Ettore Rella.

A history of burlesque (Volume 1939 14) online

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pany, no doubt nervously remembering Rice's Surprise Party
company, made another late attempt at bxirlesque extravaganza.
It was quite successful. Ella Chapman was again one of the
steadfast caryatids of the manager's forttme. The other
stellar names were new: Erne Roseau, singing lead, whose name
in the advertisements was larger than anyone else's; Kate
Everleigh, an English actress; and a male comedy team, Graham
and Reed. Miss Roseau was handled a little roughly in the
review of the opening production, The Magic Slipper , in the
Argonaut for November 8 °

"Little Ella Chapman is really the bright, par-
ticular star. Miss Eme'' Roseau is per advertise-
ment the star. She is a tall, handsome woman
in a large way and reminds one of Lucre'Zia Bor-
gia, or that cheerful person, the Duchess of
Malfi, but would never strike anyone as a Cin-
derella. For some inscrutable reason, a woman
five feet and ever and ever so many inches tall
can not play the role of ingenue without look-
ing excessively silly. To understand how silly,

-;!• Argonaut , August 16, 1879.

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Biirlesque 189

go and listen to Miss Roseau singing 'Chick-a-
dee-dee.' She would make a superb Mile. Lange
or Mephisto in opera bouffe, a beautiful Venus
or Juno in burlesque, but there is too much
darling for a fairy godmother in the Magic Slip-


The quality of the script of the Magic Slipper is

indicated in the final statement of this same review:

"It is a good old story, but just a little too
old, except with better setting. Its jokes are
all stale. Its puns, execrable."

Oxygen , the much-favored burlesque of Lydia Thomp-
son' s repertory, succeeded the Magic Slipper . Miss Roseau
was again the maligned point of departure in the reviews:

''Miss Roseau is not at all at home in burlesque.
She has not caught the faintest breath of its
spirit. Her ftin is clvunsy, her mirth heavy.
She really belongs in a higher field. She knows
nothing of what the dailies call the technique
of burlesque, a technique which Ella Chapman
has at her fingers' points and toes'^ points,
and even in the carriage of her head»''*

The particular error of Miss Roseau at this time
was the singing of Adelina Patti's laughing- song, for which
the entire town was anxiously awaiting the great Patti her-
self. The comedians, Graham and Reed, however, were looked
upon hopefully. Reed was found to be ''really clever ''*"*■ and
it was granted that Graham had ''an appreciation of the
humorous,"'"' Kate Everleigh burst through obscurity with the
production of Robinson Crusoe ;

" . . ,when little Kate Everleigh put on the white
goatskin of Robinson Crusoe, presto, she became
the rage for a week. Is it the goat-skin

4i- Argonaut , November 22, 1879

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Burlesque 190

costume, which no woman with a respectable pair
of legs can look badly in, or is it that the
new prominence has brought out talent. "^>''

Productions of Plff-Paff and the Babes in the Wood
carried the company into the holiday season, when the specta-
cle of Blue Beard was anno\inced as a Christmas specialty. The
"wealth of music and dazzling costumes"'^^' of Bluebeard pro-
longed its run into the first week of January 1880 when, by
popular request, the Magic Slipper burlesque was revived.
Henry J. Byron's burlesque of The Bohemian Girl followed the
Magic Slipper ;

''On Monday evening, Henry J. Byron's burlesque
of the Bohemian Girl will be performed for the
first time in this city. It will be produced
with new scenes and costumes, and new music —
not one air of the original opera being re-
tained. It is spoken of as being a most amusing
burlesque, full of Byron's best wit, and replete
with fujrmy situations and capital scenes.''-^'-^^

A week of rapid repertory including the burlesques :

Oxygen . The Magic Slipper , Robinson Crusoe . Piff-Paff , and

Bohemian Gy-url. closed the long run of the CoLville troupe at

the Bush Street Theatre. The Dally Alta California for

January 11, 1880 laid a niggardly wreath of lukewarm praise

on the close of the engagement:

''It (the run of eleven weeks) has on the whole
been quite successful, and while doing well for
the management, has afforded a great deal of
pleasure to our lovers of amusement."

-» Argonaut . December 13, 1879.

■"'^' Daily Alta California . January 1, 1880.

^H{"»ibid, January 4, ISfi'd .



