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A history of burlesque (Volume 1939 14) online

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sion being the benefit of the author, Mr. C. H.
Webbo The burlesque has proved a decided hit » . . .
Its chief merit, and one which commends it to
eulogy as a burlesque, is the closeness with

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Burlesque 69

which the original play is adhered to in spirit
and plot. The Court Scene in Arrah-na-Pogae
is almost a burlesque in itself, but in Arrah -
no-Poke its absurdities are broadened and
brought out in bold relief by stripping the
scene of all sentiment and pathos. It would
have seemed that so clever and successful a
burlesque should have had a larger run when it
is considered that the original was played fif-
ty nights, but it must be remembered that the
latter brought out a class of people seldom
seen at theatres, wrtiile the former has not so
many pathetic and patriotic elements to commend
it to the national pride of our Celtic residents,
though the beautiful tableau with which it clos-
es is evidently Intended as a set-off for having
been obliged to travesty the Irish character.
But the travesty is most good-naturedly done,
and bears not a single grain of malice.''

With the Pomme de Terre controversy cold and burled
there was no pronounced theatrical flurry in the winter of
1865-66 other than the appearance of the Buislay family. The
Bui slays, talented exponents of the Martlnetti-Ravel pantomime
technique, presented their spectacle-pantomime The Sheep's
Foot to crowded houses. This was followed by a production
of the faery-spectacle of The Elves with Caroline Chapman as
collaborating star. Burlesque was still floundering around
between the costume-hoavy extravaganzas of the big theatres
and the unprintable satire of the melodeons.

As a sure bet, Maguire revived the dormant Seven
Sisters . In March it was announced that fifty ladies had
been engaged for the Zouave Drill, and a third act entitled
An Allegory of the Union had been added. It is clear even
at this distance that any sharp burlesque point was muffled
by that extra flounce or two which was essential in order that
each successive extravaganza might be the best yet and the

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Burlesque 70

grandest. The Seven Sisters conducted the fifty ladles
through fifteen nights of successful Zouave drilling at the
Academy of Music. The Opera House had been closed for redec-
oratlon In deference to the engagement of Edwin Forrest, an-
nounced for May.


The engagement of Porrost definitely raised Ma-
gulre»s prestige, but from all indications depressed his fi-
nances. Porrost attacked his roles with a heavy attempt at
his old form, and the public was politely respectful but
somewhat bored. The annoiincement that Lady Don, English co-
medienne, had been engaged by Maguire for August, got the
public again on edge.

George E. Barnes published his reminiscences of

Lady Don in the Bulletin for March 13, 1897:

"Another episode illustrating the romance of
dramatic life is that of Lady Don and her er-
ratic husband. Sir William Don, baronet. This
peculiar individual, who was Scotch by birth
and of good family, was unf ortxmately, like the
proverbial princes of his own country, 'poor,
but proud. ' Too proud to work, and therefore
resorted to all sorts of haphazard means of ex-
istence, the stage among others. While flirt-
ing with the drama, he also flirted with and
married Miss Emily Saunders, an actress whose
father kopt a sort of amusement garden near
Liverpool, England. He brought her nothing,
excepting his small title; but a woman dearly
loves such a trifle, and her gratification was
that from being plain Emily Savmders, actress
and daughter of a caterer, she became Lady Don.
The baronet was a man of great stature, a son
of Anak, measuring six foot and a half or more
in his stockings; but this exceptional height
Instead of Impairing his usefulness on the

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stage, rather added to it In biirlesque, the
line which he adopted. . . .

