Ettore Rella.

A history of burlesque (Volume 1939 14) online

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Burlesque 57

legal entanglements for first dramatic rights became more and
more inscrutable; the temperamental gorge of the stars rose
easily and there was a great deal of firing and rehiring*
Norton the First , a musical burlesque of the self-styled
"Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico"
achieved a comparative success at the Academy of Music* Cherry
and Fair Star (also called T he Children of Cyprus ) trailed
its foggy and ornamental machinations across the stage of the
Opera House for brief acclaim. More than once. The 3t»ven
Sisters was unceremoniously throvm into the breach made by
the receding failure of legitimate drama or opera. In December
1861, even the austere bigwigs of the State Legislature (tem-
porarily housed in San Francisco because of the SacrEtnento
Valley flood) voiced their concern for the execrable taste of
the theatre-goers; seventy-five of the marooned senators
voted their unrepresentative confidence in the art and life
of Mrs. Hayne, courageous upholder of legitimate drama's palo

The vaudeville, minstrelsy, and burlesque of the
melodeon shows took more and more shape in the threatening
baclcgrotind of theatrical life. It v/as clear that before long
the censored modes of the music hall v;ould step down ag-
gressively and take over the big theatres. In March 1862,
Maguire tried to get his affairs adjusted to the inevitable.
First he moved his dramatic company from the Opera House to
the Metropolitan in which he had recently bought an interest.

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Burlesque 58

Here he continued operatic and dramatic performances, thus
salvaging his persistent love of culture. He, perhaps sadly,
reopened his Opera Plouse as The Varieties, engaging Frank
Hussey as manager.

Programs at The Varieties proved as flexible as the
name. Maguire very deliberately tried everytliing. As a re-
sult, the programs v/ero shapeless potpourris without any
particular drawing power: elements of minstrelsy v/ere thrown
in; short farces were played as afterpieces; costume-stifled
extravaganzas were headlined. The tone of the whole show
was Innocuously mild;Maguire was out for a compromise between
the obvious taste of the times and a profitable, whole-family
program. Interspersed ballet, v/ith a daring kick or two, was
the only liglit touch at The Varieties.

The Opera House dtiring October 1862 shook off its
brief indignity and survived by alternate runs of minstrelsy
and grand opera. In December, Maguire organized an excellent,
new minstrel troupe, including such featured players as Silly
Birch, the Misses Jennie and Alicia Mandoville, and Harry
Courtaine. Harry Courtaine offered the most intense light of
the company. Without a doubt one of the great talents of the
California stage, he continued to truncate his career with
all-absorbing, well-publicized intoxication v^rhich usually de-
livered him into the hands of the law. He also, however, con-
tinued to reappear in theatrical history, as nov/ in Maguire 's
new company, v;ith apparently undiminished vigor and artistry.

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Burlesque 59

filling the roles of burlesque clowns (which he usually
chose) with ironic finesse. The press invariably praised his
performance .

Survival of the fittest is apparently in the long
run a sound enou^ rule. But the run has to be rather long.
For instance: Harry Courtaine's burlesque of King Lear as
King Blear is lost; (his performance would be irrecoverable
anyway) but beyond that loss, there is the loss of that sort
of b\irlesque script vrtiich was perhaps never more than a se*
ries of crude cues on the player's cuff, and swift flashes of
imagination in production. Meanwhile, the inn\imerable scripts
of respectable bvirlesque are carefully preserved. They have
assumed for the most part a graveyard complexion to be looked
upon only by the scholar; the law of siorvival has duly worked
out. The liveliest part of the early San Pranoisco bur-
lesque, that of the melodeons and such men as Courtaine and
Leman at the big theatres, is irreparably faded.

It is interesting to remember that the early Euro-
pean theatre was in many respects bxirlesque of the ch\irch
dogma; this early drama has in large part s\jrvived because of
its central reference. There was an established path in peo-
ple's minds by indiich to transmit it. The folklore of an
early California, however, was a rapidly fluctuating, decen-
tralized mass of immediate political Issues; there was neither
the mental predisposition nor the desire to transmit the

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Burlesque ®^

satire of one issue into the time of another.