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Biorlesque 191

Those lovers of amusement were evidently not sati-
ated with the fare of the Colville Opera Burlesque Company.
Immediately after closing at the Bush Street Theatre, the
company reopened at the California for two more weeks of
profitable production. With Robinson Crusoe , and Ill-Treated
II Trovatore , the Colville burlesquers achieved their one-
hundredth and final performance in San Francisco, an occasion
which called for floral tributes, much acclaim, and the dis-
tribution of satin programmes. The Monday following the
close ,

"...the company begins a season of one week in
Sacramento, thence to Eureka for one week;
thence to Salt Lake, appearing Feb. 16th and
17th J Denver, Feb. 20th, six nights; St. Louis,
at the Olympic Theatre, for two weeks, and
thence to Now Orleans, opening March 15th, for
two weeks. "•5*

The success of the Colville company was the excep-
tion and not the rule for burlesque in the eighties. With
Eme Roseau, Ella Chapman, Kate Everleigh, and the comedians
Graham and Reed definitely entrained on their long tour, the
real nature of contemporary entertainment was again visible.
Variety bills and light opera companies dominated the scene.

If you were not made curious by the bill at Wood-
ward's Gardens featuring Hei'mann's cannon act, there was the
opera company at the Tivoli in Girof le^-Girof la . If the Ebnelie
Melville English Opera Company in The Ideal Pinafore at the
Bush Street Theatre had been too much heard, there was Millie
Christini, the Two-headed Nightingale at Dashaway Hall on the


<fr Dally Alta California , January 25, 1880.

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Btirlesque 198

south side of Post Street, between Kearny and Dupont. And

the Lilliputians were in town, and Mathilde Bonnay, the Xylo-

phonist, and the Great Gibbons, King of the Air. At the Bush

Street Theatre in March,

"...a pleasantly varied programme, divided into
three parts was presented last evening. Part
first introduced Professor E, 0. Taylor, a
clever illusionist, and a thorough master of
the art of chemistry, in several very elusive
tricks, M'lle LeGrande, blindfolded, performed
some marvellous shots with the rifle and pis-
tol. The program concluded with Taylor's Royal
Italian Marionettes, "■**

The Royal Middy , a comic opera by Richard Genee, took the
stage over from the marionettes, and after five smash-hit
weeks, moved out in favor of the first San Francisco produc-
tion of The Pirates of Penzance , In the arid center of the
summer's theatrical lag, for the first time in months a voice
in the press was lifted for burlesque, and then only in the
spirit of lamentation:

"What has become of them all since burlesque
went out - the Zavistowskis, Lydia Thompson, the
English Blondes, and all the rest? There is a
burlesque revival now and then. , ,but the pe-
culiar spirit of that time has vanished. There
are no more bevies of burlesquers, travelling
about with their especial stock of quips, jokes,
and antics, their songs and new steps. A bur-
lesque nowadays is like the one at the Baldwin -
a temporary filling in of time."^**

The burlesque at the Baldwin was Little Amy Robsart ,
a revamping of the old stsuidby, Kenilworth .

* Daily Alta California , March 30, 1880,
4H» Argonaut , August 28, 1880 .

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Burlesque 193

"With the single exception of Ixion > no bur-
lesque is as worn as this, and yet it is almost
the only one which will bear a revival. It is
strange, too, for there is very little of the
singing and dancing which once went to make up
the better part of a burlesque.''-^*-

The company involved in the production was the per-
manent stock company at the Baldwin which had supported
Adelaide Neilson in her Shakespearean repertory in June.
Mr. A. B. Bishop emerged as the star.

"We hail this combination of comedy and b\ir-
lesque as the commencement of a new era, or
rather the revival of old times, when wit was
welcomed instead of wickedness, and humor took
the place of indecency. Mr. Bishop was simply
grand as Queen Elizabeth and the music was
exquisitely arranged and conducted by Harry

Late in September, after a vacuous lapse between
productions, this same company announced the refurbishment of
another old piece: Aladdin, or the Wonderful Scamp . Mr,
Bishop again stimulated the press to some vinguarded enthu-

"Mr. Bishop was simply immense, both physically
and artistically as the redoutable Widow Twan-
key. He fairly brimmed over with hxomor, and
gave excellent promises as to his excellence iii
the new line he is about to londertake, as the
Widow Bedott, which part, we understand he is
engaged to enact on a starring tour through the
United States. Bishop is beyond any doubt ouir
best comedian. He relishes of the true Bvirton-
ian fun, so long lost to our stage, and is prob-
ably the only legitimate low comedian in the
prof ession."*"**

ii- Argonaut , August 28, 1880.

