Ettore Rella.

A history of burlesque (Volume 1939 14) online

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be performed by Miss Gordon (Marguerite), Mr* Leman (Faust),
and Mr. Thompson (Mephistopholes) ."

"Tonight, a new piece horo, entitled Faust and
Marguerite, v;ill be produced. The story Ts
founded on the old popular legend of The Devil
and Dr» Faustus , v/hich has boon treated in var-
ious forms, in different co\mtries, by many
writers, from Marlowo to Goethe."*

The minor is down from the hills. Ho is not at all
sure that ho will return; there is rumor of higher wages
in the booming silver camps of Nevada. Ho has just extricated
himself from a nearly violent argument at the music hall con-
cerning Separatism or Union. His head buzzing with the last
pugilistic phrases and the last belligerent drink, he turns
from the street into the Opera House and trios to settle

"Mophistophelcs occasionally utters some sting-
ing remarks on the frailties and follies of
mankind, but otherwise there is nothing partic-
ularly striking in the language of the drama. "-s^*-

* gullotin . February 27, 1860.
*»Ibid. February 28, 1860.

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Biirlesque 46

The life in the music hall and on the street out-
side from which the miner has Just plunged Into the dark au-
di tori\m is still much brighter and more dramatic to him than
the lighted stage where a silly and, as far as he Is conoenvdd^
Irrelevant continuity is attempting to enmesh him. His
fingers itch for a more immediate and realistic grappling
when Mephistopheles seizes the stout and rejuvenated Faust of
Mr» Leman and carries him bodily into the lower regions.
Then things begin to happen:

"The walls of the building represented on the
stage slnlc throxigh the floor, and the form of
Marguerite, supported by two angels, is seen
to rise slowly heavenward. The flowing white
robes of those fomalo figures, resting upon the
delicate blue of the sky, which is all around,
produces a very beautiful effect. "'"'•

With a vague hush of respect that has something to
do with the religion of his boyhood, and with an active me-
chanical Interest in the elevation of the angels, the minor
decides that perhaps this is a good show* Ho shvifflos out
with the crowd and returns to the music hall whore the con-
text of the entertainment is intensely present-day, and the
reactions called forth are neither vague nor disturbing*

The music halls and melodeons of the period were
always packed, which is something not to be said for Tom Ma-
gulre's Opera House. And no outlay for advertising - a mere

* Bulletin. February 28, 1860.

-i.rj3 jtxab edt oinX Jbesiu/Xq i-^.u^ e&d •s^ftJtm ©rtt doietn «ito«i'i ©Ms
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iT.ooci ex ovva

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-est ©via OB rtp if^Jiv/ br-:e ^boort^od &ld "lo -x od:i dilv ot

lottta. odo ^ ale^xos off? lo noi:tjBv©Xo orlct ni i iBoixtxjdo

-r:oc Qdi ciorlw XXfixl oisirci Oi-ia ■

on'j baB ,-\j«f>-d'n9aoiq 'cXoertcctjil ei cfnrnnJtjBCfiocfno crii lo 'Jxo^
*^;:ild' ton ojj^^v =xcif:fioii ota ricf'iol halXno enci.ioiJQ'j

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Biirlesque 47

handbill. Handbills are easily destroyed; few have come down
to us. But the records are full enough to indicate the super-
ficial routine of a melodeon performance. A sleight-of-hand
artist perhaps; a daring designer of tableaiix; a blackface
comedian: and often as not, a stinging, full-blooded bur-
lesque of the current legitimate plays in one of the big
theatres. Wliatever the program at the music hall, the fluirry
of excitement was immediately and directly exploited in the
hurried handbills which marked the walls and windows of the
town with color for a few days before the performance. The
excitement died as rapidly as the advertising had appeared,
but a definite threat to the big theatres was being estab-

Gradually the programs of the variety halls or me-
lodeons ass-umed a traditional pattern. There v/ere three main
parts to such a show. The first part took over the confirmed
minstrel form, with Bones and Tambo officiating. An olio
follov/ed, during which most anything might happen before the
painted drop close to the prosceni-um, v;hlle the backstage
vras being prepared for the conclusion of the show. The final
section of the entertainment by this time had been built up
to with careful gradation. The audience was prepared for the
abandon of the afterpiece: sometimes the rov;diest kind of
burlesque, somotimos an original. If an original, it was
evidently in the sense of the photographic. Clay Greene com-
plains that "all too often (the afterpiece) was based on an


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Burlesque 48

immoral story and its lines bristled with poorly concealed
smut . "

During the intermission, between minstrel show and
olio, the subtle revelation of nineteenth century pulchritude
in glove-fitting tights descended as a bevy upon the gentle-
men of the second tier, ostensibly with the purpose of stimu-
lating business at the bar; ostensibly, and (always remember-
ing the margin of hioman frailty) sincerely, inasmuch as the
admission charged enabled the managers to hire professional
actors and entertainers. Prostitutes were not allowed to
enter the melodeons .

