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A history of burlesque (Volume 1939 14) online

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for April 3 extends the run of Ixion for another week. The
original production v/as by this time transformed. For the
closing week the Perranti Brothers were engaged to exhibit
their now inexplicable acrobatic art of "leg-mania",* and as
if this were not sufficient stimulation for the public during
the last performances, the advertisement quietly added that
the ballet troupe had worked out a number of intriguing
changes in its routine.

The last burlesque included in the San Francisco
engagement of the Worrells was again an old s tand-by , Black -
Eyed Susan . As climax to the production, the ballet was to
appear in a grand tableau entitled T he Sailor's Dream . Some-
how as a grand climax, no doubt, to the climax, the press vas

-^ Bulletin , March 28, 1876.


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Burlesque 155

further informed that twenty-four young ladies in sailor cos-
tume would appear in a tremendous, centennial parade to the
tune of the "March of the Sixty-ninth." The Bulletin for
April 11 uses this production of Black-Eyed Susan for some
heavy handed generalizations about the state of burlesque:

"The burlesque of Black-Byed Susan is a very
charming arrangement of new and popular songs
and dances with just enough of the story to
flavor the scenes. The company is improving in
burlesque, a fact the less to be rejoiced at,
as this theatre has given us a surfeit of that
kind of amusement. The Black Crook leg drama
which took so vi,^onderfully In New York years ago,
and has had glimpses of success in this city,
is now thoroughly'- distasteful to people of all
classes. Now that decent drama has become a
novelty, especially at this theatre, the people
demand it. Nothing can be more monotonous than
the sai:ie old dreary show of limbs, under one
pretsnse or another, in ballet or burlesque
with all the variations that a fixed purpose to
present a half nude exhibition can suggest.
ViThatever attraction this kind of variety busi-
ness may once have possessed is now worn off by
satiety. There is no possible success in it,
and the so one?.-' the management wakes up to this
fact the better. The most gorgeous scenery,
the most illusory dressing, and the most lan-
guishing daiices, fail to awaken even a passing

With this thorough indictment in their ears, the

Worrell sisters closed their San Francisco engagement.

The fall season of 1876 played safe with the in-
dictment the press had given the "leg- show" burlesque of the
Worrell Sisters; the season was dominated by a M other Goose
pantomime spectacle called Jack and Jill . This of course be-
ing a ro-undabout and apparently unimpeachable way of intro-
ducing the inevitable ballet of chorines.


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Burlesque 156

This was the sort of burlesque that had become ac-
cepted as Cliristmas holiday entertainment and there was some
surprise in to\vn when the show opened in September at the
Grand Opera House. But it was evidently a delightful produc-
tion and the house was crowded through the whole run, Sep-
tember 4 to October 8»

Much was reported of the opening scene. It was the
home of the Ice King: silver costumes and eerily lighted ice
formations. Above the cotton-banked snov/drifts the aurora
borealis played intermittently. And then came the startling
shift, the thrill of spectacle: with the manipulation of
wall panels and cellar traps, with the rise and fall of great
quantities of gauze curtains, the chilling home of the Ice
King had become a friendly, heart warming village protected
by green hills. It was all the idea of William Voegtlin who
was considered the best of scenic designers in San Francisco.
His also was the glorious unreserve of the final transforma-
tion scene in which, by a series of violent scene shifts, the
four seasons pay homage to the sun god. The entire company
then blazed forth in the customary final tableau. The Bul -
letin for September 5, 1876 casts little light on the actual
story thread of the spectacle :

"The pantomime apart from its spectacular fea-
tures, is full of rapid incident, and the part
of the clown was taken with much success byTbny
Denier, the successor of the Great Pox. His
aids were J. M. Sloan as 'Pantaloon,' James Don-
ald as 'Harlequin,' and Miss Annie Reed as 'Col-
umbine.' There is also a ballet and musical
interlude . "


