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Burlesque ^^



"Such a stage was never before seen in this
country. Every board slides on grooves and
can be taken up, pushed down or slid out at
will. The entire stage may be taken away;
traps can be introduced at any part at any time,
and the great depth of the collar below renders
the sinking of the entire scenes a matter of
simple machinery."

On September 17, five days after the opening of the

show, the New York Tribune critic was finally sure of his

reactions:

" The Black Crook was played by easy stages, from
7-3/4 o'clock until 1-1/4. Most of the auditors
remained until the gorgeous end. Hopes were
entertained, at ono time, that the performance
would last until the merry breakfast bell would
'wake the snorting citizens.' But these proved
fallacious. By dint of great energy on the
part of Mr. Viaieatley and the mechanics. The
Black Crook was at length played through; and a
patient multitude, dazed and delighted, went to
brief dreams of fairy-land. It takes time to
digest so much radiance, and we have not, there-
fore, been in haste to describe this extraordi-
nary drama. Having swallowed the rainbows, how-
ever, it is now our pleasant duty to say that
they are very good to take. The scenery is mag-
nificent j the ballet is beautiful; the drama
is - rubbish. . . .To call The Black Crook ' oti-xnal'
is merely to trifle with intelligence. Herein,
for example, we encounter our venerable and
decrepit friend the Alchymist, who wants to
live forever, and is perfectly willing to give,
not only his own soul to the Dovil, but cvory
other soul that ho can possibly send to Avernus .
Here, too, is the humble youth, torn from his
peasant maid and shut up in 'the lowest coll,'
HaJ Hai by the Baron, cruel and bold. And
then the Piond's Minister, the Alchymist, s\ir-
named 'tho Black Crook' is on hand to release
him and send him on the road to avarice, vongo-
ancc, and perdition. Here arc the old manorial
or baronial sorvitors, the rod-nosed steward
and tho high-capped dame; and along with them
comes the arch and piquant little village-maid,
who sings a song, and smiles, and shows hor
protty ankles to the sheepish swains. There



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Burlesque 82

are fairies, too, and demons; and, in the up-
shot, of course, the former conquer the latter,
and the parted lovers are Joined in happiness,
and the Baron hold is run through his "bold body>
and the Fiend is cheated of his prey, and the
Black Crook is removed, through a dreadful hole
in the earth, to a region of great heat and ■
many dragons. And that Mr. Barras calls an
original drama! ,. .There was, in fact, no need
of the pretense of a drama, in this instance;
or, if there was, almost any old spectacle would
have been preferable to The Black Cro ok.

The tilt and lance game of the melodeons against
the respectable theatres was played with as much gusto in New
York as in San Francisco. During the year-long run of The
Black Crook in New York City, the San Francisco Minstrels,
headed by Birch, Wambold, Bernard, and Backus, were enjoying
the great popularity of their New York City venture in a hall
named after them, at 585 Broadway. One of their most success-
ful bills included a number entitled The Black Cook . Niblo's
gigantic peep-show was not only satirized in plot; it was
announced that The Black Cook would be supported by an Afri-
can Ballet. It is amusing to imagine the sport these master
minstrels must have made with the new art of leg exposure.

With an advertisement for "80 Young Ladies," March
12, 1867, the management of the Metropolitan Theatre gave the
first local flutter to tho invasion of Tho Black Crook and
the now log-show conception of burlesque. Maguire and his
Opera House quickly countered with an advertisement March 25
for "one hundred Young Ladies." Tho most famous, perhaps, of
all theatrical litigations had commenced. Maguire claimed to
have purchased rights for Tho Black Crook in Now York. The



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Burlesque 83

Martinettis, whose ballet troupe had been incorporated into

the Metropolitan production, claimed that their script, which

they called The Black Rook , was the original script and that

Maguire was making use of a pilfered copy. The Daily Dramatic

Chronicle , March 23; got wind of a seemingly solid case

against Maguire :

"The facts we are about to relate, if true, con-
stitute a most serious charge against James
Dowling, whilom stage manager of the Metropoli-
tan Theatre, and the truth of them is vouched
for by the present management of the same house.
The information we have received is to tho fol-
lowing effect. For some time, Mr. Dowling has
been out of omploymont, and, knowing his cir-
cumstancos, the managomont of the Metropolitan
employed his wife occasionally in the ballet,
and recently engaged him to make a copy of the
MSS. of the Black Crook - -dividing the parts
ready for the' use of the actors* It is charged
that while so employed, Mr. Dowling surrepti-
tiously obtained a copy of the play, and ap-
propriated it to his own usejand that he after-
ward informed the management of Maguire • s CJjora
House that ho could put a copy of the Black
Crook in thoir hands, and finally sold them tho
s'tolon copy for the sum of ^100...."

