Ettore Rella.

A history of burlesque (Volume 1939 14) online

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farther than the memory of the oldest inhab-

"In the matter of costiunos, Aladdin.. Jr « dis-
tances all in its sump tuousno s s , " *

A dozen or so sturdy progenitors thus loomed right
down through the development of extravaganza and into tho
rise of musical comedy in the 1900s: there are not only an
Aladdin, Jr ; there was a Robinson Crusoe, Jr ; an Ali Baba ITp -
To-Date ; a Black Crook, Up-To-Date etc.

There may have been more costume in Henderson's
1894 show, but there was less company, Eddie Foy had branched
off on his own, Ida Mulle v;as contracted elsev/here. It was
Henry Norman's show, with the excellent assistance, hov/ever,
of Anna Boyd, tho now loading lady,

"Henry Norman in his line of characters in
burlesque has hardly an equal, Anna Boyd, the
new leading woman, is dashing and full of life.
Her two songs, »I Didn't Think He'd Do It, but
He Did' and 'The Girl With the Ringlets, ' were
cleverly sung,"-"-"-

it Argonaut , December 24, 1894.
-::-:^ Bulletin , December 18, 1894.

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Burlesque 24-6

The art of the costuj'iiier was chiefly squandered on
the Spirit of the Lamp, the Spirit of the Ring, and the Amber
Ballet - the Spirit of the Lamp "in blues that shaded from the
dullest and softost of tints to deep, velvety Prussian blue,
with a pair of variegated ^.win'^s trembling on her shoulders'';
the Spirit of the Lamp v/ith "long, web-like green wings in
which he can ^-/rap himself, or else, vdth extended arms, let
hang its loose, silken mesh to thfi ground" j tho Amber Ballet
as ''quite a symphony in yellovrs or in those \";arm golden choc-
olates, that pale into the faintest and most davmi-llke tints
of primrose,"'"" In Henderson's hands., American extravaganza
was becoming a mere confection of dazzling color, held to-
gether by the comedian's firecracker gags, which the producer
hoped would go off with a bang.

But the necessity for the annual increase in expend-
iture for costumes and stage settings, v/as inevitably piling
up to Henderson's downfall. The last two of his productions
which essayed as far from their Chicago base as San Francisco ^
both built around the situations of the early Sinbad , were
comparative failures. The expansion of the Chicago extrava-
ganza had reached a bursting point.

The production of Sinbad in 1896 was enough of a
trial for Henderson. Oscar Girard, as the comedian, made no
great splash in the water. And it seemed sufficient to the

■«• Argonaut , December 24, 1394.

w'^r rf.i-

Burlesque 247

press to mention that Louise Sissing was playing Sintaad.
Three years of eclipse followed. In 1899, Henderson again
reached San Francisco, and age in vidth a production of 3 in b ad .
The Christmas matinee at the Grand Opera House received the
only press notice of the engagement. Edith Mason played Sin-
bad. The comedian of the cop.pany failed to receive even a
passing notice* Frank King had replaced Frederick Dainger-
field and v^ras credited with the intricacies of a transforma-
tion scene entitled, ''The Evolution of Nature, in eight
changes. "

Henderson had taken the Chicago extravaganza through
as many progressive changes from splendid to more splendid.
He had completed the development of that part of the American
theatre which had commenced with The Black Crook in the late
sixties. The exterior dazzle of burlesque had increased in
galloping proportion to the satirical dialogue in the heart of
the matter, and the audiences were becoming surfeited. Tv;o
young men from New York's east side were to discover this
quite accidentally. In 1900 Joe Weber and Low Fields, at
their Music Hall in Nev/ York City, were pruning away all the
dead weight of extravaganza and revealing the true function
of burlesque as it had been known in the early San Francisco
theatre. But the results of their genius was not to be felt
in San Francisco until 1902.

The career of local extravaganza at the Tivoli
Opera House paralleled the career of Henderson's Chicago

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Burlesque 248

extravaganza ond. extended beyond it ^l^^ht up to the moment of
the epoch-making fire of 1906. During the nineties there v/ere
three or four spectacular productions each season* The turn
of the century, 1399 to 1902 — a had time for the theatre —
saw burlesque extravaganza at the Tivoli reduced to the one
sure drawing card, the annual M other Goos e spectacle at
Christmas time.