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Burlesque 157

Newspaper notices throughout the rest of the run of
Jack and Jill gradually illvuninate the content of the show.
Again, as with "leg show" burlesque, pantomime seems to have
reached such a disorganized, disconnected state that it ia
almost vaudeville. On September 6 the Bulletin mentions, as
one of the features of the entertainment, "the sorio-comic
songs of little Mimi Midget, a veritable infant phenomenon."
In this same review the Wood Family, "three admirably designed
puppets," were declared to be excessively funny. On Septem-
ber 19 the Bulletin remarks that Jack and Jill "constantly
presents a new face to those who had seen it a little while
before." The changes on the 19th were the appearance of new
comedians, Casslm and Fritz, as harlequin and sprite; and the
introduction into the show of the Royal Prussian Band. On
September 20, 1876 it is announced that "Herr. J. Weiffenbach
will play on sixteen txined harmony dr\ims at once." A new
masterpiece by the artist Voegtlin was the last, crowning
attraction of the show:

"Mr. Voegtlin 's grand tableau descriptive of the
'Battle of Bunker Hill' is one of the finest
effects ever produced on the stage. In some
respects it excels the 'Battle of Agincourt'
tableau which was the principal attraction of
the spectacle of Henry V . The group is designed
to make conspicuous the fall of General
Warren, and the living figures blend so natu-
rally into the canvas that for a moment the
observer is puzzled to decide where one com-
mences and the other ends. The other novelty
of the sixteen drums is simply a novelty and a
curiosity. Miss Annie Reed is rapidly improv-
ing as ' Coltimbine . ' As this young girl has ris-
en from the ranks by her talent and attention



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Burlesque 158

to business, her progress is watched v/ith more
than ordinary Interest. Miss Gertie Granville's
song, 'Robin Tell Kitty,' is sung with admira-
ble expression."^'*

A run of four weeks established Jack and Jill as
the only success of the fall season. The golden rain which
descended upon the final transformation scene, and which the
Bulletin admitted was "one of the finest effects ever pro-
duced on the stage," would no doubt for a long time fall viv-
idly in the memories of most of the theatre-goers in town.
It is fairly certain that, at a time when experience in the
theatre no longer hinged upon the tension and resolution of
a situation or the sudden illumination of the right word, but
upon a progressive series of grand effects, the last effect
of the golden rain would dominate the memories of the Jack
and Jill audience \mtil the still moro golden rain of the
next spectacle obliterated it.

The low estate of burlesque at this time is illus-
trated by the old chain of burlesque titles from which the
entertainment of the year 1877 was suspended: January tried
to make an alluring flash of such skin-and-bone vehicles as
Kenilworth, Chilperic ,and Lucrezia 3orgia ; December confessed
sterility v/ith another revival of The Black Crook . The
few new titles. Patchwork , The Brook , and Our Politics , in
no way propped up the decadent form of burlesque; merely in

-"- Bulletin, September 21, 1876.

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Burlesque 159

fact, induced nostalgia for the old days, the old personali-

The revivals of Kenilworth and Chilperic at the
Grand Opera House served to introduce the Deauclerc Sisters
to San Francisco. Little, evidently, v;as expected of them
according to the Bulletin for January 16, 1877:

"Miss Katy Mayhew's chaste and charming stylo
of burlesque we are all familiar with, hut the
brightness of the Beauclerc Sisters rather took
the audience by surprise*"

Patchwork and The Brook , pre son ted at the Bush Street

Theatre in April and early May, by the Salisbury Troubadours,

were the most definite successes of the year.

"Everybody was waiting for the brilliant piece
of Patchwork . The extravaganza was richer in
business than the Vokes Family's Belles in the
Kitchen , and is acted with wonderful spirit.
'The 'Take You In, ' nursery rhymes are a series
of happy hits and bring down the house, while
the rehearsal of the closet scene in Hamlet
fairly exhausts the audience with laughter."*

" The Brook is even a greater success than Patch -
work. It is one of those fresh, breezy and thor-
oughly bright entertainments that create an at-
mosphere with which the audience is enthused in
spite of themselves. Perhaps the gem of the
evening was Mr. Salisbury's Seven Ages of Man.
It was absolutely a new revelation to those who
are accustomed to hear that choice morsel of
philosophy recited on the stage •"*'^*''"

Our Politics , written by a certain Edward Willett
of St. Louis, opened at the California Theatre, August 13.
Hallelujahs should have resounded in the press for this at-
tempt at serious use of the burlesque form. The Bulletin was
more inclined to react in the following manner:

'"' Bulletin , April 13, 1877.
*^^Ibid. April 30, 1877.