^'^'S ^San Francisco News Letter , September 25, 1880.

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Burlesque I94

Miss Lillian Andrews was In tiie difficult position
of inevitable comparison with a long line of previous
Aladdins. Govigenhelm, Zavistowski, Thompson, Worrell,
Massey: all the famous pulchritude which in the brevity of
tights had given entrancing shape to Aladdin's annual reju-
venation. The News Letter for September 25 was somewhat
parsimonious and rasping in its praise of Lillian Andrews:

"She is never vulgar withal but manages to make
the groundlings laiigh v;ithout causing the judi-
cious to grieve,"

The excvirsion of the Baldwin stock company into
burlesque was a brief and not too bright flash in the pan.
With the winter of 1880 another hiatus in burlesque produc-
tion settled upon San Prancisco - upon the whole country, in
fact. To say that no new scripts of interest reached the
desks of the impresarios is to start the story in the middle.
Basically, there was no demand for such scripts; the taste
of theatre-goers load been cultivated in other directions.
Whenever a bimlesque was hit upon as the means of bridging
over a gap in entertainment, it was always an old horse, re-
harnessed, or as in the case of Ixion, re-wheeled. Ixlon Re -
wheeled was the title of the biorlesque which opened as holi-
day entertainment for 1880 at the Standard Theatre.

''The burlesque ( Ixion ) has been almost entirely
rev/ritten by IJr. Fred Lyster, who has intro-
duced a riTultitude of local allusions with gener-
ally happy effect. The performance moves for-
ward in a rapid and sparkling manner, it at no
times becoming dull or tedious. The scenery is
very handsome and the costumes of the characters
are all new and very tasteful, "'-^

^■^ Daily Alta California , December 26, 1880,


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Burlesque 195

Once the "'bewildering display of charms that covirse
through the masculine brain with kaleidoscope effect" had be-
come less overwhelming, and the "coruscation of beautiful
heads set on rounded busts""'*' had dimmed a little, the Argo -
naut was jerked up by the fact that,

"The play Itself Is somewhat strong. It can not
be said to rely upon Its refinement. There are
many good points made in the lines, but every
joke is savage and seems to cut, where it does
not smash. Mr, Lyster has no regard for any
such immaterial things as feelings. What he
can stand in the way of a joke he makes his
audience endure. There is throughout the whole
burlesque scarcely a legitimate piece of fun -
a joke that can be laughed at without some feel-
ing of discomfort."'*^

Featured in the cast were Grace Plaisted as Ixion;

Miss S, Arline as Mercury; Fanny Young as Jupiter j Sylvia

Gerrish as Venus; Willie Slmms as Minerva; and Harry Thompson

as Bacchus. Of these, the press finally decided that Miss

Gerrish was much too self-conscious of beauty to give much

thought to acting; that Miss Young as Jupiter made her points

in such a broad manner that they were lost; that Miss Plaisbad

might be able to snap her fingers and wear a gay costume, but

that was all. An obscure person in the cast, Abbie Pierce,

came forward with singing ability and with what the Argonaut

for January 1 found to be "some idea of burlesque in her

Ganymede." Willie Simms as Minerva was rated the ablest of


"...few well-trained burlesquers in the Com-
pany (who) lead the fledglings into very cred-
ible attempts in the right direction, "'5>"'«'

^ Argonaut , January 1, 1881.
^Hi- BuiletH , December 27, 1880.

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Burlesque 196

Particularly heavy demands were made on Harry Thompson's in-
terpretation of Bacchus. Harry was the brother of the famous
Lydia, and it was openly declared that,

'* . . . (he)raust be expected to know all about bur«
lesque, if only by force of consanguinity with
the Queen of the Art."'*^

The art was apparently in the blood, for Harry Thompson came
through the leveled critical gaze unscathed and with high
honors in the press.

Ixion Re-Vi/heeled was still drawing good houses when
it entered the last week of its run, commencing January 8,
1881. Its demise was followed by another of those, by now,
habitual sinking spells in the production of burlesque . No
lights for burlesque were to be turned on until April 30 at
the Standard Theatre, where Willie Edouin announced his ap-
pearance with a burlesque company of his own organization:

"On Monday will be produced Horrors . . . .This is
going to be something out of' the ^common run.
The scenery will be new and beautiful, and the
dresses valued at ^^1800."^'^


The years 1881, 1882, 1883: for all their being
packed as any other years — with the manufacture of woolen
goods, the performance of murder, the precipitation of rain,
and sartorial revolution — were almost complete blanks for
burlesque. The formerly vigorous, rotiind body was in such


■"- San Francisco News Letter ^ January 1,
-:HMbid. April 30, 1881.