There were few repeats in this long span of produc-
tion. The title meant little an^nvay, considering that no bur-
lesque v/as over played ''"straight, ''but was always refurbished,
redecorated. All the familiar names were played upon' Deauty
and the Beast ^ Ali ^ Baba, Don Juan Ad. Lib » , Lalla Ro okh, Little
Robinson Crusoe , Ix ion , Bluebeard , A Trip to the Moon , The
Babes in the V/ood , Jac k and th e Beanstalk , Aladdin, or the
V/onderful Lamp , The Strange Adventures of Jack and Jill , The
Yellow Dwarf , Goldil ocks , Little 3o-Peep , Cinderella , Little
Red Riding Hood , King Dodo , Orpheus in s .

The Tivoli company, essentially local and permanent,
had to be good. Prom 1890 to 1906, the ability of these San
Francisco burlesquers was to be challenged by such distln-
quished visitors as the Henderson Company, the Edv/ard ''Everlast-
ing" Rice Company, the Matthews and Bulger company. Later there
was to be the competition of vaudeville at the California
Theatre under the management of Charles P. Hall and the vogue
of the Weber and Fields type of burlesque as presented to San
Francisco by the comedians Kolb and Dill.

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Btirlesque 2-1-9

The Tivoli company weatliorocT all of bh.eGe vicis-
situdes. The Chrxstmas pantomime at the Tivoli Opera Jiouce
becaiiie one of San Francisco's Institutions. Tillle Salinger,
Gracie Plaisted, Phil uvp.naon, Ferris riartman." these actors
laid the foundation for the permanent company. Later v/ould
come Joh_n P. V/ilson, V-/, 11, v/est, Louise Hoyce, John J.
Raffaol, Edwin Stevens, Edith Hall, Anna Lichter, Annie Ilyers.
Oscar L. Fest was to acquire a stardom of his ovm as scenic
d.e signer. 3ut the long experience of the Tivoli with bur-
lesque extravaganza and spectacular pantomime was to ho dom-
inated by Ferris Hartman. he had begun his career as a singer
in ligjit opera; had discovered his ability as a comedian in
The Isl and of Zeno bar, holiday spectacle at the Tivoli in
1891; had been assumed not only most of the chief comed.y
roles in the Tivoli burlesques but also the capacity of directcr.

The thirty-oddi burlesque extro.vaganzas produced at
the Tivoli between 1890 and 1906 contributed nothing to the
development of burlesque itself. As productions they were
efficient reproductions of tried forms and formulas. There
was not only the splendor of the Chicago extravaganza; there
was also the fantasy of the English, fairy tale pantomimes,
A well trained ballot carried on the leg-show tradition of
The Black Crook . And there were transformation scenes, each
one a more devastating bit of gorgeous illusion than the last,
A deepening vista revealed "The Age of Pro:ress,'' or the
''dainty changes,'''"" described ''Our Childliood's Fancies,'' or,

* Bulletin . December 18, 1897.

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Burlesque 250

again, luscious involutions exposed ''The Birth of the Rose.''

The Bulletin for December 27 ^ 1894, names all the elements of

one of the transformation scenes at the Tivoli, but falls to

record the title. An all-inclusive title for these disparate

elements was no doubt unthinkable:

"The transformation scene that developed from
an alcove in the Peris' gardens through the birth
of the flowers, the splendid spider-v/eb, the
true-to-life pictures of a New England Nev; Year's
day to the finale where Feramorz and 'Lalla
Rookh, ' in front of the revolving whsel, faced
the audience with the pretty children suspended
in mid-air in front of them, was the most ar-
tistic v/ork ever seen in San Francisco.''

Aside from the popular songs of the time, Offenbach
continued to furnish most of the musical score. Max Hirschfeld,
musical director of the Tivoli for several seasons, provided
a good many original compositions; but the advertisement
usually read "music composed and selected by Max Hirschfeld,"
In the Argonaut for June 20, 1898, the eclecticism of most
burlesque music was very openly confessed-. ''the music is by
Lecocq with additions by Max Hirschfeld, John Philip Sousa,
Victor Herbert, Reginald de Koven and others," This advertise-
ment had to do v/ith a mids-ummer production of Ali Baba; or
Cassim and the Forty Thieves .

The slow death of many traditions was to be accel-
erated by the great fire of 1906, After the event, dviring
the period of reconstruction, things alive were to be more
obviously alive; things dead more obviously dead. The fire
was to prove a real, uncompromising transformation scene. If

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Burlesque ^^■'■

one looked closely, hov/over, the anlage of theatrical change
was visible long before the fire. Already in the eighteen-
nineties, v/hile Oscar Pest's frilled scenery at the Tivoli
was penetrating, by means of seven changes, to the heart of
some such enormous subject as The Development of Nations ,
rumors of a nevr kind of burlesque at '^eber and Field's Music
Hall in New York City v;ere reaching the ^Vest.

