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Ettore Rella.

A history of burlesque (Volume 1939 14) online

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Burlesque ^^^

1903 to November 1904, were spent chiefly with productions of
burlesques by San Francisco Yrt»iters, Judson Brusle contrib-
uted three scripts: I, 0, U ., U. S ,, and The Mormons ; J. C.
Crawford, two scripts. The Beauty Shop and Miss Mazuma ;
Howard Jacotte, one, Dovm the Line . Will Car let on and Lee
Johnson, in addition to writing music and lyrics for some of
the other burlesques, contributed two shows of their own:
Roly-poly, and The Anheuser Push.*"" The production of three
scripts from Nev>r York filled out this final year at Fisch-
er's: Chow-Chow, A Lucky Stone , and T he ^.Vhirl of the Town ,

The trinitarian descendancy from Wober, Fields, and
Warfield, continued in an unbrokon line, perpetuating one of
the most persistent of traditions in the American theatre.
Two German immigrants and a "Hebrew impersonator" had become
the nucleus of American comedy. With the American Travesty
Stars company still nebulous, """"^ Kolb, Dill, and Bernard were
together at Fischer's in Decombor 1903 when Brusie's I. 0. U .
opened. Thereafter the trio underwent quick transformation.
For a short time it was Kolb, Dill, and Bon Dillon. In May

1904 there was a complete change with Gus Yorke, Nick Adams,
and Al Fields.

Starting with the production of A Luc^cy Stone
in July, and carrying right on through the production of Down
the Line in October, the trio was made up of the team of Rice



i^ Anhaeuser-Busch (brewing company)
•;c-?jcf. last chaoter.



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Bvirlesque 283

and Cady, together with Bobby North. The succession of lead-
ing ladies, follov;ing the departure of Maude Amber after the
production of I.O.U ,, included Helen Russell, Caroline Hull,
and Dorothy Morton. John Pcachey and EdY/in Clarke divided
the male leads. The Althoa Sisters, star dancing team of the
troupe, were replaced in June 1904 by the Garrity Sisters.
In August, Flossie Hope had returned from her Australian tour
with the American Travesty Stars, and was quickly re-ongagcd
at Fischer's v;ith Pearl Hiclanan as her assistant.

The role of soubrotte in the company went through
as many name-changes as any of the other roles. To be engaged
as soubrette in 1904 meant first of all ability as a comedi-
enne; and you would be expected to sing — not the romantic
songs of the leading lady, but something with "vivacity and
spice." And if the show contained a slack moment, the sou-
brette vrould as likely as not be called on for a specialty act
of some kind. Georgia O'Ramey, Nellie Lynch, and Edna Aug
filled consecutive engagements up to July 1904 when it was
annoiinced that "an Eastern actress by the name of Nora Bayes"
would be the new soubrette in the production of A Lucky Stone .
Late in August, Nellie Gerin replaced Nora Bayes for a brief
engagement, Georgia O'Ramey then returned to complete the
long run of burlesques at Fischer's in October.

The only advantage the local burlesques might claim
over their Eastern competitors was that they were written with
an ear and eye for the particular abilities of the Fischer



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MAX DILL IN TWO BURLESQUE ROLES AT FISCHER'S THEATRE




UPPER: "WAY UP EAST," 1902, LOWER: "WIRLIGIG," 1903
PHOTO COURTESY OF MR. MAX DILL



Bvirlesquc 284

troupe. The plot situations were entirely subordimated to

some imitative usage of the Weber, Fields, and Warfield type

of dialogue, Tho following resume of the plot of I,0,U ,ap-

peared in tho Argonaut for November 30, 1903:

"The plot is based upon the trials of three
hotel proprietors (two Germans and a Jew*), who
become financially ombarpassed by reason of hav-
ing housed and fed a circus outfit, which also
becomes bankrupt and therefore is \inablo to pay
for its board and lodging. As a compromise a
trade is made v/hereby the circus manager ex-
changes his circus for tho hotel property, and
tho landlords become ov/ners of the circus,
v/ith such direful consequences and complica-
tions as to bring about a final ro-transf or,
the circus man going back to tho sawdust ring,
and the landlords returning to thoir hotels."

Tho Beauty Shop by J, C, Crawford was built as def-
initely about the basic triad of the Now York Music Hall, as
I,O.U .

" The Beauty Shop is said to have a coherent
plot, and tolls of tho adventures of a Chicago
woman, who having married, robbed, and deserted
an honest German, comes to San Francisco. Here
she marries again, and is picked up by a specu-
lative Hebrew, who starts her in the business
of making unsightly people beautiful. The beauty
shop does not prosper, so the Hebrew tries to ob-
tain financial assistance from a Chicago visitor,
the manager of a pretzel trust. He is the wom-
an's first husband, and hor efforts to conceal
her identity, also to keep tho Imowlodge of her
past from her second husband, lead to some amus-
ing complications. The scenes of the first and
second acts are laid in the beauty shop, and the
third is located on the ocean beach near the
Cliff House, "^-^

In U. S » by Judson Brusie, tho innocent immigrant
trio is plvmged Into a confused, international fracas.