Early in 1863 it was disclosed that lobbying at the

State Capitol had asstimed the rather substantial nature of

bribery. On February 14, King Caucus , Walter Leman's satire

of the scandal, opened at the Opera House. The San Francisco

opening of the burlesque, which had already been successfully

shown in Sacramento, was annoimced by the Dai ly Alt a Califo rnia

of February 14, 1863 in these ironic terms:

"Maguire's Opera House: Mr. Walter Leman's ex-
travaganza. King Cau cus which made such a hit
at Sacraraento")^ will 5e produced this evening,
and of course will attract all who dabble in
politics. "

Leman, in his Memories of An Old Actor , includes
the following description of this play;

"The biennial session of the State Legislature
occurred that year, and certain charges of
bribery with respect to the election of one of
its honorable members, made a great commotion
in political circles; the matter was ventilated
in the House, and was for the time the talk not
only of Sacramento, but of the whole State. I
took advantage of this public exposure by com-
posing a political squib, under the title of
King Cau cus f or The Sen atoria l Muddle, which
hit the pWlic fancy, and filleT" the^'fcEeatre&r
a week. This little extravaganza was arranged
in 'four sessions,' and the characters were
'made up' and recognized as prominent members
of the Legislature. The bill was headed with
the couplet:

'Scheming Rogues with forms to mock us.
Straggling one by one to Caucus.'

"And to enhance the effect, the 'original ward-
robe' in which one 'honorable gentleman,' was
charged with proposing to a third 'honorable
gentleman,' was brought from the 'Golden Eagle
Hotel' and used for the same purpose on the

J;;,'. to'dilTi

j^mi^'$ ■siiSO'Si -^t^^li r-

Burlesque 61

stage. The squib answered completely the p\ir-
pose for which it was intended, and caused a
good-natured laugh all around."

The text of King Caucus is not extant. At any rate, its
references would he so particular as to be almost unin-


The spring season of 1863 was taken up at the Opera

House by a number of romantic extravaganzas. Maguire observed

the dull response of the audience to the cl\itnsy attempt's tb

present contemporary situations through the dead weight of

mythological paraphernalia. He also observed the Immediate

liveliness of the audience when the ballet kicked out for its

routine. Evidently he assumed that a ballet corps was the

key to public enthusiasm; he immediately en^loyed as maltres

de ballet the famous dancers, Mile, Caroline Acosta and M.

Hippolyte Wiethoff , and then advertised locally for a corps

dQ ballet which finally included fifty San Francisco women.

With determined faith. Maguire then injected a ballet routine

into the most staid regions: the heart-wringing denouement

of a serious play would be either stalled or crowned with a

sudden line-up of pxiffing danseuses.

That something was wrong is Indicated by the next
twist .in the season. The ballet experiment gave way to a
high pressure series of sensational plays: East Lynne , The
Dead Heart , and The Mistake of a Life appeared with no inter-
ims whatsoever for breathing.

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And still the audiences trickled Into sparse con-
formity: empty rows, and empty spaces within rows — the lost
teeth of theatrical vent\ires. Something sensational was
needed to turn the tide from the melodeons, something vio-
lent. Adah Isaacs Monken did it — an attractive woman in
ti^ts, strapped to the back of a real horse, riding her
charger dizzily up a scenic ramp and offstage. Maguire
brought "The Menken" as Mazeppa to San Francisco in August
1863, The lassitude of theatre audiences was instantly jerked
up to a thrilling response. It was not the person of Men-
ken herself; other Mazeppas followed all over the city. The
hoop-tearing, acrobatic quality of Mazeppa' s Pegasean ascont
polarized the San Francisco theatres for more than a year.
Lotta Crabtree was moderately successful in a season of
farces and a musical burlesque of Jenny Lindj Peter and Caroline
Richings held out without loss in a season of romantic opera;
several of Boucicault's new plays had short, well reviewed
runs J the San Francisco Minstrels maintained their steady
popularity at the Eureka Theatre* But throughout 1863 and
1864 there was a constant and profitable reversion to Mazep-
pa 's enwrapt disappearance into the terror of the Gothic
scenery. Six of the San Francisco theatres opened the fall
season of 1864 v/ith some version of Mazeppa , each being ad-
vertised as employing the wildest horse, the most beautiful
woman, the longest ramp, the most convincing rocks, S\irely
the most entertaining was the burlesque version of Mazeppa at

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Burlesque 63

the Bella Union music hall, which announced that the leading
lady would be changed for each scene throughout the play«
Variety if nothing else; the heroine would not be given even
the duration of one performance to pall on her audience.

Mazeppa's omnipresent flight into the empyrean left
a boredom in its wake which theatrical managers strove to
dispel. Events in the country itself were moving with
such rapidity that the stimulation of the theatre could
hardly be felt. Maguire, as always throughout his career,
continued his protean antics in the eye of public taste.
With Charles Kean and his wife, the former Ellen Tree,
engaged at the Opera House in a season of Shakespeare,
Maguire kept his hands on a sure thing in the fall of
1864 with Backus and his minstrels at the Eureka. The bur-
lesque elements of these minstrel programs are lost along
with the satirical subtleties of the melodeons. But there is
assurance, time and again in the press, that the minstrels
held a constant audience with their irrepressible humor in
the face of all events.