"Lady Don, his widow, appeared in this city for
the first and only time in 1866, at the Washing-
ton-street Opera House, xinder the engagement of
Mr, Thomas Maguire, and the poor old 'Napoleon'
had a world of trouhle with her. She was in a
republic and seemed to think it was necessary
to her self-respect to assume all the hauteur
belonging to such an aristocrat like herself,
even in a small way, as a Scottish baronet '^s
widow. She made it very warm for the attaches
of tho theatre if thoy defaulted in the slight-
est manner toward the ladyship, and the lives
of the property-man and of Cheeks, the director
of the stage, became a burdon toiliem. Maguire
was kept busy listening to her tearful protests

for she cried as easily and as often as Job

Trotter, Alfred Jinglo's confidant— and keeping
tho poace between herself and the worried stage

"Lady Don was a fine figure of a woman on the
stago. In height sho was exceptionally tall in
regard to her sex as her departed husband had
been as a man. She was a marvel of graceful
proportion and harmonious action. Dressed as
Leicester in the burlesque of 'Queen Elizabeth '^«'
—to which most of her engagement was confined -
sho was a picture j and tho natural symmetry of
her ladyship's lower limbs was the admiration
of the golden youth of the city and the envy of
all the ladies.

"She had a clear, leading soprano voice, and a
very expressive one, withal, when heard in
'Good-by, Sweetheart,' a song that she made
popular in all quarters. While here Lady Don
lived at Occidental Hotel, but in 'splendid
isolation, ' as Joe Chamberlain said about the
international position of the British Empire.
Many ladies called to pay their respects to her
ladyship; but they were 'not-at-homed' and, did
not repeat the visit . When Lady Don returned
to England she took the theatre at Nottingham

if Correct title: Kenilworth ; in which Queen Elizabeth was
a character, cfl Next page.


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and married a Mr. Wilton. Her ladyship and her
title have long ago gone the way of all flesh.
'Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney-
sv/eepers, come to dust^' according to the song
in Cymbeline ."

The Opera House was packed for Lady Don's opening

night, August 6, 1866. The Bulletin for August 7 attempted a

restrained impartiality:

"It is no exaggeration to say that she achieved
a brilliant triumph. It was evident from the
first movement of her appearance that she was
at homo on the stage. Her manner is pleasing;
her movements aro graceful; her figure is at-
tractive and commanding. If she is not a very
groat;, she is a decidedly clover artist. She is
thorotighly natural, and evidently has a profound
contempt for anything like dramatic affectation.
As an actross she is full of grace and vivacity;
as a cantatricc she takes hlgli rank. She has a
fine soprano voice, which is under thorough cul-
tivation. As a balladlst she is among the best
we have hoard on the Pacific Coast .... In the
clevor burlGsquo of Konilworth she was ably sus-
tained by Miss liato Benin , "

The roviowor for the Daily Dramatic Chronicle adds

some illuminating details (August 7, 1866):

"We were glad to notice that there were a great
number of English people present last night as
we were sure that this portion of the audience
quite enjoyed the very clover burlesque of
Kenilworth which concluded the entertainment.
It is a little too much to expect that an
American audience can enjoy a burlesque like ^
Kenilworth , which occupies about an hour and
a half in representation v/hcn they are entirely
unable to discover the point of what wcre - whon
the piece was produced some fifteen years ago
at the Strand Theatre, London - its best jokes.
The piece would require a little freshening up,
even for the London stage at the present day.
The dialogue is very witty, and the action of
the play brisk and amusing,* yet in spite of
this, long before the fall of the curtain,
people commenced leaving the theatre, and the

Burlesque 73

atmosphere was delightfully cool and comforta-
ble in consequence of the audience having be-
come so thinned out by the time the perform-
ance came to an end. Lady Don has scarcely
anything to do in this piece beyond singing
two songs. Mrs. I^te Benin acquitted her-
self admirably both in singing and acting;
Miss Sophie Edwin made a capital Sir Walter
Raleigh, considering that burlesque is a
little out of her line. H. D. Thompson's
representation of Queen Elizabeth was a won-
derfully comic pie CO of acting; his make-up was
capital. W, Barry is sadly out of place in bur-
lesque; he is too slow, and is apt to sacrifice
the rhymes of the dialogue for tho purpose of
interpolating 'gags' v/hich arc anything but
funny. Ho v;as, howevor, very funny in the scono
whero he has to do a little 'circus' with the
hobby horse. H. Sinclair, a young actor who has
made remarkable progress in his profession of
late displayed considerable talent for burlesque
in his impersonation of Tressillian. . , ."