* San Francisco Chronlclo , December 1, 1903,
-"" ^Argonaut , January 11, 1904 .









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aricf






Burlesque 285



"Some of the stage business of l»0«y . has been
revamped to fit the new piece ( U,S » ), which ±3
based on the starting of a revolution in one of
the South -(Imerican republics by two Hebrews, a
German and an Irish fugitive, with the intention
of declaring a nev; republic and securing the
protection of the United States by turning over
a strip of land for a coal station. After some
legal explanations. v;hich permitted some humor-
ous play, the rebellion is started, but the ar-
rival of an American man-of-war quickly puts a
stop to it and things are straightened out."*

The pivotal comedy trio was also kept intact for

the Anheuser Push , where again a slight odor of international

intrigue prevails.

"Rice, Cady, and Bobby North v;ill impersonate
three millionaire brewers, calling themselves
The Anheuser Push. Ben Dillon is to be a de-
tective and Edv/ard Clarke the president of the
ice trust. The latter also appears as an organ-
grinder with a real organ, monkey, and a chorus
of organ-grinders . " '-'<^^

But the trend of the later burlesques at Fischer's
was more and more away from the unified plots v;hich the Nov/
York Music Hall had dono so much to re-establish. The follow-
ing notice for Dovm the Line , last of the Fischer biirlesques,
appeared in the San Francisco Chroniclo , October 4, 1904:

"The book is by Howard Jacotte, but as he de-
nies any attempt at coherency of plot, vro can-
not scorn him for the lack of it and v/e must be
grateful that ho has £;lven a vehicle into #iich
some lively spectacles could bo thrown \7ithout
serious mishap."

Evidently, burlesque, despite the pioneering of

Weber and Fields, had not yet come to firm enough grip VYith



-;? San Francisco Chronicle , May 30, 1904.
-)Hi- Argonaut , August 22, 1904 .



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Burlesque 286

American life to keep hold. Tne momentary clarity of the
satiric face was quickly blurred, and the architectureless
entertainment of vaudeville took procodonco.

IX.1 '— THE BURLESQUE WHEEL AT THE CALIFORNIA

Prom August 1905 through most of tho yoar 1906, the

car of Thespis was taking a gay ride down the declivity from

the heights of Weber and Fields burlesque to the shapeless

plain of variety and vaudeville.

"The new California Theatre under the inanage-
ment of Charles P. Hall will reopen tomorrow
(Sunday) night inaugurating the new policy, the
burlesque v;heel which is to revive for fifty-
two consecutive weeks, from New York to this
city, presenting a new traveling company each
week. The first spoke of the burlesque wheel
to revolve on Sunday night will bo the Dainty
Paree Burlosquers, presenting tho latest musi-
cal comedy Tho Married Bachelor ."^*'

As tho burlesque wheel turned from such a company
as the Dainty Paroe to tho Brigadier Burlesquers, to tho
Kentucky Belles, to the Jolly Grass Widows, to the Waahlngton
Society Girls, to the Tiger Lillies, to the Utopians, to the
Gaiety Girls — as the biirlesque wheel tvirned it gradually
lost all the clinging dirt of the home country, until finally
the whole emphasis of the California Theatre was in the direc-
tion of specialty programs.

The phenomenon was of course national. The special-
ty coinpanies at the tip of each spoke in the wheel were being
rotated to all the major cities of tho country; and the way



* Argonaut , August 28, 1905.



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Burlesque 287

was clear. The keystone to the dominancy of burlesque had
already been removed in January 1904, with the closing of the
Weber and Fields Music Hall in New York City. After a brief
to\ir, the famous partnership had been dissolved. There had
been a personal difference, obscure and recorded almost en-
tirely from hoarsay; but other general factors had entered.
The Iroquois Theatre fire In Chicago, DecombGr 30, 1903, in
which 575 persons lost their lives, had stimulated a stringent
recording of fire laws throughout the country.

"New York enforced drastic changes calling
for now fire \7alls,asbosto3 curtains, increased
exits and Tonobstructcd alleyways on each side of
a theater. The music hall would have to be re-
built or abandoned. Fields was for abandoning
Itj Weber opposed." -J*-

And then the hub of the city had shifted. The
Pennsylvania Railroad had commenced the construction of its
Thirty-fourth Street terminal; and the New York Central rail-
road had laid the foundation for its new terminal, not on
Twenty-third Street as previously announced, but on Forty-
second, The TWenty-ninth Street music hall v/ould shortly be
too far out on the fringe of activity for the faithless thea-
tre-goer. At this time, any theatre in the city would have
been available to Weber and Fields, but their friends insisted
that the intimacy of the performances in the little Music
Hall Theatre had contributed a great deal to their success.



