Ettore Rella.

A history of burlesque (Volume 1939 14) online

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old, and various delicious made-dishes. It was
not^a success, though Miss V/eber devoted herself
to it. She v/as a familiar figure in those days,
arguing with the butcher and haggling at the
fruit-stands over a box of half -ripe California
pl\ims. She was probably as good-looking as she


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Burlesque 234

had Qvor been — a tall, plain woman with rough
reddish hair, a shrewd peaked x^'ace, and beauti-
ful dark-brovm eyes, probably a heritage from
her mother, who was a Portuguese, She always
wore a seal-skin coat and a black turban hat,
alwa^i-s walked rapidly, brushing hor way be-
tween the groups of miners on the kerb, with a
brown paper roll under hor arm, and an absorbed
expression in her handsome eyes,

"The memories of the others are va^^'Ue, Edith
Challice, one of the most beautiful, is dead.
It was she v/ho went to a New York Charity Ball
in a white -silk dress with the front studded
with artificial tea-rose bud3 - a fashion which
v;as afterward widely copied — and a white-lace
shawl pinned round hor nock. In those days the
four hundred attended the charity ball, and even
mingled with the d Mincers in a magnificent sort
of way. They were staggered by her beauty.,..

"Out of the galaxy of stars, Miss Thompson alone

Quickly recalled to mind, these personalities were
again as quickly forgotten. The past which had been cleaved
open by Lydia Thompson's farewell tour, congealed again be-
hind the printed page where amusement headlines shifted their
attention to the opera season at the Tivoli. The violent dip
in burlesque production was not to be picked up again until
late in the ensuing fall.

Bolossy Kiralfy's company opened at the California
Theatre in the burlesque Antiope , November 15, 1889, The pro-
duction was principally an ejdilbition of the Kiralfy ballet.
The pretense at plot was perhaps worse than none at all. Two

* Argonaut , February 4, 1889,

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Burlesque 335

story elements continually interrupted, the gyrations and tab-
leaux of the dancers. There was the triangular strain of the
Prince, the v^Meen, and Imtiope, The Queen loved the Prince
and the Prince loved Antiope. This fact was reiterated in
"blank verse, colloquial /unorican, strenuous English, and
finally in stately Alexandrines,"'^ with the odds obviously
favoring the Prince-Antiope combination. And there was the
story thread of Discord and Concord, ViHienever the valentine
lace of the dance background had to be changed, this ancient
pair came before a simple flat towards the front of the stage
and westled v;ith their mighty theme. The theme of the con-
versational encounter was so large that it was completely dis-
sipated by the time it arrived at a hasty newspaper review;
but the costuming of the titanic combatants was beautiful and
v/as there for everybody to see.

Somehow these moments of scene-shifting boredom v;ere
to be compensated for by the dancing of the soloists and the
ballet. There was Mile, Paris, "prima assoluta" of the en-
tire troupe,

"The prima assoluta. Mile, Paris, is of the
Italian school at La Scala, the school of which
Cavalazza is now the head. Their dancing always
seems more surprising and remarkable than beau-
tiful. It is a sort of to-ur de force that
raises your wonder, but not your admiration.
Looking at Mile, Paris flying across the stage
on the tips of her toes, one cannot but marvel
at the agility and dexterity of her movements,
but of grace there is none.,., She is more like a

«• Argonaut, November 18, 1889.

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Burlesque 236

piece of steel mechanism than a v/oman, every
movement exact, but there is no individuality in
robbing it of most of its charm, """■

In a moment of good management, Kiralfy decided that Mile.

Carraencita should appear immediately after Mile, Paris,

"Could anything be more unlike Mile, Paris 's
performance than Mile, Carraencita ' s performance?
This is all personality, the individuality of
the danseuse is almost too highly colored.
There is no observable method in her v/ild pos-
turing, or perpetual sinuous motions, but there
is something barbaric in their unrestrained
spontaneity. Carraencita looks as if she might
invent her strange dance as she went along^
inspired by the rhythmic throb of the music , "'*"

This excellence of the "primas" put the inadequacy

of the "sectmdas" in a very bad light. And as for the rank

and file coryphees, they were found "so out of training and

nervous that they destroy some exceedingly pretty effects,"'"'

At one point in the burlesque, the Queen pleaded with her

Amazonian follov/ers that they

"Swear death to the whole Illyrian race
Or die in the attempt I"

But the ballet was recalcitrant v/ith bad training and stage
fright, and the authoritative order was heard finally to come
from the wings: ''Get down, get down I" carae the hoarse com-
mand of the director. Belatedly then, the Amazons knelt,
with more awkwardness than grace, before their Queen, each
one racing to pronounce the lost cues "We swear t V/e swear I"
The denouement of the extravaganza depicted the
grandiose annihilation of the Queen and her Valkyrian phalanx
in their assault upon Illyria,

'Jt- Ibid.