Tho Daily Alta California for August 13, 1865 re-
acted warmly but late to Lady Don»s appoarancc :

"Lady Don, and the entire Opera House Company,
now fill that establishment to overflowing
nightly. Kcnil worth , as it is now presented,
combines the qualities of both historical and
local burlesque and is put on the stage v/ith a
cast and scenic effects such as would ensure
its success even if far less meritorious in its
way than it is. The character of Queen Eliza-
beth by Thompson, is 'dressed to kill' but it
strikes one that ho gives too much of a good
thing — straining the burlesque a trifle beyond
the point required. Tho steamboat scene on tho
Thames is immense. Lady Don as Leicester,
pleases all by her exquisite vocalization, and
by a lavish display of personal attractions
merits the approbation of some who are perhaps
not fully capable of appreciating her artistic

With Lady Don as international attraction, Maguiro

attempted to build up a dramatic company to support her.

Harry Courtainc, recently refurbished from another session

■oh 8581

B-urlesque 74

of drunkenness and Incarceration, was engaged. Lady Don and
Courtaine, with the assistance of I^to Denin, kept Maguire's
fortunes afloat for a short time with a series of burlesques.
These bvirlesquos were still of the tediously punned, mytho-
logical, London befogged variety. The Bulletin for August
16, 1865 has this to say of O rpheus and Eurydice ;

" Orpheus and Eurydice formed the afterpiece. It
is the broadest possible burlesque, and is
adapted rather to the meridian of the circus
than to the playhouse. It abounds in the most
execrable puns and the most cast-iron jokes,
and would be insufferably stupid were it not
apparent that the aim of the author was to see
how ridiculous he could make everything appear.
Lady Don, Miss Kate Donln and Mrs, Harry Jack-
son made the most of their respective parts;
Mr. Barry was irresistible as the chaste Clo-
tilda; Mr, Thompson's Pluto had some excel-
lent points to it (but the idea of Pluto wield-
ing the trident is a novel ono) ; while Harry
Courtainc did the crusty old ferryman marvol-
ously well, considering ho had only ton min-
utes to prepare in. The closing tableau was
very beautiful."

The performance of The Boflgars ' Opera , tho first in
San Francisco, seems however to havo offered no light whatso-
ever to the reviewers ;

"The management of the Opera House is attempt-
ing too much. Six or eight new plays a week
are more than any company in existence can mas-
ter. As a consequence, some of the perform-
ances, especially within the past few nights,
have not been up to the requirements of the oc-
casion. The Bogp;ars' Oper a, Saturday night, was
wretchedly murdered, while "t^ie Black Domino last
evening was almost as shabbily~porf ormed. *

'"* Bulletin , September 11, 1866,

Burlesque 75

The Bulletin for September 8, 1866 had announced
that in ''Gay's celebrated production of The Beggars' Opera ,
with the original music. Lady Don would appear as Polly, Kate
Denin as Lucy, and Mr. Co\irtaine as Captain MacHeath."

This tripartite stellar company closed their en-
gagement at the Opera House, September 22 without any great
fanfare. Lady Don returned to the East, and eventually to
her "theatre in Nottingham, v/here she married a Mr. Wilton."
Harry Courtaine makes another of his periodic disappearances
from theatrical history, again carrying with him the honors
of the show. Kate Denin stayed on at the Opera House in a
series of stock plays starring Madame Celeste and John
McCullough. Evidently Madame, who "came as near making a
failure as it was possible for a great actress to do," is not
to be confused with the Mademoiselle Celeste who furnished
such thrilling outdoor entertainment to the gaping hundreds
on August 6, 1866 ;

"Yesterday hundreds went to Playos Park to see
Mile. Celeste walk a tight-rope with a wheel-
bar rov\r. It is almost needless to say that she
fulfilled her engagement as advertised, as she
has never yet disappointed the public, although
an accident occurred which almost disabled her
from porfor-ming the feat.... Some villainous
wretch- -perhaps the friend of a rival — cut one
of the connecting ropes to the main rope, and
had it not been discovered in time, Mile. Rosa
Celeste would have made her last ascension yes-
terday. The rascal was, however, thwarted in
his murderous design, and 'may his guilty con-
science smite him in his lonely hours. '"'-^

■?5- Dramatic Chronicle, August 6, 1866.