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an etiolated, flat condition that total eclipse was imminent.
Willie Edouin with his own company in 1881 and the Emerson
Minstrels in 1882, were the only spots bright enoTigh for the

The element of horror in Edouin' s opening burlesque.
H orrors , remains unexplained.

"Willie Edouin' 3 Hamsetzee Btimfietzee has lost
none of the fun-provoking qualities that char-
acterized it before.-"- Miss Alice Atherton
makes an acceptable Prince Achmed. Miss A,
Dumaure's La Jolie, the French housekeeper, is
a capital piece of character acting, Jacques
Kruger, always clever, does as well in b\ir-
lesque as in comedy. Mr, Pov/ers' Rajah Zog,
with a strong Irish accent, doservea special
praise for both make-up and peculiarities.
¥jr, 'ti. Crosbie, v^rho is familia-.-« to us all, sur-
prised his friends as Tragedeo, the Court Jest-
er . im,;.-:;-

This uninspired partition of the critical bouquet
was repeated for the company's second production, Willie
Edouin' 3 old vehicle: Robinson Crusoe . This time Miss
Atherton "met all the requirements" of her rolej Miss Marian
Elmore "exhibited a fine fund of humor"; Miss Merville was
"neat and careful"; Miss Starr was "very good as the Indian
Princess"; Miss Russell "won applause for her singing but dis-
played little taste in her dress"; Mr, Kruger was "quietly
funny"; and Mr. Powers was "acrobatically amusing."'""""'^ Willie
Edouin received a little special praise. The newspapers cast

9f There is no record of this earlier performance.
■K-4;- Daily Alta Califo rnia , May 5, 1881.
->v;-K-lbid. May 16, ISBl.

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Burlesque 198

a look backwards over his career and agreed that his interpre-
tation of the Man Friday role was the best thing in his rep-

It was a long, low swing between the Edouin company
at the Standard Theatre in 1881 and the burlesque of Sarah
Bernhardt by the Emerson Minstrels at the same theatre in
1882 « The occasion was prefaced by an announcement to this

"First appearance of the Celet)rated Peruvian
Actress: Mme. Sarah Heartburn."

The Argonaut for January 14, 1882, admitted having had a good

time :

" Sarah Heartburn , by the way, is not a bad bur-
lesque, and is a really welcome change from the
wild breakage of dishes, and pitching about of
furniture, with which a minstrel burlesque
ceases to be funny. Time out of mind they have
wound up v;ith a grand shattering of crockery,
or a shower of flour on the cork-blacked faces.
The new Camille discreetly dies by measuring
her length somevftiat abruptly on the floor, and
the curtain very properly falls to slow music.
Emerson has taken a leaf from Haver ly's book
and deals in quantity. It is a leaf worth
studying, for tv/elve clog-dancers in attractive
uniforms are better worth seeing than two."

The reference to Haver ly is important. Minstrelsy
had taken much the same co\irse of development as bvirlesque:
the small company, the incisive, localized material, had giv-
en Tvay to the Gigantic Spectacle. Haver ly was manager of the
Mastodon Minstrels. Minstrelsy was making its last standln
the manner of The Black Crook . It is interesting to remember
that the last stand of cathedral architect\are was the baroque

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Burlesque 199

architecture of the Jesuits: a facade of over-crowded design
whose details cannot take much critical scrutiny, while with-
in, the nave Itself was a dull, hastily constructed amalgam
of previous periods, with usually a sprinkling of over-senti-
mental statues by Bernini.


Revivals of all the famous, old burlesque titles
had been attempted. The Madame Rentz-Mabel Santley combina-
tion had attempted some additional undress in i.he costumes.
The spring of 1884 brought a burlesque to San Francisco,
which attempted to telescope some apparently incompatible
qualities. The burlesque was called Excelsior , already aged
to the extent of successful runs in Paris and New York in
1882 and 1883, respectively. The attempted blend included:
first, the complete abandonment of the spoken word for panto-
mime; second, solo dancing and spectacular ballet; third, the
tremendous subject matter of The Triumph of Light over Dark-
ness, or of Civilization over Barbarism. The whole history
of pantomime had been its exposition of gay, satirical mate-

Online LibraryEttore RellaA history of burlesque (Volume 1939 14) → online text (page 17 of 29)