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Burlesque 237

''The Queen is brought in^ chained. She bows
her head and tames her heart of fire to the ex-
tent of forgiving the Prince and his bride and
blessing themj whereupon there is another act
devoted to revelry, and the curtain falls on a
grand tableau, with Mile, Paris pirouetting in
the midst, "-'^

The time between 1390 and 1900 is a fixed period
only for the career of David Henderson, impresario of the
so-called "Chicago style" in burlesque extravaganza, Hender-
son's success was more the success of a city, than his ovm.
Chicago was coming into maturity as the great, central city of
the country, with a concomitant slang, a typical set of jokes^a
manner of dress, and some indigenous ideas for dance steps,
Henderson, as manager of the Chicago Opera House, was on the
ground floor of this rise of a city. In an effort to summarize
the significance of Henderson and the Chicago extravaganza,
the San Francisco Bulletin for November 25,1893 came round to
the following conclusions s

"The manager of the Chicago Opera House is fin
de siecle; his methods are up-to-date - perhaps
just a trifle ahead of date, ., .Extravaganza, a
style of entertainment whose introduction into
this country is due to the forethought and bold
policy of David Henderson, is nothing more nor
less than English pantomime Americanized, And
its American progenitor takes the same liberty
with tradition, fable and legend as do the au-
thors of those gorgeous but stupid spectacles
v/hich had been associated for fifty years with
the historic English play-house in Drury Lane,

'"- Ibid.


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Burlesque ^^^

"But the American extravaganza is a great ad-
vance upon its English prototype. American au-
diences would not accept English pantomime at
any price. In American extravaganza the action
is lively, the music is catchy, the effect is
vivid. The appeal is made primarily to the mind
and not to the appetite."

That Americans had been v/itnessing extravaganzas
years before Henderson's ascent seems not to be taken into ac-
count. It became clear that Henderson's peculiar contribution
v/as the unstinting splendour of the mounting (gained, accord-
ing to the advertisements, for his patronage of the famous
London costumiers), together ^'dth the raciness of the Chicago

His company first appeared in San Francisco in Sep-
tember 1890, with the extravaganza of The Crystal Slipper .
Prom 1891 through 1894, the Henderson company appeared each
consecutive fall. May 1896 and December 1899 marked the last
two of its appearances. Throughout the decade Sinbad remained
the most popular of the Hendersonian extravaganzas > filling
four of the company's San Francisco engagements as was the
case with The Crystal Slipper ^ Ali Baba and Aladdin Jr. v/hich
filled out only one engagement each.

The Bulletin for September 22, 1890 described The
Crystal Slipper as "...a travesty on the fairy tale of Cinder-
ella , embellished with modern music and local hits of the most
amusing quality,.,." Illustrious b\:irlesque stars headed the
company. Eddie Foy, Louise Montague, and Ida Mulle,as leads
in the acting contingent, were already stage favorites in




OBI ar*

-..d2 ^6^-'


Bxirlesque 239

San Francisco, The ballet group of the company was led by no
less a proniiero danseuse than Praulein Clara Qualitz. These
people were to form a permanent company which was to carry
Henderson successfully through the 1894 season. At that time,
Eddie Poy was to branch off with a company of his ovm — lugu-
brious maneuver for both the neophyte Impresario and the

In 1890, no rift in the company was visible, Eddie
Poy as the comic character, Yosemite, in The Crystal Slipper ,
achieved gestures and sprung gags which tickled the most re-
sisting of reactions, and the house roared applause . Ida
Miille was petite if not poignant as Cinderella, and Louise
Montague strutted an attractive figtire as the boy Prince,

