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A history of burlesque (Volume 1939 14) online

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will walk on a single rope, with his head and
body in a bag,"

"The whole v/111 conclude with a terrific
ascension on a single rope, by Miss Chiarini
and Mr. Chiarini, Mr, Chiarini carrying a man
on his shoulders,"

The Bulletin for April 24,1861 announced the elab-
orate plans of the troupe for their toxir v/ithin the state and
up the coast:

"The Martinetti Troupe have prepared a large and
handsome tent, with a movable stage and suit-
able scenery and apparatus, v/ith which they
plan to travel all over this State and Oregon,
and perhaps go as far north as the British Pos-

"Before leaving for the interior they will give
four performances in this city, within the tent,
which will be erected on the large vacant lot
adjoining the International Hotel on Jackson
Street. This tent will hold 1,000 persons, and
the interior, including the stage, scenery and
properties, v;ill be of a comfortable and at-
tractive character,..."

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Burlesque 103

The critic of the Bulletin was not particularly

happy about the Martinettl experiment with a tent. He wrote

on April 27, 1861:

"A niAmeroua attendance was present in the Mar-
tinettl Pavilion, last night, when the first
public performance vms given within it by the
gymnast and ballet troupo who had so long held
possession of the Opera House. The Pavilion '
is a very neat structure of the kind, and
everything is managed as well as could be ex-
pected in such a place. Yet it is but a tent
after all, where the feet rest on sawdust and
darrp earth, and the air is filled with tobacco
smoLe. In such a den, posturing and horse-drama
are at home; but not the so-called High Art of
French ballet-dancing, at least, after having
been so long used to it in a comfortable and
beautiful theatre. However, there is a magic
in sawdust for many people. There will be a
performance this evening."

On November 22, 1866 an announcement on the front
page of the Bulletin establishes the retvirn of the Marti-
nettis from a long engagement in the East. The v±iolo com-
pany is listed,

Martlnetti Ravel Troupe I
From Niblo's Garden, New York.

In Order to Make the Performance Complete, the
Management Have Engaged the Howson Opera Troupe.

Messrs. Jullen and Philippe Martlnetti, Direc-
tors of the company and principal Com-ic Ar-

Madame Marzotti, Premiere Danseuse.

Madame Desiree Mathew, Premiere Danseuse, Deml-

Mile.. Julie^ Lehman, Mime et Danseuse,
Madame Therese Schmidt, Danseuse,
Madame Julie Martlnetti, Madame Lehman and

Madame Greuet Buislay, Coryphees.

^^i esjptoituQ

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Burlesque 2.04

Twelve Ladies of the Ballet.

M, Paul Martinetti, Harlequin and Premier

M, Greuet Buislay, Professor of Gymnastics.
M. Lehman, Scenic Artist and Pantomimist.
M, August Lehman, Pole Marque, Master Albert

and Le Petit Ignacio.

The troupe called forth a great deal of enthusiasm

in the Bulletin the following day. April 23, 1867:

"This house (the Metropolitan Theatre) was
crowded to overflowing last night to witness
the first performance of the Martinetti Troupe,
All the sitting and most of the standing room
was occupied, and many went av/ay unable to gain
admittance. The gallery gods were out in their
strength, and reveled between the piece in a
deafening chorus of shrieks, yells, laughter,
and whistling,,., The ballet of The Contraban' -
dista introduced the Mar tine ttis. The audience
recognised their old favorites in the troupe
with enthusiastic shouts. The piece is entirely
pantomime v/ith only one ballet scene. The
pantorairae was admirable. Philippe Martinetti
as the smuggler chief and Julien Martinetti aa
the comical 'Plpi' were particularly good. The
latter kept the audience in a roar of laughter,
Mesdaraes Mathieu, Marzetti, and Lehman were ex-
cellent in pantomime and ballet. The tableaux
in the last scene v;ere strikingly effective.
The concluding performance was The Green Mon -
ster , rendered famous by the RaveTsI With the
exception of one or two hitches in the machin-
ery, which can be avoided on another represen-
tation, the amusing transformations, magical
tricks, and scenic display, which make up the
chief merits of the piece, were done as well
as we ever sav/ them. The tournament tableau
and the scene of the combat afterwards were
capital, Julien Martinetti, as the 'V^'hite
Knight' was vastly funny, and Paul Martinetti,
as the Harlequin v/as lithe and graceful. The
sword play between these two was quite bril-
liant in its way. Philippe Martinetti as
•Chevalier G. Grand' was superb, and his solo
on the ophicleide was full of expression.
Julien' s affectation of the Carnival of Venice
on the Bass viol was a nice touch of the comic.
The effect of the performances throughout was
largely assisted by the excellent orchestration,
under IVlr. Schultz."