The miner in town from the hills (February 13,
1860) has passed up the tragedy of Othello at the Lyceum the-
atre on the corner of V/ashington and Montgomery Streets.
There are brighter lights on down the street. He turns in at
the Bella Union Melodeon on Kearny Street. He walks the
length of the long, crowded barroom, and enters the little
theatre. A four bit admission gives him entrance to one of
the diminutive boxes, suggestively c-urtainod off around the
sweep of the second tier. He is late : the first part of the
show is over; the ridiculous, scenic backdrop is rippling its
canvas stream in readiness for the olio entr'actes; the or-
chestra, in Mexican costume, is rousing the pattern of a
weary nostalgia.

The miner sits dovirn beside the tabic; gets his foot
comfortably perched on tho railing, and is about to survey the

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Btirlesque 49

crowd when one of the girls of the chorus steps with a rustle

of curtain into the box. Smiles are easy, but she holds out

for a bottle of the best imported champagne. With a gradual

deflation of her ego down through all the levels of the v/lne

list, and with a gradual evaporation of smile, she finally

settles for a straight whiskey. The olio variety acts are

over. The drop curtain rises on the first loud lines of a

thorouglagoing farce. The conversation intensifies with the

tempo of the farce; there is a gradual ascent back thjcough

the wine list. The farce is very v/ell received.

A liandbill for such an evening at the Bella Union

Melodcon is still oxtant:-:?-

Bella Union Melodoon
A Constantly Varied Entertainment
Replete V7ith Pun and Frolic
Abounding in Song and Dance
Unique for Grace and Beauty
Wonderful Scccntricity
And Perfect in Its Object of Affording
Laughter For Millions
In liVhich
Harry Courtaine
Sally Thayer, Maggie Brewer, Sam Wells,
J. H. O'Neill, V/illiam Leo, J. Allen,
Marian Log, ITollic Cole, A. C. Durand,
J. H« McCabo, C Stadcrman, Amanda Lee,
Ellle Martoll, H. D, Thompson, Joe Mabbot,
T. M. Wells, G. Woodhull, and a host of
the best
Dramatic, Torpsiohoroan and Musical
Talent Will Appear
E-mphatically the
Melodoon of the People
Unapproachable and Beyond Competition

* Reproduced from an al»tlcle by Pauline Jacobson in the San
Francisco Bulletin . August 4, 1917.

8 o^ T. y r' f i'^ -'t"*!' ',

I.r,;" ^

Burlesque ^^

The noble attempt of H. A. Perry in March 1860, to
hold out with a Shakespeare repertory at the Lyce\am, gave way
to the burlesque of Metamora, or The Last of the PollywDgs .
The performance of Edwin Forrest as Metamora in the original
play was the springboard for Perry's satire. He received
very little attention, however, and spent the rest of his en-
gagement in unprofitable productions of the old, supposedly
sure-fire plays such as Richelieu and The Belle's Stratagem ^
with occasional attempts at such new sensation plays as
The Hidden Hand and Six Degrees of Crime *

Prompted by the apparent inability of the other big
houses to gain an audience, the American Theatre was reopened
in April "under the general management of Messrs. Booth and
Ryer and the stage management of Mr. Baker.... The prices
are reduced to half the usual rates at a first-class theatre
here, viz: 50 and 25 cents." ( Daily Evening Bulletin ,
April 12, 1860.)

A description of the production v^ith which the
American was reopened appeared in the Daily Evening Bulletin ,
April 13:

"A numerous audience was present last night at
the re-opening of this house. (The American
Theatre.) The local drama of The Tliree Fast
Men of San Francisco ( so called probably be-
cause the words Stockton Street and Sacramento
are occasionally spoken by the characters) is a
long, dreary farce in five acts. There is no
plot of the slightest interest, and the piece
only shows the b\iffooneries of a fev; personages


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Burlesque 51

who successj.vely visit a gaming house, a thieves'
den. a fortune-teller parlor, a masked ball,
etc. The grand feature in the farce is the im-
itation, by a number of females, of the Negro-
minstrelsy, Ethiopian jokes, stale conundrums
and Alabam' dancing of Billy Birch and Joe
M\irphy's troupe. There is a great deal of
coarse animal life exhibited. The fists are
freely used, and hats are knocked over the vic-
tim's heads; a cry of police is heard and every-
body runs, etc. These things produce a laugh,
but immediately afterward one is sorry that he
has been tempted to indulge in mirth at such
absuri ties. The piece will be repeated tonight."