"The costumes are of the richest character
indescribably grand in texture and beautiful in
composition of colors. The scenery is magnifi-
cent, well-drawn, highly colored and new in de-
sign and perfect in finish. The wood scene in
the second act, preceding the corps de ballet,
is a charming piece of painting, both v/ith the
backing that reflects the shadows of the trees,
leaves and vines,,,, The ball-room in the palace
is also a well-planned picture, charmingly
painted. The fan in the background is a pretty
conceit, and when it opens, the prismatic foun-
tains and surroundings are equally as hand-

Praulein Qualitz performed as expected j preclpitoua
flights on her toes, the giddy top-spin of the thickly-tiered
ballet flounces, the incredible speed and nimbleness of her
long legs in v-fhite tights, Azilla, billed as the flying danc-
er, was the surprise of the show.

* Bulletin, September 25, 1890,



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Burlesque 240

"Azilla is truly a wonder, it being a query
as how she is lifted diagonally across the stage,
or rather up in the air, and again guided in an
opposite direction from that in which she

Vvith his next production in San Francisco, Slnbad

at the Baldwin Theatre in September 1891, Henderson was

careful of the essential thing for a producer of extravaganza;

he topped his previous production in splendid effect,

"For a spectacle complete in every part, Sin "
bad is the most gorgeous yet presented to thea-
tre-goers in this city, "•''-•■"-

Ida Mulle and Eddie Foy were still very much and

successfully to the fore, Martha Irmler,new to San Francisco,

contested with Clara Qualitz for leadership in the ballet.

Henry Norman was the brightest newcomer among the men,

"Henry Norman, one of our favorites, is a most

comical pirate chief. His make-up is ludicrous

in the extreme and his acting and singing every

way capital. His great song in the third act,
'The Bogie Man,' was charmingly rendered, .. .When

the management engaged Norman they found one of

the best all around burlesquers on the
stage, "■>'-"-

The critic of the Argonaut recorded in detail the

stage setting for this song by Norman, v/hich ''caught on" as

one of the hit tunes of the nineties i

"., .presto I, the supers roll back the walls, the
background rushes wildly up into the air, the
frightened coryphees flee in beautiful bewil-
derment to the right and left; and the scenic
artist presents for your approbation a tropical
isle, shimmering in a pale-green haze.,., In this
pallid and somewhat ghostly lights Mr, Norman's

* Bulletin , September 23, 1890.
-"■^:-tbid, September 29, 1891,

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Biirlesque 241

song of 'The Bogie Man,* comes in so neatly that
for the moment it achieves the feat of effacing
all memory of the scenic artist. ,. ,Not a word of
the song was lost:

'You've got no show-
You'd best lie low-
Here comes the Bogie Man I '

sings lllr, Norman, tripping stealthily in the
eerie light, in which all the cannibals, in
their glory of beads and leopard skins, cower
with fear and utter a sound between a groan and
the grinding; of a buzz-saw. ""5^

This same critic was much less impressed with the
spoken word than with the singing and scenic effects of Sin -
bad ;

"The dialogue of Sinbad is nothing to boast
about. It is composed mainly of Chicago jokes
and slang. These, to the uninitiated, are at
times a little fatiguing. They made merry about
baccarat and the Prince of V'^ales, repeating,
with good effect, the joke about 'carrying his
own chips, ' which was in Life over a month



Ali Baba , the Henderson extravaganza for 1892, ar-
rived in San Francisco in November. There was plenty of both
old and new. Hlddie Poy, Ida Mulle and Henry Norman headed
the acting company. Martha Irmler had edged Clara Qualitz
completely out of the picture and she was now referred to as
"the premiere danseuse assoluta of the organization."'"""'
Heaviest of the new assets v/as the new electrical equipment
at the Grand Opera House.

^"' Argonaut , Ootobor 5, 1891.
'"""•Bulletin, NovembGr 28, 1892.