* Isman, Felix. Wober and Fields.









' ■ .' ■ ^ - •" "

onmio'i'iVi



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iio 1.



Burlesque , 288

So tho tv/o comodians said nothing about the personal quarrel,
permitted thoir friends to think that tho Weber and Fields
Company was merely stalling for time, and headed West on what
no one would have believed was tho company's last tour.

The mechanization of tho country is what the eyo
saw; and the decline of the brief excellence of burlesque
was to be in inverse ratio to the ascent of American Industry.
The geographical expansion of the country had been exhausted
and the population had turned back upon itself for a brief
moment of criticism. No^v the industrial expansion had gained
full headway, and for the time being there was neither time
not inclination for criticism. Satirical comedy had little
foothold in the positive movomont forward in heavy industry.

The programs of the California Theatre tended more
and more towards "pure" entertainment. It was no longer a
matter of thought, but of mechanical ability on the trapeze or
with sleight of hand. There was Yvetto, tho sensational elec-
trical dancer J and tho Kellar Zouave Girls from London in
their startling lightning drill, v;all- climbing, and march;
and Gray and Graham, tho musical bollboy and the military
maid. With tho applause wearing thin on tho last specialty,
the Marvelous Bard would perform a daring slack-wire act; and
then camo the Brothers Molvin, sonsational .gymnasts.

The outv/orn form of the nunstrol show had been re-
vived, Tho first part of the program v/as an olio which might
contain anything, from Prank O'Brien tho "fxanniclcor" to the



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Burlesque ^^^



Rozinos, "the jugglers of a billiard table." The rest of the

p-rogram was given over to farce, usually two of them, loosely

constructed and more concerned with the exploitation of

specialty talent and the exhibition of the chorus than with

any plot sequence. This emphasis is clear from the following

notice in the San Francisco Chronicle for December 24, 1905'.

"The Broadway Gaiety Girls is the attraction an-
nounced for the California Theatre for Christmas
week, opening with the matinee on Christmas Day,
The company numbers some very well-known vaude-
ville performers, and among those with the com-
pany are Mildred Stoller, John Weber, Gardner,
West and Sunshine, Marie Green, the Melrose
troupe of acrobats. Jack Marshall, the Green
Sisters, and Konny and Hollis. The chorus is
said to bo of exceptional merit. Fine costumes
and scenic effects will help to make the pro-
gramme a pleasing one. The final performance by
the Thoroughbreds Company takes place this af-
ternoon or tonight. For New Year's Week, the
California announces The Jolly Girls Extrava-
ganza Company,"

LXII - SHIFTING BACKGROUND

The burlesque wheel at the CaOifornia Theatre turned
towards vaudeville entertainment against a shifting and uncer-
tain backgro\ind in the rest of the theatres in San Francisco;
except, that is, for the duration of Music Hall burlesques at
Fischer's Theatre, and the prolonged career of pantomime at
the Tivoli, These latter shoijvhousos fiirnishod the sharp lines
in the theatrical picture of the years 1900 to 1906. In the
background was a great deal of xm theatrical pastiche.

Entertainment often claimed as little for itself as
the grand finale of the Rentz-Santley Combination show at the



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Burlesque 290

Alhambra Theatre in January 1900.

"The chief charm of the entire performance is
the grand finale, 'An Affair of Honor,' adapted
from the famous French painting of that name at
the Bonjere Salon, Paris. There are three scenes
to tho pantomime, ending with a very realistic
duel between tvro pretty women, who are decidedly
adroit with the foils.^'^'

Or tho city would be set agog by a troupe of juvenile stars in
Palmer Cox's operetta Tho Brovjnios , foaturing Carroll, a girl
^TJhistler, and Marie Louise Conloy, youngest cornetist on the
stage, playing "The Holy City."

Occasionally, a hopeful revival of some tried suc-
cess would be inserted in a dry season, Aladdin, Jr . opened
at the Grand Opera House in February 1900, featuring a
"throng of thirty-six beauties in a kaleidoscopic ballet en-
titled The Festival of the Mandarins, "'=^''- In July of the same
year, the Dunne and Ryley comedians applied themselves to the
well-kno^jm success of Matthews and Bulgor, By the Sad Sea
Waves. In December 1902,

"...after a lapse of many years, Humpty Dumpty
has been revived as a Christmas spectacle, and
the now generation of thoater-goors infoo witnessed
last night's performance at tho Central Theater
greeted it with the same enjo3Tnent that charac-
terized the earlier productions. The extrava-
ganza has been brought up-to-date by the intro-
duction of current gags and specialties. .. .The
scenic effects vrore elaborate, and the grand
transformation, 'A Good Child 'j Dream' was a
feature of the iDroduction. , . ."''^'"""*



-"■ Bulletin , January 7, 1900.

i^it Ibid. February 6, 1900.