Late in October 1899, the Columbia Theatre was
packed for a return engagement of the Matthews and Bulger
company in a revival of their ^'nonsensical hodgepodge," By
the Sad Sea y'/aves .'"'" Twice in 1898, the company had played in
San Francisco on a coast to coast tour and Matthews and Bul-
ger had gained very profitable reputations locally as Iciock-
about comedians. There was nothing extraordinary about most
of their performance. At Gay Coney Isl and and B 7 the Sa d Sea
Waves , the two pieces presented in 1898, were little more
than vaudeville programs loosely held together by plots flexi-
ble enough to be adapted to whatever gag might draw a laugh.
The thing of interest is a phrase in the advance publicity
for By the Sad Sea Waves which was announced as " a ragtime
opera," In the review published in the Argonaut for October
24, 1898, there is the further reference to Ned ^''ayburn, a
member of the company, whose ''ragtime playing is a hit."

* Argonaut; October 50, 1899.

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Burlesque 252

This Is surely on the trail of musical history A year later,

in a review of the return engagement of the company In By the

Sad Sea Waves , the Argonaut states;

''In addition to their (Matthews' and Bulger's)
new business and up-to-date jokes, a number of
clever specialties have been introduced, nota-
bly the plastic poses of Mile, de Seye. Aside
from the stars, Bessie Challenger as Sis
Hopkins, Tony Hart as a droll German and Ned
Wayburn, the man who invented ragtime, are
especially v/orthy of mention. Three songs
which are encored nightly and are sure to be
whistled on the streets are 'You ToldMeYou
Had Money in the Bank,' 'Japanese Baby,' and
'Ise Pound yo Honey,'"""'

Ragtime was to become one of the first important

contributions of America to the development of contemporary

music,*""''" American btirlesque had doubtless felt and executed

the particular rhythm of ragtime long before the appearance

of Ned Wayburn v\^o is credited with its "invention," In an

interviev/ v/ith the San Francisco Chronicle , October 29, 1899,

Wayburn clarified the origin of ragtime to a certain extent,

but also persisted in an illusion of parthenogenesis:

"This is the picture of Mrs, Wayburn, ¥;ho v/ith
her husband's assistance, invented "ragtime."
Both are members of the Matthews & Bulger's By
the Sad Sea Waves Company, which opens at the
Columbia Theatre to-night, and this is how Mr,
Wayburn describes the discovery that he has
since executed on the piano until he is f amous s

"'We were traveling through the South some years
ago* he continued, 'and we both noticed a pecu-
liar something about the impromptu ditties of
the younger element of the Negroes on the plan-
tation. Their modern songs seemed somewhat dif-
ferent from the old-time melodies that used to

ii Argonaut , November 6, 1899.

- -*e,g, Igor Stravinslcy's Ragtime for Eleven Instrximents,

t..c£ 8''

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Burlesque 253

charm our boyhood v/ith visions of Little Eva
and Uncle Tom, ^"/hat that something was we could
not exactly tell, still it v/as different. We
caught ourselves unconsciously humming these
peculiar strains and trying to reduce them or
conform them to some musical law.

"'One morning my wife woke up and astonished me
with a genuine burst of v;hat is now called rag-
time. "I have it," she said, ''it came to me in
a droam," The peculiar something is simple syn-
copate, a contraction of the measure by taking
(sic) from the middle and abruptly ending each
Y»rord with a sound of ah, I set to work to re-
duce her dream theory to practice, and the re-
sult astonished me, I soon found that I could
turn every song and musical number into genuine
rag-time, '"

Interesting details ivere added in an article in the

San Francisco Examiner for October 30, 1899, entitled "Pale-

'■Jhite Tights and Pumpkin-Colored Rag Time":

",,,as before, the real sensation is Ned ^'fayburn,
the rag-time virtuoso. There are many ragtimers^
but there is but one ^■'''ayburn, and he composed
Syncopated Sandy, the most dare-devil, razor-
edged, pumpkin-colored stunt in the whole lit-
erature of fancy 'nigger' syncopation. The one
original, national note that has been struck in
American music is rag-time j it is the ancestor
of our futiore folk songs; and ^"ayburn is its
prophet. Ho is the May Irwin of the pianoforte.
The other man doesn't live who can coax the
same essence from the rigid ivories of a second-
rate backparlor upright, }llr, ^■'ayburn is not a
reverent ragstor. All composers prance alike
under his fingers. Even the nuptial harmonies
of Mendelssohn's March were given out in weird
syncopation at the Columbia last night, and to
Mr, de Koven's 'Promise Mo' was annexed a spor-
tive tilt that brought awful visions of Jessie
Bartlett Davis in the pleasures of the cake
walk. Then came a wild medley of real rags,
winding up with the incomparable 'Sandy,'"

David Henderson, Ferris Hartman and the Tivoli Com-
pany, Matthews and Bulger with Ned Waybvirn; these furnish the

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Burlesque 254

brightest configurations in the 1890-1900 decade of burlesque
in San Francisco. There were other successes, other bright,
and even brighter, lights; but none so persistent throughout
the ten gay years.

