Ettore Rella.

A history of burlesque (Volume 1939 14) online

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tended drai-natic effect is defeated if the audience knows that
the mimic porsonator of the heroine is herself the opposite
of the character portra^'-ed,"*"*'

The following summer, the ivell-known face and figiire
of ''the Pay*' again illustrated the press. Hov/ell Osborn was
dead, and his relationship with Pay was rehashed in consecu-
tive chapters in every paper of the country. The springboard
of the difficulties was his mother's will which had stated
that, if Howell should marry an actress, he was to be cut off
as beneficiary of her legacy. With his own death, the Osborn
clan descended upon the remains of the fortune, dug up the
old clause in the mother's will, and attempted to direct it
at Pay who had been mentioned in Howell's will as recipient
of •)100,000. The marriage of Pay Templeton to Howell Osborn
had however never been established, and the executor of
Osborn 's will easily won all of his points when the matter
was brought to trial. The San Francisco Argonaut for June
21, 1897, concluded that "...the sloe-eyed soubrette will
probably come into her money and retire from the stage."

Or again it was the face and figure of Corinne,
star of the Jennie C, Kimball Opera Comique and Burlesque
Company. Mrs. Kimball was noted as one of the shrewdest man-
agers in the business, and had lifted Corinne to widespread

-> Argonaut October 5, 1896,

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Burlesque ^^®

fame. Corinne first appeared in San Francisco in February
1891 at the Bush Street Theatre, Of the two burlesques given,
Monte Cristo, Jr . and a burlesque Carmen , little was said by
the critics except that Corinne 's "imitation" of Carmencita,
the Spanish dancer, won "rounds of applause. "^^ But the five
years between 1891 and Corinne 's second San Francisco appear-
ance in 1896, had acciimulated such fame about her name that
all the reviews were very detailed and personalized.

"A story follows Corinne to this city that a
mining company has been organized at Low Moun-
tain, Cripple Creek, with her name, and that
she and Mrs, Kimball have been presented with
25,000 shares of stock, ...In her latest London
hit, 'Louisiana Lou' — which like all London
musical hall songs, has but little meaning —
the young lady wore a black satin evening dress
suit, so bedecked with gems that she looked
like a station at the Kimberly diamond fields
after a wash-up. We presume the stones are real,
as Mrs. Kimball gave Corinne last Christmas a
diamond-oncrusted watch worth |5,000, Under
such circumstances paste would be scorned. The
final act of the extravaganza ( Hendrick Hudson
Jr.) is a whirl of specialties'^ the best one
being the burlesque of that part of Paul.
Potter's, Trilby in the foyer and concert,
where Corinne sings 'Ben Bolt' and Svengali

A few months before Corinne 's final appearance in
San Francisco the succeeding autumn, Mrs, Kimball died, leav-
ing her fortune "expressed in six figures" to Corinne, The
company immediately assumed the name of The Corinne Extravag-
anza Company, none of the dates were cancelled, and the

-X- Bulletin , February 17, 1891.
-:HJ-tb'ld. J^ebruary 1, 1896,




Burlesque 259

theatrical world occupied itself v/lth the temerity of the bur-
lesque queen's venture^ now that the ''business head" of the
company was no more. The odds were against success, especial-
ly since Corinne had the admitted failing of most burlesque
actresses of coveting a ''legitimate" career. There is no record
of her efforts in this direction, and a curious note in the
Argonaut for December 7, 1896, signs Corinne 's epitaph on the
theatrical scene;

'* Corinne made her will while in this city, and
bequeathed her entire estate, which v/ill be not
less than three-quarters of a million to the
founding of a 'home for aged and unemployed
actresses, ' "

Her last appearance had been splendid. ^'In the last act of
Hendrick Huds on, Jr,, Corinne will wear all her diamonds,
among vi^hich is a single stone, weighing forty-two and one-
third carats, valued at ')15,000.'^

In and out of all the big cities, throughout the
nineties, making money wherever it stopped, M, B, Leavitt's
colossal production of The Spider and The Fly put up its sign.
It was the Hendersonlan type of extravaganza and contributed
nothing to the history of b\irlesque except quantity — some-
thing was bigger, or there was more of it, or it cost more. The
first San Francisco engagement, March 1892, v/as prefaced with
the loudest sort of publicity. The costumes were not by any-
one 30 provincial as an American, but by Charles Alias of
London; and Europe had been combed for its most celebrated