The moribund condition of the theatre in the middle
sixties was symbolized by the opening of Mechanic's Pavilion
in December 1864. Under the management of John Wilson, the
public was subjected to a hippodrome hypodermic. Roman char-
iot races, fancy riding, and educated horses were presented.

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Burlesque 64

But with hardly an audible neigh, this horse show foundered,
and the newspaper columns of the time furnish no telltale
Y;ord of wreckage.

The year 1865 brought signal honors for Maguire's
San Francisco Minstrels. They had been subjecting personali-
ties, local politics, and national events to a brisk patter
of burlesque for months at the Eureka Theatre. The success
of this phenomenal run at the Eureka pointed to an Eastern
tour. Before their departure, Maguire installed the company
at the Academy of Music for a series of benefit performances.
With occasional benefits, the troupe played at the Academy
for almost two months in the spring of 1865.

As a madman's catharsis for the Civil V/ar, the as-
sassination of Lincoln arrested the life of the whole nation
in April. The Worrell sisters, Irene, Sophie, and Jenny,
received scant notice for their season of burlesque at the
Opera House. There was no upswing in the theatre until the
fall of 1865. Maguire and \%eatleigla engaged in a well pub-
licized controversy for first rights to a new Boucicault
play, Arrah-na-Pogue . Wheatleigh, victorious, produced the
play very successfully at the Metropolitan. Maguire retali-
ated with a burlesque of the play, which he called A rrah- no-
Poke, or Arrah of tho Cold Pomme de Torre. The Bulletin for
November 15, 1865 carries a valuably detailed announcement
of the opening of this burlesque at the Academy of Music:

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Burlesque 65

An original burlesque on Arrah-na-Pogue , styled
Arrah-no-Poke, or Arrali of the Cold Pormne de
Terre , will be performed tonight, Mr. Setchell
personating "Shun the Post," and Miss Clarkson,
the Worrell Sisters, doing up the excruciating
and melodious business....

Cast of Arrah-no - Poke, or Arrah of the Cold
Pomme de I'erre ;

Shun the Post, a Highlow Hod-Carrier, with the
song of "Eatin' of the Greens," and several
enchoruses : Setchell

Arrah Melissa, called by the peasantry, for
short, Arrali Moliss, and nicknamed by others
Arrah-no-Poke, or Arrah of the Cold Pomme de
Terre — not a small potato part at all - with
several songs : Miss Louisa Clarkson

Squeamish but Cool, the old Cool himself who has
a weakness for taking things — with several
songs : Miss Sophie Worrell

Fanny Steampower, a descendant of the powers
that B. McCoul - with n\imerous songs, to say
nothing of a duet: Miss Irene Worrell

Col. Bogtrotter 0' Gravy, the Original Gravy— his
first entry for the plate in this engrossing
character: Harry Wall

Majority Coughlin, a hack of the Hinglish
Harmy, with a strong haccent and a hacking
cough: George Pardey

Francois Flnnegan, an P. F, of no character at
all, but a Picacious though misused individ-
ual, with song and a sonorous opening snorus :


Skaty Welshrabbit, fond of a swig and a jig,
and of beating Flnnegan — in which latter
taste she is no exception to the company
she keeps— with any number of "Barndoor
Jigs": Little Jennie (V/orrell)

Mod. L. Pliceman, who makes his prisoners com-
fortable, and does not object to the beating
of Informers.

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Alphonse de Riley, Rudolphe O'Rourke, Theodore
Mulligan, and other of the gentry, with peas-
ants and peasant girls too renumerative to
mention, etc., etc. By others of the Pleas-
ant Company.

Synopsis of Scenery and Incidents:

Scene 1st: A street in a city with a lamp-post
to it — Shun the Post does not appear till
afterwards. The lamp-post has a patent Fin-
negan attachment. It is discovered that the
attachment is an aeolian one. Arrival of a
rival — the sleeping Finnegan is robbed by
Squeamish but Cool, which difficult and dan-
gerous feat is performed in full view of the
audience. Enter Shun the Post with a hod and
a soliloquy. Fanny Steampower appears.
The story of Arrah and the Poke. An attempt
to bear good stock; it fails. Enter Arrah
with reproaches, the whole closing with a
grand concerto.

Scene 2nd: Grand effect of changing the flats,
but leaving one flat without change. The
faithful Finnegan still sticks to his post,
and here an effect never before observed will
be produced. The interior of a High-low barn.
Enter a number of honest but respectable peo-
ple. A High-low Wedding— opening Chorus.