Appropriately enough the last decade of burlesque
in the nineteenth century was bracketed by the character of
the Lone PishGrman; one of the few contributions of American
burlesque to the old characters of pantomime. In April
1890, the Lone Fisherman was played by James M.P/Ioffett, in a
revival of Evangeline by a local company at the California
Theatre, The century went out with another revival of Svan-
geline , this time at the Grand Opera House, with Fred Cooper,
a famous comedian, playing the taciturn, misanthropic pes-
cador. There was a glance bacl-ovard in the reviews, for Joe
Weston and Joe Clarke, a nev/ dancing team vdth the first
brush of fame, were cast as the front and hind legs of the
talking heifer in Evangeline , roles v;hich had started Nat
Goodwin and Harry Dixey off to stardom years before,

Harry Dixey had appeared last in San Francisco in
September 1890, The piece v/as called The Seven Ages and
started off with a rhetorical dialogue between an actor got
up to resemble the Bard of Avon, and another in the long,
flowing robes of a female character with the vaguely meaning-
ful name of Avonia, Once the span of hviman life had been
neatly partitioned into seven compartments, the play began.
It was an historical pastiche, with the British taking New

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(1862 - 1931)

In the role of the Toymaker with his two
children, Paul and Josephine Hartman.


Burlesque 255

York with the aid of some light-colored Indians - why
light-colored never being intimated in the reviews. The piece
ended with a tableau, supposedly overwhelming, depicting the
interior of a tavern. But the gleaming copper pots, the long
clay pipes, and the deep lace cuffs of the convivial scene
failed of a response, and the press picked out, as high spot
of the occasion, the scene in which Dixey, wrapped in a cloak,
swung himself upon a tight-reined horse, stretched out his
right hand, and looked, for all the audience could tell, the
exact replica of the George '"'ashington statue in New York
City's Union Square, Harry Dixey had followed the indicated
course from his famous impersonation of Henry Irving - he
was no longer engaged in the lively obliqueness of burlesque,
but in the dead straightness of imitation.

Dixey settled back into the obscure warp and woof
of the times, and Pay Templeton emerged. She had been in re-
tirement and her return to the stage was especially v;ell
advertised- by a fortunate coincidence. The Templeton dia-
monds, en route to America- were snagged by the limed twigs
of the United States customs officials, Templeton whimpered
to the press that no lav/s had been broken; that she had
pawned the jewels three years before in Paris; that they were
rightfully hers and no one could prevent their redemption.
The v^ole country listened to every word, Hov/ell Osborn, her
long-established amour in the public eye, had been having a
turn of luck at baccarat, and his horses at the Paris races

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Burlesque 256

were nosing in. lIHiy should he not redeem her jewels if he
chose to do so? Itemized lists of the diamonds followed.
The more spectacular pieces were a gold chatelaine v/ith five
toilet attachments; one watch "no bigger than a nickel''; one
gold necklace with disimond end ruby charms.

Shortly after the restitution of her diamonds ^ Pay
Templeton appeared in San Francisco at the California Theatre
in a burlesque called Miss McGinty /""The burlesque itself was
passed over as inconsequential, but ''the Pay,'' after years
of absence, still justified herself with local theatre-goers
as the star of the show. Harping critics disparagingly made
mention of a slight corpulence, and signs of wear in her
voice. But Templeton was to give them all the lie with
another decade of successful stardom at the '^'eber and Fields
Music Hall in New York. In fact, she continued to worry the
press of the nineties with numerous and youngish escapades.
In October 1896 there v/as the news that she had eloped. The
remarks of a New York manager, unnamed, immediately appeared
in all the papers. Pay's out of the frying pan and into the
fire technique in her love affairs was beneficial to her ca-
reer as a burlesque queen, the New York manager was quoted as
saying. And further, ''if she was legitimate,'' he declared
"a scandal would hurt her in a business way. An actress of
serious roles is worth more to the play and the manager if

* January 20, 1891.

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Burlesque 257

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Online LibraryEttore RellaA history of burlesque (Volume 1939 14) → online text (page 22 of 29)