Argonaut , November 9, 1896,

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Burlesque 260

vaudeville specialties; and, to top it all, it was declared
that The Spider and The Fly v/as no mere extravaganza, but also
contained elements of opera bouffe, spectacle, pantomime, and
comedy. The publicity closed v;ith the hardheaded bit of in-
formation that "the shov/ requires two 60-foot baggage cars to
transport the scener^T-, costumes, electric effects, and para-
phernalia of the piece. '''"'^ This en massed splendor of the pro-
duction almost concealed the single fact of interest: Charles
Ravel, last survivor of the great Ravel family of pantomimists,
was a member of the company. His act is nov;here described.
He was not starred. The satirical pantomime of the Commedia
dell' Arte - at the beginning of the nineteenth century still
alive in the hsmds of Grimaldi, preserved somewhat in the ac-
robatic pantomimes of first the Ravels and then the Martinet-
tis — was here finally in the last, lonely Ravel ignominiously
snared in the glitter and noise of The Spider and the Fly .

And the glitter would be folded av/ay, and the noise
would be stilled, and the two 60-foot baggage cars v/ould haul
the big show to its next engagement; up and down, and across
the continent, the iron wheels of the new trunk lines, trans-
porting the tinselled deadjiess of the American extravaganza,

Edward ''iCver las ting" Rice was on the road too.
Twice during the nineties, December 1895 and March 1898, an
Edward Rice Company presented to San Franciscans the extrava-
ganza 14 9 2 . In May 1897, Rice brought his company V/est in

^- Bulletin, January 7, 1893,

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Burlesque 261

the sure-fire oldness of Excelsior, Jr . 'Tith, a production of
the apparently eternal Evangeline at the Grand Opera House in
December 1899. Rico helped San Franciscans close the century.

The burlesque 1 4 9 2 was Rico's attempt to out-
shine Hendorson. The critics, a little blinded by the glare,
could not be sure; but the llov; York audience had kept tho
show running for months, and tho San Francisco ongagement
followed an almost year-long road tour. Chief attraction was
Bessie Bonehill, London music hall singer, "the first of this
class of performers who is neither loud nor coarse. She has
much charm, a fresh and childlike voice, and extremely good

The featured specialty, Horr Kilyani's Living Pip -
tures, was not acccptod so graciously in San Francisco, The
Rhine Daughters , piece do resistance of I'.ilyani's nine tab-
leaux, was sat down as follows in the local press- ''In the
picture of T he Rhine Daughters , one of the nymphs, attired
in a flesh-colored silk union suit, lies prone upon her back
on a rock, with her legs and arms curled up as though siiffer-
ing from strychnine poisoning,"* But there were other things;
among them, a blood-brother of the cold-blooded Izaak '"'alton
of Evangeline; "The lone fisherman of Evangeline almost
finds his counterpart in the Celt who wanders through the
second act with a bull's-eye lantern as big as a milk can,

* Argonaut , December 16, 1895.

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Burlesque 262

and when asked \'/hether he was a German siraply replies, 'No,
I'm a policeman.'"'""

And v/hen King Charles knocks at the door, Queen
Isabella says to Ferdinand, "If the worst comes to the worst,
sing him one of your songs*" Ferdinand greets Charles, leads
him to a chair, and says, "Sit down, King, and we'll open
something, Kitty, open the windov;/'

That was the sort of dialogue Rice purveyed to San
Franciscans in 1895« The actual v/riting of burlesque had ad-
vanced little or not at all since the days of Burnand. The
air was still congested with the drear?/ fxm of such puns asi
"I hear that Columbus is going to live in Missouri — I heard
Pike's Peak about it,"

The gags had perhaps been refreshed a little by the
growing effervescence of American vaudeville, ''No/' says the
tramp, "I can't 'et a recommendation — the last man I worked
for has been dead twenty years," and "I don»t wear patent leath-
er shoes, for the patent on them has expired." "Yes, a long
time ago I saved the girl's life — shot at her twice and
missed her," But the biggest laugh of the show was drawn out
by "Hello, Columbus, how did you get out of Ohio?"