Enter Squeamish but Cool— it is fly-time with
him. Song— "Dear Mother, I've Come Home to
Drink." Love and jealousy, but no murder.
Song by Steampower — a perfect Calliope: "Kiss
some more Ladies, Kiss some more." Exit two.
Skaty Welshrabbit comes to the chalk. Barn-
door jig. After a dance, a song— "The Eatin'
of the Greens." Entrance of O'Gravy, Cough-
lin and others too numerous to mention. No
rest for the virtuous, and the arrest of
Arrah. The fight and the finding of the
boots. Noble Conduct of Shun, who owns the
leather* He is hurried off to prison and in-
vites Arrah to accompany him. The result
Duet— «I Won't Go, Sir."

Scene 3rd: (Very short fortunately; thrown in
principally to give time to set a longer one. )

r^i\^' -t;

Burlesque 67

Interview betv/een the 0' Gravy and the Steam-
power. He asketh and she consenteth. Exit
Colonel and enter Squeamish. The Colonel's
dish is upset, and a dev wet is the natural

Scene 4th: Showing hoiv Court-martials are con-
ducted in Ireland. Finnegan wins his suit
but gets beat all the way through. The
Straightforward conduct of Shun. Enter the
Steampower and the old Cool — no coolness be-
tween them now. The greenbacks of the Colo-
nel gone back upon, in consequence of which
he goes back upon Shun. The tearful sentence
and the Pirate's (Boo C. Coe's) Chorus. It

Scene 5thr In a cell. Modern improvements, —
Shun and the model Policeman. Enter Finnegan
who gets licked. He returns to his Post —
held there by an of-coated tale. The voice
of the Arrah is heard outside. Escape of
Shun, v/ho avails himself of a favorable op-
era- tune-ity.

Scene 6th: Perilous situation of Shun. Grand
illusion produced by the sinking of a ladder
with a lad upon it. The beautiful fidelity
of Arrah who refrains from poking her husband
off the ladder. F. F. may now be construed
to mean Fiendish Finnegan. He attempts to
upset a rival. Vengeance comes dovrn upon him
like a thousand of bricks. He dies to slow
music, which is heard in the distance. Grand
entry of every one who can be bought, borrowed
or stolen for the occasion.

Grand Finale: Closing Chorus by the strength of
the company, assisted by the reformed Inform-
er. Moral: it does an Informer good to kill

Grand Tableau: Showing Old Ireland in Her Glo-
ry. Friday Evening — November 17th: First
Benefit of Miss Emily Thorne. "

On November 16, 1865 the critic of the Bulletin .

bravely threaded his way through the amazing intricacies of

the plot:

Burlesque 68

"The new 'b-urlesque of Arrah>no-Poke , written in
this city, was produced last night to a full
house. It is neatly written in the usual mock
heroic verse of its class, sprinkled with mild
witticisms, local hits, and thrusts at Bouci-
cault, and Interspersed with well-performed
music . The bxirlesque is hroad without vulgar-
ity. The song 'Eatin' of the Greens' is quite
laughable, but the sentimental songs introduced
were out of character. .. .Mr. Setchell, as Shun
the Post, kept the audience almost constantly
laughing. The burlesque of the sensation climb-
ing scene is produced by 'Sh\in,' carrying a
hodful of bricks , climbing to an upper window
in the Occidental Hotel on a ladder which sinks
as he rises, 'Arrah Melissa' (Miss Clarkson,
who showed more spirit than usual), awaits his
approach, singing the plaint which the original
'Arrah' pours forth to the moon on the Castle
heights. A few bricks dropped on the sneaking,
mock representative of Peeny produce the catas-
trophe of the parody. Arrah-no-Poke will be re-
peated tonight together with the comedy of Cal -
ifornia Diamonds , in which appears Miss Thorne,
who will also sing the popular patriotic song
of ' Shout for our Banner • ' "

The burlesque was repeated on the 23rd, 25th, and

27th of November, The Bulletin for the 27th discloses the

author of the piece :

"The performance tonight, for the benefit of
C. H, Webb J author of the clever burlesque
Arrah-no-Poke , will consist of the farce S tage
Struck , in which Miss Thome and Mr, Setchell
appear, and the burlesque aforesaid. Several
speeches and a 'banquet' are promised."

The Daily Alta California for November 27,1865,

brought the curtain down on the much discussed burlesque in

an interesting manner :

"Author's Night. — This evening Arrah-no-Poke
will be presented for the last time, the occa-

Online LibraryEttore RellaA history of burlesque (Volume 1939 14) → online text (page 6 of 29)