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Burlesque 150

"We cannot v/ish success to such a travesty on
American morals and manners, nor to play-writ-
ers who aim to rise to notice by such means. "■>"■

I'he morals and manners travestied were those of the

United States Senate. Senator ShuiTle, the chief character,

was overdrawn, according to the Bulletin , "in the spirit

which prostitutes truth, propriety, national pride, and

patriotic sentiment to the chance of making a few dollars . "

There is no assurance that Mr. Willett made any money from

the one-week's run of Our Politics in San Prancisco;at least,

his ideas seem to have been intelligently presented:

"The play was remarkably well-performed for a
first representation. Mr. Bishop accepted the
character of 'Senator Shuffle' as drawn in all
its vulgar broadness, its open duplicity, its
shallow cunning, and its undisguised venality.
He made a strong stage character, stronger per-
haps than the author intended, and really con-
trived to retain enough of the sympathy of the
audience to cause manifestations of approval
when he v/as finally saved from ruin. It was
probably the touch of burlesque in the charac-
ter, the evident lack of earnestness and sincer-
ity in the actor, which enabled the defeated
'Senator' to retain a place in the affections
of the audience. A rather vmcertain but other-
wise satisfactory part, 'John Quincy Bunn' was
given to Vifilliam Seymour, and very neatly por-
trayed. He did not in the least carry out the
popular idea of the men who make fortunes in the
sagebrush region, being more of a clever draw-
ing-room fop than a frontiersman* Mr.Mestayer,
as 'General Napoleon Cubit,' evidently had a
distinguished Eastern politician in the mind's
eye when he designed his make-up* Mr. Curtis
as 'Blossom,' took the burlesque view of his
character and made his two scenes amusing."*

* Bulletin, August 14, 1877.

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Burlesque 161

Unfortunate that details of the action are not giv-
en in the reviews, and that a copy of the script is not avail-
able. Our Politics is one of the few early Instances of vig-
orous political satire. But neither audience nor playwrights
were prepared to go further in this satirical direction. The
San Francisco theatrical season dipped violently in the fall
of 1877 to the safe, old, empty puns of Black-Eyed Susan .

Black-Eyed Susan's much disturbed corpse was shuf-
fled off unceremoniously after a short run to make room for
the still more exploited ghost of The Black Crook . Develop-
ment of some kind, there had beenj for the leg show aspects
of The Black Crook were now considered quite dull. The sen-
sation of the previous decade in Maguire's heyday was now, in
1877, served up as warmed-over good cheer for both children
and adults during the holidays in December. With very little
else to commend the production, the ballet troupe proved to
be especially fine.

"The ballet under the lead of Miles. Palladino,
de Rosa and Corsi appear in the second and third
acts, giving in the first 'The Demons' Revels,'
and in the last 'The Ballet of All Nations.'
This ballet troupe became in a measure familiar
to the public at the Bush Street Theatre, but
the larger stage at the California permits a
much finer display of art. The third act closes
with an intricate and bewildering 'March of the
Amazons,' in which the effect of shades of
light upon shining costumes vas almost dazzling.
The tableau at the close was exceedingly beau-
tiful. The scenery was by Voegtlin, Seabury
and Graham, each act having a crowning feature.
It is not very easy to say which is the most
striking, but the transformation scene, enti-
tled 'The Birth of Venus,' excelled all other

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Burlesque 162

scenes of its kind ever seen in this city. As
one curtain of gauze after another was lifted,
each revealing the brilliant interior more dis-
tinctly, the audience seemed to hold their
breath and live only through their eyes.''*

To keep the show moving, the story of v/hich, accord-
ing to the Bulletin , was "not very tangible at best, and was
sometimes completely lost siglit of," the usual assortment of
short variety acts was interpolated. Of the whole number
the only acts that achieved the passing fame of newspaper no-
tice were the singing of the Ulm Sisters and the gymnastic
feats of the Valdis Sisters; and of those, the contortions of
the Valdis Sisters apparently outweighed in effect the songs
of their competitors:

"The Valdis Sisters are half-grovm girls, and
are as supple and as elastic as if their bones
were made of gutta percha. They twist them-
selves into all sorts of shapes, and are as
graceful in all their movements as a dancer."*

With The Black Crook running inevitably, quietly,

successfully into the second week of January 1878, Voegtlin,

the scenic designer, was hurriedly painting the decorations

for A Trip to the Moon , announced for January 21, at the

California. After his long service in the interest of

extravaganza backdrops, Voegtlin by this time must have been

tearing his hair trying to achieve that new effect which moist

either be the "most splendid so far seen in this city" or

else be regarded as a dull failure. Iho year 1877 closes,

and since words and acting were no longer important in the

* Bulletin, December 26, 1877.