The curtain of the last act came up on Richard
Harlow, female impersonator, as Qtieen Isabella, standing be-
fore a v/ashtub, methodically washing Ferdinand's socks, and

* Argonaut , December 10, 1895.

LiD-& '''. r.

:UT 1'J X

Burlesque 263

voicing a tearful hope for the quick return of Columbus, His
return was iimuediate, the queen's mood changedj and she broke
gaily into the song "I'm up-to-date, I dominate, for I ride a
wheel, " v/hich the Bulletin for December 10, 1095 prophesied
would "be whistled all over tovm in a day.''

Not so vdth the tunes of Excelsior, Jr. in 1897,
The critics were unanimous in decrying the use of such outworn
material in such a dull way. For one thing, the ballet cho-
rines were not only inexpert, but old — and "the older they
were, the shorter grew their dresses, the more golden their
hair, the more artless their manner,"* Except for Sadie
Martinet, there was nothing v/orth seeing - or hearing -* for
Sadie not only put on long white gloves and waved her arms
about in a recognizable burlesque of Yvette Gilbert, she also
did the best of the many singing imitations of the famous Cafe
Chantant Parisien, Sadie Martinet vi^as accepted by San Fran-
cisco almost without question, one critic holding out for the
fact that Yvette had not at all Sadie's girth, and also that
Sadie should give the v;hite gloves a good washing.

From the uncompromising expenditure on details of
j - ^- Q S "to the slipshod production of Exqe Isior , Jr . viras a
long and significant drop. Not that Edward "Everlasting"
Rice was vrearing outj the American extravaganza as developed
from The Black Crook was v/earing out.

« Argonaut , May 17, 1897,


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Burlesque 264

But the father survived with the last of his children. There
were two productions of The Black Crook in San Francisco in
1895. Springer and Welby's New York Company presented one
of the revivals at Stockwell's Theatre late in March, but did
no better than call forth this melancholy comment from the
Argonaut for April 2, 1895: "One is filled with melancholy
for the dear, dead days of the Kiralfy spectacles, in which
the dancers could dance, singers could sing, and the actors
could act,"

The other revival came forth xinder the local aegis
of the Alcazar Theatre Company, which included Thomas C.
Leary, of Tivoli Opera House fame, Florence Thropp, and
the Spanish dancer Matildita, The production was launched
as a burlesque of the old piece and was called The Black
Crook Up-tp-Date ; but, as one would suspect, by the time open-
ing night came around the element of burlesque was absent and
the flimsy, old story was used merely as a sketchy system of
pointless construction to carry the weight of the specialty
acts. The headline act was a dance by Matildita, with the
support of the Big Pour French Folly Dancers, Matildita, the
public was assured, v/as actually the premiere danseuse to the
Court of Spain, The publicity added, honestly enough, that
the four supporting dancers, actually Americans, had only as-
sumed their title because of their superiority to the genuine
Big Po\ir French Folly Dancers engaged for the New York revival
of The Black Crook two years before.

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Burlesque 265

And then came tho Liliputians, with the patronage
of Czar Alexander III redo\mding loudly to their credit in all
their publicity. The Emperor of Russia had siimmoned the com-
pany to the Winter Palace and had been so impressed with the
performance of the diminutive people that he had given them
their company name. In May 1895, they reached San Francisco
with a production called Humpty Dumpty Up-to-Date , The tallest
member of the company measured only thirty-eight inches in
height, the shortest member measured a mere twenty-eight.

The technique of their productions was obviously
derived from the magical pantomime so exquisitely perfected
by the Ravels and Martinettls, V'hen Humpty D\impty is about
to sit on a chair, the chair whisks to the other side of the
stage; he approaches a door, and suddenly there is a solid
wall before him; in order to reach a window, he steps upon a
table, the table quickly elongates into a flight of stairs by
which he ascends to the window; seated v/ithln the window, he
glances down and the flight of stairs has disappeared into
thin air.

The charming grotesquerie of the spectacle was
punctuated by four ballets." The Ballet of Humpty Dumpties,
The Ballet of Precious Stones and Metals, The Ballet of Plies,
and The Ballet of Drinks, in which "the dresses and accessories
represent coffee, tea, milk, chocolate, wine, beer, seltzers,
whisky cocktails, champagne, and even Croton water. The
tableau finishing this ballet consists of an ianraense piuich

Burlesque ^^^

bov;l, with all the Liliputians as spirits of punch."'""
The impression conveyed here is that the little people had
selected a particularly gay method of drowning. The staging
of the extraordinary natatorivun is nowhere described. Stage
historians are free to reconstruct it, each according to his
particular bibulous fancy.

