short history of the theater. I have about a half a dozen sources I typically go to find information including Julius Cahn Theatrical Reports and several “go to” websites such as Cinema Treasures. But, in the case of the Victoria Theatre in Steubenville I found virtually nothing. I even messaged the Jefferson County Historical Society asking about the theatre but received no response from them.
I know the theater existed in 1919, 1920, and 1921, but I know nothing more. Not when it was built, not its size, not is current status. If I learn more, I will post it. If you know more about the Victoria Theatre in Steubenville, please add it to the comments below. Thank you.
Keep researching to determine if “Chin Chin” played on April 7th or 8th 1920.
Learn more about the Victoria Theatre of Steubenville, Ohio.
[i] Note: This newspaper has an unusually high number of errors. For the sake of readability, I have corrected most of the spelling and typesetter errors rather than creating a verbatim transcript. [ii] Steubenville Herald-Star – Steubenville, Ohio – Apr 3 1920 – Chin Chin – via NewspaperArchive.com [iii] Steubenville Herald-Star April 5, 1920, Page 3 via Find-my-Past. [iv] Steubenville Herald-Star – Steubenville, Ohio – Apr 7 1920 – Page 3 – NewspaperArchive.com