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Burlesque 163

production of burlesque, the success or failure of this
medium now depended on the imagination.


A Trip to the Moon was as well plotted a burlesque

as had come to San Francisco in a long time.

"Tlie story is that of King Pin Virho desirous of
granting every caprice of his son Prince Ca-
price, arranges with 'Microscope' to be shot
through a monstrous cannon to the moon. The
first act closes with the party entering the
cannon, which is fired off. Tlie second act
opens with a group of Inhabitants artiong whom
arrive the party from the earth. King Cosmos
of the moon has a daughter of about the same
age and general Inclination as 'Prince Caprice'
and the two proceed to make much trouble for
their respective fathers. The business is in
true burlesque style. ""^

The source of the script of this btirlesque is not

clear but the influence of Jules Verne, so evident in the

summary quoted above, is confirmed by some remarks in the

Argonaut for January 26, 1878:

"As it { A Trip to the Moon ) stands it is a ser-
vile translation from the French, and much of
the sparkle and verve , which I can xmderstand
it may have possessed in the original, has ob-
viously been lost in the translation. So heavy
and dreary is the dialogue, that it is only
by a constant fusillade of 'gags ' from the
dramatic personal (sic) that attention can be
kept awal-ce at all. Indeed I was told that the
original parts were so bad that unlimited li-
cense was given to the ladies and gentlemen to
v/hom they were entrusted, a license of which I
am bound to say they availed themselves not al-
ways wisely, but a little too well."

There was a completely stellar approach to the pro-
duction, in the casting as well as the writing. It was not

* Bulletin . January 22, 1878.

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Burlesque 164

enough that Alice Harrison should exhibit her great ability
at burlesque immediately before the proscenium; she was sup-
ported in the upper reaches of the stage by the famous Kiralfy
ballet troupe. Bolossy Kiralfy, however, missed out on his
usual praise, and received only tepid comparisons with The
Black Crook for his ballet direction; while Alice Harrison
served only as a reminder to the reviewers of the virtues of
a newcomer. The newcomer was Grace Plalsted:

"A young debutante (I am told she is only seven-
teen) named Grace Plaisted, was to me an object
of quite as much interest as all the other cu-
riosities of lunar life and interstellar space
put together. The young lady ass\iraes the part
of a Setanite princess, and her duties are
chiefly vocal in their character, though the
role permits of a considerable amount of a
certain kind of comedy acting. I have seen
debutantes, - they seem to grow spontaneously
on California soil —but I have never seen a
first appearance at the footlights character-
ized by an utter absence of stage-fright and by
as complete self-possession as v/as hers. Even
Alice Harrison, who was evidently triximphant at
finding herself in proximity to somebody small-
er than herself, was nonplussed by her compo-
sure. The little lady ogled and flirted, gagged
and dimpled with the best of them."'^

Voegtlin, evidently, had not been able to adjust

himself rapidly enough from the background effects of The

Battle of Bunker Hill to the background effects of A Trip

to the Moon ;

"The scenery, which is of course, the basis of
every spectacle, is good, but I have seen bet-
ter from Voegtlin' s brush, and its mounting
bears evidence of haste in preparation. The
twenty-mile cannon was a fine effect, but the
penny-popgun report with which it was discharged

* Argonaut , January 26, 1878.


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Burlesque 165

was simply ludicrous. The transformation scene
representing the journey of the airship through
interstellar space, was a wonderful illusion,
and the enlarged photograph of the moon waxing
and waning as the observer was supposed to ap-
proach or recede from it, was an interesting and
well managed optical effect*''''^

With these vague effects of A Trip to the Moon even
more vaguely remembered, the slow spring season of 1878
pushed forward to a combination entertainment at the Bush

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