In the meantime, San Francisco had been growing up.
Prom the homogeneity of the community in its early days had
developed the clear demarcation of Market Street. There was
a North of Market and a South of Market; two kinds of uphol-
stery, two vocabularies of slangjtvro sizes of v/hiskey ponies;
and, very definitely, tv;o criterions of entertainment, A New
York company in the Manhattan hit. The Passing Show , at the
Baldwin Theatre in October 1896, crystallized this dichotomy
in the snobbish mind of the Argonaut reviewer (October 28) t

"I'Jhat would rejoice Tar Flat would receive the
cold shoulder from Pacific Avenue. Melodrama
in its temple on the other side of Market Street,
would lose its glamoiir if it were transported
to this side. And genteel comedy would have a
desolate, home-sick air if they tried to domes-
ticate it at the Tivoli, , , .Prom New York, The
Passing Show comes stamped with the approval
of that metropolis. It has been running at the
Casino there, but in San Francisco it is put on
at the Baldv;in. Three years ago the Casino
passed from the home of light opera to the home
of vaudeville and variety. Its patrons changed
accordingly. The Passing Show makes its appeal
for popularity here to the same type of audience
that enjoyed it there, and would undoubtedly re-
joice in the same degree of public favor. In
transit across the continent it rose in social

4fr Bulletin , May 11, 1895,


scale, and when it reached the uttermost limits
of things out here, it was supposed to be suffi-
ciently elevated to be presented to a represent-
ative audience of San Francisco's best. It
was a mistake."

\Vho would have written about social scale in San
Francisco entertainment from 1850 to 1860? The application
of the statement in 1895 indicated, beyond the division of
classes, the decadence of the theatre itself. The life of
the whole people was no longer being reflected on the stage
by so-called "serious" writers and actors. "Genteel comedy
was for San Francisco's best." They could evidently have it
without a struggle, for most of the people in town could not
be baited with such foreign moeurs and language. It was the
old story of Hercules and Antaeus. As long as Antaeus had
contact with Terra, his mother, he was alive and kicking.
All that Hercules had to do to defeat him v/as to lift him
from the earth, v/hereupon he became a limp, etiolated sponge.
After 1895, the nineties sloped precipitately into
the new century. Theatrical forms were on the decline. It
was a period for the three backward steps after the four
taken forward. Eddie Poy was back in San Francisco with a
production of In Gay New York at the Baldwin Theatre (Novem-
ber 1897); but there was little this accomplished comedian
could do for an extravaganza which was all stucco facade and
no interior. Tho critics, after discovering that the piece
was an ill-timed imitation of Rice's 1:_4_9_2, commented
dryly that what laughter there was in the production was on

- ■ .",:teecf B*^o:

Burlesque ^^^

the stage. All the time-tried hypodermics were applied to the

corpse of the play with little effect. Gags were hurled at

the stage by actors who had been planted in the boxes.

An actor, got up as a naive provincial, sauntered down the

center aisle and engaged the cast in the most irrelevant and

disconcerting sort of repartee, Eddie Poy was given "that

venerable role, the crushed tragedian."

"Probably it is desperation at the antiquity
of his rolo which makes him originate a piece
of business which is certainly new, to wit,
seizing the female members of the chorus one
after another, and suddenly turning them upside

The only oncomi\Ain In Gay New York could elicit from

the press, had to do with the cost-uralng:

"One set of costumes, where the chorus v;ears
very short transparent black skirts, flesh-
colored tights, and black stockings and gartors
over the tights, are about as startling a cos-
tume as was evor seen on the stage...."*

Jeanotte Bageard contributed the inevitable "imitation" of
Yvetto Gilbert.

Pat and thin, old and young - there was an Yvette
Gilbert for every stage in America. If not Yvette Gilbert,
then Anna Held; if not Anna Held, then Carmenclta. And the
play of the moment was Trilby . No burlesque company's bag-
gage was complete without a Trilby-Svengali act, written hope-

Online LibraryEttore RellaA history of burlesque (Volume 1939 14) → online text (page 23 of 29)