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Burlesque 105

A month later the Martlnettis were undisputed

"tops" in the town's entertainment;

Bulletin for December 1, 1866:

"Despite the unpropitious weather, the Marti-
net ti Troupe were greeted by a largo and
fashionable house last evening. Vie cannot say
much in favor of the vaudeville by the Howson

"The divertissement entitled Le Diable k Quatre
was so good that we wished it wore twice as
long. The ballet was in admirable training,
the dancing excellent, and the general effect
pleasing. The pantomime entitled Mons. Dechal -
ameau , with v^ich tho performance was concluded,
was exquisitely amusing. The piece is one of
the best of its class, abounding in the drollest
situations and the most lau.ghable incidents.
Julien Martinet ti as the blundering servant, a
sort of French 'Handy Andy' proved himself to
be a master of his art, and kept the audience
in perpet\;al roars of laughter."

After a very successful run of the pantomime The
Golden Egg (see page 101 for press quotation), the Martl-
nettis continued their upward curve of success with The Con -
trabandist ;

Bxilletin for December 24, 1866:
"The beautiful ballet of the Contrabandist , by
far the best yet presented by the Martlnettis,
pleased everyone .

" Jocko v/as a success. Paul Martinettl was a
most amusing ape - lf wo can apply that terra to
a creature that would have puzzled Buffon and
Cuvler to have classified. Jocko in truth bore
more resemblance to what might have been tho
lost link between the simae and man than any
known animal, but his principal object being to
make ftin, which he did most delightfully — he
satisfied his audience. The pantomime is well
acted throughout, and is one of the most at-
tractive performances of the troupe,,.."



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Burlesque 106

Another new piece received as imich attention as

The Contrabandist :

Bulletin for January 7, 1867:

" Mazulirf was repeated on Saturday afternoon and
evening— some delays when the graveyard is
changed into a ball-room. The latter piece is
apt to retain a lingering flavor of mortality,
and some of the tombstones don't know exactly
when to disappear. The 'fair' is cleverly rep-
resented and throughout the pantomime, comic
element is strong. Burlesque incidents and
ludicrous situations succeed each other rapidly
and render I^tazulm fully as popular as its
predecessors. • . ."

On January 18, 1867, the Bulletin made a few

generalizations :

"The Martinettis are not only clever artists
but shrewd managers. They Imow with almost un-
erring instinct ivhat the public wants and in
vrhat shape they prefer to have it served. Their
pantomime and lighter pieces have been uniform-
ly successful because they v/ere artistically
gotten up, pleasing to the eye and ear and not
tediously long. Tonight they produce a fresh
novelty, entitled Italian Brigands , consisting
of a series of ill\irainated Tableaux, in which
the principal members of the troupe will
appear, with new music, costumes, etc. The
pleasing dramatic ballet will bo given."

By February 1, several other "fresh" novelties had

been displayed and with the same infallible appeal. On this

date, the Bulletin is reporting the second performance of

La Vivandiere :

"The ballet of La Vivandi'ere delighted all; the
flying trapeze act' by Paul Martinetti was as
daring as it v/as graceful. Soldie r s for LQve
'brought down the house.' Philippe Martinetti,
who is equxilly happy in comic and serious parts
was very funny as the 'thick-witted Jobard'j
v;hile Julien Martinetti acted the 'Jailer' ex-
ceedingly well. Paul Martinetti made a very

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Burlesque 107

enticing young lover, but v/e would have liked
him better if he had not made quite so serious
a business of it...,"

Following 1867, the longest return engagement of
the Martinet tis occurred in 1369. On June 21, 1869 the Bulle -
tin announced;

"Tonight Johnny Mack's new spectacular local
extravaganza. Little Boy Blue will be pro-
duced, with Miss Sue Robinson and Paul Mar-
tinetti superadded."