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Burlesque 76

Other strange but genuine goings-on v/ere coincident
with Lady Don's loudly touted engagement. The unadorned
raillery and fearless attack of melodeon burlesque continued
to keep this theatrical form pared down to something recog-
nizable. The Daily Dramatic Chronicle for August 9, gives
the following description of a program at the Olympic Thea-

"Tonight a tremendous bill is offered on the oc-
casion of a complimentary benefit tendered to
Johnny de Angelis, one of the funniest Ethio-
pian comedians on the American stage — by the
Olympic Company. Two splendid burlesques will
be produced this evening. Miss Charlotte Cramp-
ton vfill appear in her great character of
Richard Ye Third in the burlesque of that
name, and Miss Jennie Briggs will make her de-
but in the burlesque of Mazeppa . In addition
to these extraordinary attractions, a fine
First Part performance will be given, and a
Second Part, in which the beneficiary will ap-
pear, in connection with Low Rattler, in the
funny act of the Strolling Actors . We are
informed that Johnny de Angelis has great hopes
that everyone who witnesses the performances
tonight will cast a vote for him as independent
candidate for the office of Chief of Police."

The winter season of 1865-67 was taken over entire-
ly by Alice Kingsbiiry, "The Elfin Star," and the Martinetti-
Ravel Pantomimists. Nightly, from November 19, 1866 through
the wholo of February 1867, tho pantomime troupe kept full
houses at tho Metropolitan enthralled with their colorful
gymnastic satire. The magnetism of the "Elfin Star," how-
ever, was inscrutable. Alice Kingsbury's rolos at the Opera
House, whore she played from October 10 to December 1, 1866,

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Burlesque "'"7

were as elastic as the distance from romantic comedy to broad

farce. The critic of the Bulletin finally threw up his hands

November 5, from any attempt to pin down the personality of

the little star:

"The popularity of Miss Kingsbury is a phenome-
non in our dramatic annals. Coming here un-
heralded and unknown, she has carried the pub-
lic heart by storm. She enters upon the fifth
week of her engagement with undiminished pres-
tige, and promises to draw crowded houses for
an indefinite time to come. It is useless to
attempt to explain the cause of her success.
We can hardly accoxont to ourselves for her
witchery over us. Judged by the ordinary stand-
ards she is not a great artist. She can hardly
be said to have any clearly defined stylo- She
has not a good voice: her enunciation lacks
distinctness; sho even mispronounces faniliar
words; her gestures are not always graceful,
while her carriage lacks the dignity insepara-
ble from high dramatic culture. But yet she
charms us in spite of our conviction of her
faults, and makes even the most hardened gray-
beards laugh or weep at her sweet will. We
forget the artist in the woman, and resign cwr-
selves to the spell of her genius v;ith a happy
obliviousness of there being any such thing as
criticism or the need for it in the world."

This bewitchment of the critic was no doubt arrest-
ed by the angular clarity of a troupe of Japanese jugglers
at the Academy of Music. These Jugglers, together with the
Martinetti-Ravel pantomimists, kept the winter season going
at a good clip, right up to the appearance of Robert Heller,
the musical magician, at the Metropolitan in March. An an-
nouncement for Maguire's Opera House quickly appeared in the
Daily Dramatic Chronicle , March 16, 1867:

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Burlesque 78

"A "burlesque of Heller's entertainment, origi-
nally written for Charles Mathew when Professor
Anderson was the rage in London, is in prepara-

Heller's one-man show as magician, comedian, and

pianist, must have offered plenty of vantage for burlesque.