Despite censorious handling by the newspapers, the

production of The Three Fast Men of San Francisco held the

boards for a ten-night run. The Daily Evening Bulletin in a

second attack, inadvertently discloses some of the reasons

for the success of the production:

"V/e have been particularly requested by those
interested to pitch into the farce of The
Three Fast Men of San Francisc o. (They
say) anything that shows how vulgar, gross and
indecent a play it is v/ill be sure to persuade
a San Francisco audience, particularly the la-
dies, to visit the theatre. We are reminded
that the present Fiyer-Baker-Booth Company have
produced of late some of the finest dramas in the
English language, but they v;ere played only to
a 'beggarly account of empty boxes.' Finding
San Francisco weary of the refined and intel-
lectual, the management prod^iced the present
piece and at once crowded the house nightly and
put money in their purse. Latterly, however,
the 'rush' has commenced to slacken, and it is
thought that a good sharp censure of the piece
will bury it hard. Well, we can only repeat
that the piece is worthless as a dr8jna,that the
management v;ho produced it, and the actors, and
especially the actresses, who perform in it
should be ashamed of themselves and their call-
ing; that the men who persuade women to see it
cannot be their well-wishers; and that who-ever
see it, voluntarily a second time, or who sit

'Bev'dlri.i B .fipu&d r^fttraBT^ fl-iiei"';..- y-



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. '. oyij.. .

Burlesque 52

it out a first time (unless under duress) has a
taste for very lo\v pleasures.. ..The piece is
announced to be repeated tonight. "'^^

This agitation of the Daily Evening Bulletin against

the burlesque crudities of the Three Fast Men indicates the

adjustment the "arbiters of taste" would have to make to the

inevitable arrival of the "log-show" toward the end of the

1860 decade.

The dull round of experiment from opera to legiti-
mate drama to "sensation play" to extravaganza v/as three
times broken successfully by the Marsh Juvenile Comedians.
Their first two appearances were in the spring and summer
of 1860; their third appearance, in the fall of 1863.

The performances of this juvenile troupe were a sac-
charine variation of the nev; theatrical modes; the repertoire
was made up of farces, -fairy extravaganzas, sensation plays,
and burlesques. Daring exposure of limb for an adult became
sweet exposition; riotous farce became cute fancy; sex appeal
of Greek myth became tinseled daintiness; crime page sensa-
tion plots became intellectual exercises. The dramatic crit-
ic of the Bulletin (April 5, 1860) was not completely taken

"The Juvenile Comedians were welcomed last
night by a very numerous audience. To serious-
ly criticize these youngsters is out of the

^-^ Bulletin, April 13, 1860.


ir- •'.«.;.-.:•.•.■.. ■ ;..-,■ './tiriw!^ h§i €ii bei£>t.^.}j.giinii
« . -. . ..■-..• f. i ■ ■

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•reanea a^ec 5 •:-:..c •!.'.. ',4.v.:>,jvi; Vf.iir^-', .'3oX-e>ai?ixt- ai-jfjof^:'' ricfyra :jI&91v ^.g

. ■>t;^rrT^?=''i^'i'^'V'"Tnic O.Li <::;::

Burlesque 5^

question* The stronger emotions and passions
that animate men and women in the drama of the
stage, as in real life, cannot bo supposed to
fill their minds; and they must often necessar-
ily repeat their parts as the parrot speaks.
One views their acting v;ith something of the
same fooling he has when gazing on dancing dogs,
Icarnod pigs, or performing monkeys % It is not
altogether so, indeed, for children do experi-
ence.. . ."

Twenty-six girls and four hoys, with ages from six

to sixteen years, made up the company. George PMd Mary

Marsh (born Guerineau) were the stars. Louise Marsh (really

Miss McLauglilin) was the second leading lady light. George

Marsh proved to be a comedian of almost mature ability:

"His powers of imitation were marvelous, and
his Toodles, a miniature copy of Burton's Too-
dles, in v/hich all of the business and many of
the gags, even to the profanity at the mention
of Thompson, were retained, was almost as funny
in its uproariousness as was Burton's Toodles
stuff, and certainly better than many of -the
imitations that have been seen since Burton's

The same source says of Mary, that she was "an un-
commonly attractive child, bright eyed, graceful, fresh, and
fair"; and goes on to add this sad detail of her death:

"\Vhile playing in one of the Southern cities,

her dress took fire from the footlights and she

was fatally burned, living but ^an hour or tv;o
after the accident occurred." "''■""'

The Bulletin for April 6, 1860 admits lukewarmly

the success of the Marsh juveniles in San Fraiicisco:

* Hutton, Laiirence Curiosities of the American Stage .

■ ""' . " .• orO

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Burlesque 54

"There was another crowded house last night
v/hen the company of juvenile comedians repeated
Black-eyed Susan and Toodles. The tender years,
the sex, the pretty faces and soft voices, the
handsome costumes, the draraatic ability and ex-
cellent drilling and the general spriijiitliness
of this youthful troupe make a very charming
whole. Some of them sing very sweetly, though
without much expression, and others dance light-
ly and gracefully."