The rest of the Martinettis were evidently not in
the show, but the account of the opening night, in the Bulle -
tin for June 22, has a good deal to say about the art of
pantomime as practiced by the French Troupe:

"The great feature of the place (Maguire's
Opera House) last night,., was the new and
spectacular fairy extravaganza of Little Boy
Blue .... In general character the piece is
allied to the famous pantomimes of the Ravel
and Martinetti troupes. Its plot is an apothe-
osis of Mother Goose , who has risen from the
nursery to bo a theme for within (?) P\mch and
for extravagant fun on the stage. Just now
Hickory Diokory Dock furnishes a title for a
dramatic absurdity in Now York, and contempo-
raneously we have The Old Woman ^Vho Lived In
a Shoe furnishing tKe subject of a diverting
pantomime in San Francisco. The 'Little Boy
Blue' is one of the numerous children of the
old woman, and the ruffled current of his love
for a golden-haired blonde is the ostensible
motive of the play, - fair ies,d emends, pantaloons,
clowns, harlequins, and monsters taking a
promiscuous hand and furnishing rapid succession
of magical transformations, laughable mishaps,
and beautiful tableaux. The tricks and changes
are equal in number and skillful execution to
some of the best things of the Ravels... the
fairy scene being actually gorgeous, while the
closing tableau is one of the prettiest ever
presented in the city.


'! rM 'j .

■ J.

Burlesque 108

"The music is a clear adaptation of popular
airs, and the chorus of themes from Mother
Goose is very droll. Many of the Incidents of
the piece are burlesques on the sensation dra-
mas of the day, or satirical hits at local in-
stitutions and bodies. The railroad rescue
scene in Under the Gaslight -^^ is parodied by
Pantaloon lifting the drunken clovm above the
track, which the two bestride, \vhile a Lillipu-
tian train of cars passed \mder their legs.
The old woman of the shoe and her large brood,
the bvirlesque brass band and horse marines in
military procession, the file of old maids
dolefully singing, were all funny featiorea,

"A tiny creature danced the 'Highland Fling' so
prettily as to call down a shower of silver
coins. Sue Robinson riiade a charming Fairy.
Paul Martinet ti sustained his reputation as
Harlequin. ..."

The Bulletin for December 8, 1869 indicated that

the Martinettis were approaching the new decade in undiminished


"Despite the xmpleasant weather, the Metropoli-
tan was nearly" filled on the occasion of the
appearance of the Martinetti troupe last eve-
ning. The performance commenced v/ith the panto-
mime entitled Katie the Vivandiere , which was
prettily produced and admirably played, Madame
Martinetti, Madame Marzettl, and Miss Lehman
doing some astonishing feats of dancing and
posing, winning tiraultuous applause and liberal
flower offerings. This was followed by feats
of strength and agility by the Martinetti
brothers and Mons. Buislay, comprising among
others that of swinging chairs— a feat at once
dangerous and difficult. The entertainment con-
cluded with the Chris traas pantomime of Jack and
Jill, vifhich had been in preparation sometime
and was produced with a degree of splendor sel-
dom equalled on a San Francisco stage. It has
all the grotesqueness and amusing extravagance
and improbability of the traditional pantomime —
with the inevitable occasion of Harlequin and

•55 See Page 91 et seq.


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Burlesque 109

Columbine, of Clown and Pantaloon, It is full
of tricks and transformations of magic and
mystification, of spectacular scenes and sur-
prises. There is the usual melange of fairies
and goblins, of spirits of the earth, the air
and the nether world, with a sufficient sprin-
kling of the h\aman element to make things live-
ly. Some of the scenes are striking} some are
laughable; some are surprising in the efforts
produced. The piece has many elements of pop-
ularity, abovinds in pertinent and impertinent
local hits, has some clever strokes of satire
and can hardly fail to draw. It will be re-
peated tonight."

The production of The Black Crook in 1867 had set
the pattern. With increased exposure of limb and a freshen-
ing-up of the diablerie, this piece bridged the rest of the
century with n\amQrous performances and was still drawing well
in the nineties, Elise Holt, Lydia Thompson, the several com-
petitive companies of British Blondes - all the famous female
stars of burlesque became a part of the Black Crook tradition.
There had been a time when burlesque had the moaning of the
word. From 1870 on, burlesque in America headed definitely
away from its original line. The leg show innovation cleared
the way for the tvro very related faces of twentieth century
burlesque: on the one hand, the glorified, musical revues,
which abhorred the title of burlesque for the wrong reason;
and on the other hand, the strip-tease theatres on the fringe
of the theatrical districts, who adhered to the burlesque ti-
tle, also for the wrong reason.