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Burlesque 242

"An entire new electric light plant has been
put in the theatre; the stage is one mass of
electric v/ires, and over 1,500 incandescent
lights besides numerous arc and other illumina-
tors, will lighten up the stage."""-

Henderson's reach for the ever grander effect in
his annual production was approximating the fantastic. One
Of the special features of All Baba was the "Danse Diabolique,"
It occurred as the climax of the third act. The scene depicted
"a lonesome spot in the mountains, v/ith moss-covered rocks
and spectral trees in the foreground and a fall of real v/ater,
tumbling and sparkling in the moonlight."-"""- Into this rock-
bound arena slov/l3r appeared the enormous shape of a mechan-
ical dragon. Laboriously, it reached center stage, emitting
blasts of smoke and ferocious snorts from its cable-swung
head, blinking its mechanical lids dov/n over its balefully
red eyes. Then from moor-beast it quickly changed to a mere
surprise package. A large part of its side was seen to be a
trap door from which stepped brightly-spangled coryphe'es.
The contradiction of such a beautiful birth consecutive upon
such a monstrous operation did not seem to confuse either
Henderson or the audience. This particular act was one of
the hits of the sho\?.

To Frederick Daingerfield of Chicago went a great
deal of credit for Henderson's success. He designed not only
all of the scenery, but the costumes as well. The actual

-»- Bulletin . December 3, 1892.
-" - "-Ibid, November 28, 1892,


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Burlesque 243

construction of the costvmies had been entrusted to Madame
Ellse Preisinger and Charles Alias, famous costumiers of

Eddie Poy was still carrying most of the weight of
the entertainment;

"Without a doubt the burden of Ali Baba , in
an acting v/ay, lies with Eddie Foy, who, if any-
thing, is more comical than ever. Prom the time
that he first makes his appearance to the finale
he is a solid body of wit and humor, v/hile gro-
tesque in his actions yet with a meaning full
of hearty fun, original, and new.. . Jlis make-up
and imitation of Lottie Collins, the original
•ta-ra-ra-Boom-dey-a' is perfect, and one of
the fionniest specialty acts that Foy has ever

This cast for 1892 remained essentially intact for
the revival of Sinbad in 1893. Louise Royce, as Sinbad, as-
sumed the feminine acting lead. Eddie Foy and Henry Norman
were entrusted with most of the comedy. Martha Irmler was
again premiere danseuse. Daingerfield was still manager of
the staging.

As to the exact nature of the piece itself, the press
was chary of details. If nothing else, a notice in the Bulle-
tin for November 25, 1893 implied a spectacular internation-

"In Sinbad there will be 300 people on the
stage, representatives of Italy, Spain, China,
France, Germany, Russia, Egypt, India, Ireland,
Scotland, England, and America."

This no doubt had reference to the grand transfor-
mation scene which was advertised as "A Tribute to America" in

* Bulletin . December 5, 1892.



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Burlesque 244

''seven changes," the changes being seven arbitrary divisions
of American history depicting the various influxes of Europe-
an and Oriental ir.unigrants.

The costumes were this time after designs by Russell
of London, "leader of his craft,"* Much publicity was given
the fact that the complete cast of three hundred v^ent through
three cost\ime changes during the extravaganza. And nothing
had been skimped in the materials;

"Notably a suit of black and gold for Sinbad,
and a robe of white and silver for Ninetta are
exquisite illustrations of the cos turner's art.
Mr» Henderson does not believe in cheap materi-

Nor did he believe in sparing expense when it came

to the stage machinery devised by Daingerf ieldt

"In the new version of this extravaganza, the
action of which opens in the port of Balsora at
daybreak, a full-rigged private ship, the Roc,
sails into the harbor and carries away all the
leading personages,

"The next act shovirs the deck of the ship at sea
and introduces a spectacular novelty in the
shape of an immense panorama illustrating life
on the ocean from the earliest times to the
present day...,

"The 'Frozen Valley of Diamonds' is Daingerf ield's
piece de resistance — a brilliant picture repre-
senting a frozen valley of precious stones in
the fastness of the mountains,"*

During December 1894, the Hendersonian extravaganza
at the Baldwin Theatre was the old but never familiar Aladdin
and the Wonderful Lamp; never familiar because the extrava-
ganza idea was the use of the merest framevrork of the old

^c Bulletin, November 25, 1893.


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Burlesque 245

burlesques. The rest was extravagant trappings,

"Perhaps some day, in that distant millenium
when the lion and the lamb are to be reconciled,
a Chicago extravaganza may come to us where the
dialogue is entertaining and the jokos do not
come from numbers of Life and Pomch that go back

Online LibraryEttore RellaA history of burlesque (Volume 1939 14) → online text (page 21 of 29)