There was not only the Opera House program, where

"On three evenings also, Harry Jackson's Great
Gun Trick, a clever imitation of some of Heller 's
wonders, was performed."'""

there was also a music-hall reflection of the big theatre


"Heller's tricks were performed in a somewhat
novel fashion at the Olympic, by Joe Murphy,
Johnny de Angelis, etc. and the Dead Shot drew

Heller's serious talent received its last deflation March 22

at the Opera House ■:

"Maguire's Opera Plouse .■ Masonic Benefit: Harry
Jackson will give his 'grand feats of legerde-
main,' in imitation of Heller, and will exhibit
the mar i one tt e s . '' '^'^

The complete vapidity of the spring season seems

symbolized in Maguire's departure for the East, his eye out

for talent. The news of importance to this history is the

simultaneous announcement, April 3, 1867, by three theatres,

of forthcoming productions of T he B lack Croo k.

The opening of The Black Crook at Niblo's Garden,
New York, on September 12, 1866 foreshadowed not only the

•«• Daily Dramatic Chronicle, March 23, 1867
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Burlesque 79

future of "burlesque trut of the whole American stage. The
best element in burlesque, the broad satire of the melodeons,
had been carefully kept within those gay confines. The dull-
est element in burlesque, the pun-weighted, mythological ex-
travaganza, was obviously playing a losing game with the pub-
lic of the "respectable" theatres. The production of The
Black Crook took the least valuable element of melodeon bur-
lesque; exposure of limb, thrust it into the •'respectable"ex-
travaganza and the miracle was performed. Daring height of
exposure, revealingly swathed in flesh-colored tights, was the
secret stigma of theatrical thrill for crowded houses during
a New York run of four hundred and seventy-five performances.
Plot was gone; satire was gone.

Burlesque ceased to develop in the direction of
puncturing the excessive or false dignity of a legitimate
play; or re-scaling the megalomania of personality stars;
or making public farce of back-handed political machinations.
Shapely legs and ballet routine became the sine qua non of
what was still called burlesque. The proscenium kick of an
ever longer line of neat ankles v/as to become the dominating
action of the American stage. Two people in conflict on a
raised platform against a dark drape, the art of the speaking
voice and the emotional gesture, were looked upon as primitive

Action became the use of new mechanical inventions
for the stage: fifty buxom Thespians in the final, triumphant

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Burlesque 80

stance of their dance would be slowly, tantalizingly lowered
out of sight by depressing the stage; or by the reverse
process they would be popped out on the stage In a sudden
whirl of pulchritude. Theatrical climax was no longer an
intensification of feeling, but of sensation: a labyrinthine
scenic effect would be miraculously disclosed"*, dancers in
violent costume would whip the scene into motion; the music
would ascend frenetically; the so-like-real waterfall would
foam in the abyss, a last most resplendent fairy would be
elevated on a throne from the cellar; sliding panels would
emit a last, overwhelming exodus of gleaming, corseted
coryphees. The final generosity of downpouring stars would
pull the supposed last gasp from tho audience, and then,
quickly, the audience Is held breathless by the withdrawal of
the mist in the background, disclosing a recession of craggy
steps each dominated by a monumental, Greekified male — and
that is all, surely all; when presto, the eye is drawn to the
front of the stage where four white horses, harnessed to a
gilded chariot in the shape of an enormous conch, are being
elevated from the pit. The queen descends from her throne
and sits daintily in the mouth of the conch. Flowers are
strewn. Elizabethan page boys trumpet the Irish myth off-
stage, with an agitated retinue of Greek gods and Italian
toe dancers singing German beer-hall music.

The New York Times for September 3, 1866 has the
following to say about the stage preparations for The Black
Crook at Niblo's Garden:


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Online LibraryEttore RellaA history of burlesque (Volume 1939 14) → online text (page 7 of 29)