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Burlesque 110

Two theatrical ventures In New York City in March
1869 forecast the future. The Elise Holt Troupe was appear-
ing in a burlesque called Lucrezia Borgia, or, The Grand Doc -
tress ; Jolin Brougham was appearing as Shylock in the bur-
lesque written by himself and called Much Ado About a Mer -
chant of Venice . Elise Holt, having absorbed theatrical news
about the success of the blonde belles in England and their
plans for an invasion of America, presented her troupe of na-
tive titians, b-runettos, and nondescripts, in golden-haired
uniformity. High silk tights plus peroxide was the touch-
stone of appeal, not the spoken lines of the burlesque. For
Brougham, however, burlesque still signified satirical come-
dy. Much Ado About a Merchant of Venice, v/as the last of his
burlesques to gain any attention. His early success, Poca-
hontas and Columbus , might be revived on the basis of the
sentimental memory of theatregoers, but these same theatre-
goers would take nothing new in the same direction. The new
direction was already monopolized by the parade of the blonde

The Spirit of the Times, New York, for Pvlay 15, 1869,
implied that the new burlesque was something to which
a germicide might be applied:

"The burlesque epidemic has spread to the Pacif-
ic Coast. Ixion rages at Barrett and McCul-
lough's new California Theatre."

Ixion, or The Man at the yJheel , one of the most

popular of the mythological extravaganzas by the Englishman,

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Burlesque •'■^•'■

F, C. Burnand,was produced by a local company and disappeared
rapidly from the press to make way for Elise Holt's advance
publicity. In all the writing of this much-played piece,
the following excerpt is one of the few moments when the
words seem to catch on to a little bit of contemporary


Venus, I've been admiring yo-ur dress.

The artiste's shop whore that was made,
dear, thrives?
VEiniS :

The dressmakers lose by it.


Their lives.

For drawing-room days we put them in a

And then command our dresses in a hurry.

For nights and days to get it done they ply

Their busy needles, stitch, stitch, stitch,
and die.

I'm very sorry.

So am I dear, too.

A good deal of advance publicity for Miss Holt had
been furnished gratis by Olive Logan, reformer* This woman
had stalked across America and up and down the Pacific Coast
predicting darkness for all the bright luminaries of bur-
lesque, and inveighing against a public which was so weak as
to expose itself. On July 17, 1869 the San Francisco News
Letter announced the imminent advent :

"On Monday evening Miss Elise Holt, a burlesque
actress of considerable note will make her
first appearance, in one of Byron's burlesques,
called Lucrezia Borgia , in which Miss Holt is
described as being immense."

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Biirlesque 112

The editorial rooms of the city took violent issue
in the matter. The News Letter immediately anathematized
Elise Holt and all of her kind. The Bulletin tried to main-
tain a dignified disgust, Figaro alone, as uncompromisingly
"but a little late, came to Elise Holt's defense. The Bulletin
lay the ground for the offensive July 20, 1869:

"California Theatre Burlesque rules the hour.
Offenbach warbles to crowded houses, when Bel-
lini cannot get a hearing; Byron (what a profa-
nation of a great name;) crows Shakespeare off
the stage,... We were not surprised, therefore to
find the Theatre crov/ded on the occasion of the
debut of Miss Elise Holt, one of the priestesses
of the burlesque muse, last evening. Miss Holt
belongs to the high blonde order of feminine
beings. It was against her class that Olive
Logan launched her recent diatribes. Some peo-
ple v/ould call her pretty; she is certainly
striking in appearance, but whether pleasantly
or otherwise will depend on the taste of the
individual. She is petite, plump of figure,
has expressive covmtenanoe, is supple of move-
ment, and has an abundance of vivacity of man-

"She is pert, saucy, audacious, and betrays an
emancipation from restraints of modesty....

"Of her costume we will say little, for there is
little of it; her pvirpose evidently being to
typify in her own person the spirit of the
'nude drama,' If her appearance was an offense
to every modest woman in the audience, it told
in her favor with a large class of the male the-
atre-going public, who applauded her.... At any
rate if a theatre cannot be supported without
the aid of such equivocational attractions as
Miss Elise Holt, it had better be closed."

On July 24, the Nevfs Letter followed the Bulletin's
suit with pellmell hysteria:

"This class of people (Elise Holt) is the crea-

Online LibraryEttore RellaA history of burlesque (Volume 1939 14) → online text (page 10 of 29)