►;M:-;tSan Francisco Chronicle, December 23, 1902.



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Burlesque 291

Again at the Central Theatre, April 5, 1904, another nine-
teenth century production \vas given a fresh, cosmetic mask.

*'The Central Theatre last night ptit on its
biggest bill in a spectacular production of
Arovjid the W orld In Ei.gjity Days .... One of the
featiu'-es of the performance was the Oriental
ballet by fifty girls under the direction of
Bothv/oll Browne. A champagne dance and a Per-
sian scarf dance wore enthusiastically ap-
plauded. . , ."'"-

A revival of '"'colossal'' proportions, was the Klaw

and IHrlanger production of the Drury Lane spectacle. Mother

Goose , at the Grand Opora Houso in January 1905.

"The ballet at the finalo of the first act
is called 'L'Art Nouveau, ' and roprosonts in
choruses and processions products of art in
raanufacturo, displaying carvod ivory, wrought
bronzes and iron, mosaics, Irridoscont glasses,
earthenware, limogos, enamels, gold work, trans-
parent onaraojls, jevrolry and thj diamond. Over
400 people appear in this feature. The great
ballot 'Koartsoase' at the end of the second act
is preceded by a minor ballet called 'The Land
of Frost and Ice' — a reinarkably beautiful
scene, composed of frosted beadwork. This melts
into the 'Land of Heartsease' showing nearly 400
people in most gorgeous costumes in every hue
of the pansy," **

The original Moth er Goose had been thoroughl^r plucked and the
painted feathers rearranged in a shoT,Ty, superficial pattern.
The imaginative intensity of the Llartinotti-Ravel version of
Mother Goose was dispersed. The feeling for simple but gen-
uinely theatrical fantasy had boon dissipated in the cloying
complexity of a meaningless design.



■> San Francisco Chronicle , April 5, 1904.
-;H;-Ibid, February 6, 1905.



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Burlesque 292

Vv'ith tho gradual collapso of Idoa in entertainment,
it was in the spirit of the times to enjoy the antics of ju-
venile troupes, 3othv;ell Rrovme furnished most of the mate-
rial v/ith his t'.TO musical extravaganzas. Princess Fan Tan and
Cleopatra Up to Date , Princess Fan Tan T«jas first proscntod
at the Grand Opora House in September 1904 and v/as revived
at The Chutes Theatre in December 1905, The pseudo-Egyptian
furnished the Cliristmas entertainm.ent at The Chutes Theatre
immediately upon the closing of the pseudo- Japanese.

Upon her second presentation, the Princess found
herself amidst some rather mature company, human and other-
wise,

"Prin cess Fan Tan , the delightful Japanese musi-
cal elctravaganza, participated in by nearly 300
clever children, Vt'ill receive its final presen-
tation at the Chutes this afternoon and evening,
and at the Monday matinee. Princess Trixie, the
wonderful educated horse, v/ill reappear in her
extraordinary exhibitions, Henderson and Ross,
refined singers and dancers will make their
first bow, and 'Bob Pitzsimanons, ' the boxing
kangaroo from Australia, will indulge in three-
round goes. The Bothwell Brovme Gaiety Girls
will present Twirly ViOiirly and Marie Straub,
the singer of illustrated ballads, and the ani-
matoscope v/ill v.]B.lze up the bill."*

The tangential reference of importance here is to the
animatoscope, an early form of the kinetoscope or movie pro-
jector. It was at this time that crude bits of cinema were
becoming a part of variety entertainment.



* San Francisco Chronicle , Decor^ibor 5, 1905.









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Burlesque 293

Bothwell Brovme's second panorama of oriental royal-
ty received little notice in the press* C].eopa tra-Up- to-Pat q
was patted on the back — ''the piece v/ill be beautifully
mounted" j"*^ but more v/as mace of the sentimental occasion than
of the content of the nho"/ — ", , . tomorroTAf afternoon every
child in attendance will be given a present off the Christmas
tree."'^'""'

The disappointiiient of the 1904 winter season was

the long-heralded J;ilian Mitchell production of The Wizard of

Oz « This had been Mitchell's first Mew York production after

the dissolution of the '.Vober and Fields Music Hall company,

and the metropolis had crowded to the shov? v/ith great acclaim.

A second company, however, had been sent out on the road and

evidently little remained of the original show except

Mitchell's masterly direction of chorxis routine.

"The company was not, of course, the Now York
company, but ^vithout being too captious, it may
be said that there would be little difficulty
in getting up a better cast from our own cheap
theaters. It was mainly a leg show; not that
the legs v/ere any prettier than we can find on



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