The Martinetti-Havel pantomimists (they are dis-
cussed in detail in a later section) bridged December of 1860
and January of 1861 with a forty-five night run. This high
level of public response v;as not achieved by any other at-
traction. The theatrical season was as jittery and shifting
as the political factions of the whole nation. In 1860, Cal-
ifornia, against all prognostications, had elected itself in-
to support of the Union and Lincoln. On April 24, 1861, with
news on the Pony Express that Fort Sumter had fallen and
civil war v/as dofinitoly and terribly begun, there v/as a
city-wide flare-up of political anirao cities. Offices of Gon-
fodorato ncv/spapcrs and businessmen were wrockod and ransacked.
General patriotic fervor rioted in the streets. The com-
pletion of the transcontinental telegraph was peculiarly stim-
ulating at this time; that the first use of this revolu-
tionary means of communication should be for the contro-
versial dispatches of an internecine war, kept the people on
their toos for the least flicker of a telegraphic signal.

The fact that the latest military dispatches were
read from, the stages of most of the San Francisco theatres
during performances, certainly contributed to the up-curve



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'■■'.'■';! f i:ct .''>"9'C^ ■.'•■•• ■•

Burlesque 55

of a dull season. Maguire, always first (or close and often
legally defended second) in the theatrical mode, announced a
July 2nd opening of "the grand operatic, spectacular, diabol-
ical, musical, terpsichorean, farcical burletta of The Seven
Sisters " with a fervid, pro-Union epilogue v/ritten especially
for the occasion "by Walter Lcman.

The Seven Sisters was one of the most successful
of the extravaganza burlesques. The San Francisco production
followed upon a run of eight months at the Laura Keone Thea-
tre in Now York. The Bulletin for July 5, 1861 maintained
its usual hauteur in burlesque matters:

" The Seven Sisters will be repeated tonight.
This piece, as a very juvenile critic remarked,
has neither head nor tail, and we may add, there
is not much body too. It is a forage of thea-
trical stuff, which, from its excess of absurd-
ity, is occasionally amusing. The 'political
hits' give it a sort of artificial spasmodic
life; while the number of 'supes,' male and fe-
male, and the nev/ scenery please the spectators
who love show. The scene 'behind the scenes,'
the drill of female Zouaves, the dialogue be-
tween Columbia (Mrs. Vfoodward) and Uncle Sam
(W. Leman) with the illustrative tableaux are
the chief points in the piece."

Walter Leman 's epilogue v;as an elaborate obituary
for Colonel Ellsworth, quick hero of the Union cause. Leman
used old Doctor Collyer's technique of the tableaux vivants,
up-to-dating it as Uncle Sara's Magic Lantern .

The Bulletin of August 24, 1861 printed further
details :

"The spectacle of The Seven Sisters is still on
the run here. Last night, Mr. Leman, in the
character of »Uncle Sam' recited the following


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Burlesque 56

original lines, peculiarly appropriate to the
times, drew down 'thunders of applause* repeat-
ed again and again:

"'How many braves have fallen to uphold that flag.
Which men, misled, througli treason's ditch would

drag J
No more shall gleaming blade or booming gun
V/ake Ellsworth, Corcoran, or Cameron,
Or Lyon,— fallen in the bloody fray,
Vifhich Sigel's valor has redeemed the day I
Sigel i Yifith face turned ever toward his foes.
Making his bloody record as he backward goes.
Peace to their dust J While love of coiintry leads
The nation's sons to emulate their deeds,
Around their graves her daugliters shall repair.
And, weeping, lay their blooming chaplets there;
TiVhich every Union heart — whatever betide—
Beats firmer for the cause for v/hich they died. '

"As Mr. Leman is v/ell known to the readers of
this journal for his patriotism and poesy, we
presume that he is the author of the spirited
verses given above. The Seven Sisters will be
repeated, once more, this evening, when a nev/
audience may hear 'Uncle Sam' himself relieve
his mind in these lines...."

Following the run of The Seven Sisters , Maguire
became involved in one more of his numerous first-rights con-
troversies. Production of Boucicault's Colleen Bawn was the
issue and the management of the Metropolitan was the plantiff .
When Maguire lost the case and was forced to close his run of
the play, he showed his astute showmanship by reopening
diately with the patriotic display of The Seven Sisters . For
several nights, the Union sympathy of the city packed Ma-
guire 's Opera House and reacted as expected to Leman's flag-
waving finale.


The 1861-62 season was particularly embittered: di-
rectorates of the theatres v;ere dissolved and realigned; the


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Online LibraryEttore RellaA history of burlesque (Volume 1939 14) → online text (page 5 of 29)