Judgo Doady, in his decision, took advantage of his
own delicate sensibilities, bluntly doclared the Black Crook
tho devil's concoction, unfit to bo soon, and consequently
without the bounds of copyright protection. As a result,
both productions steamed into full and competitive rehearsal.
The gleeful yapping of the melodeons, about this time, added
to the noise of the superlative adjective ballyhoo of the two
big productions. The Olympic, completely in the swim, an-
nounced an ambitious satire entitled The Black Hook with a
Crook.



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Burlesque 84

Magulre's production was the first to open. The

Daily Dramatic Chronicle for April 16, 1867 gives a thorough

report of the occasion:

"Almost every seat in the dress circle, orches-
tra and parquet was secured long before the
doors of this theatre wore opened last night.
Every available inch of standing room was occu-
pied before the rising of the curtain, and the
immense audiences assembled manifested their
impatience to witness the wonderful Black Crook
by exhibiting more excitement than on any occa-
tion since the engagement of Forrest. At length
the curtain rose on the first scene, represent-
ing a valley at the foot of the Hartz Mo\intain3
. . . .For a first performance the Black Crook
went off admirably well last night. As every-
one who has read the Nev; York papers was aware
beforehand, the play as a literary production
is rubblsh - as great as the Sheep's Foot — but
it is nevertheless a magnificent spectacular
piece. Miss Olivia Rand's singing was much ap-
plauded, and the song of the Naughty Men gained
an encore. Harry Edwards made the most of the
part of the Black Crook. Mrs, Sophie Edwin ap-
peared to great advantage both as Stalacta and
in the March of the Amazons. Mrs.Judah as Dame
Barbara was very amusing, and H. Sinclair's act-
ing in the part of Don Puffenquintz was very
comical, Harry Jackson caused roars of laughter
by his Impersonation of the half^starved Greppo,
and sang a song descriptive of Black Crook in
fine comic style. Willie Edouin as Dragonfin,
the monster, was the life of the piece;never was
a more clever monster seen on the stage; he did
everything but fly; his ground and lofty txun-
bling vifould put to shame many a gymnast jhlsbioad-
swoi'd combat, with two swords was perfect, and
his contortions were the very essence of bur-
lesque fun.... The Grotto of Stalacta is one of
the most gorgeous scenes ever presented on the
San Francisco stage. We mast complain of H. D.
who did not do justice to the character of Zamiel.
Of course, everyone intends to go to see the
Black Crook . It has faults; as wo said before,
the dialogue is often stupid and even ungraminat-
. leal; some scenes drag a little — the Incanta-
tion Scene for instance — and good as the first
representation on the whole was, it loft room
for improvements, which will doubtless bo made.






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Burlesque 85



There are many pretty faces In the corps de
ballet, and the display of legs is such that
all tastes must be pleased whether they incline
towards the substantial support of the gigantic
elephant or the slender and graceful upholders
of the slim and elegant crane. One member of
the ballot was confessedly 'great,' and the
roars of laughter which greeted her again and
again, proved that she v/as a most prominent and
observed personage . . . . "

The following day, April 17,1867 the Daily Dramatic

Chronicle completed its detailed observation:

" The Black Crook drew another immense audience
last night. Among the startling effects intro-
duced in this play is one in the Incantation
Scene where the torrent of real water at the
back of the stage is suddenly turned into blood.
...The Young California danseuses. Miss Rosa
Siegrist and Miss Emma Miles, gained groat ap-
plause for their pas de deux and performance
generally. We cannot say much for the corps de
ballet either as regards beauty or dancing. Of
the former, there is but a sprinklins here and
there; while as regards the latter (with few
exceptions), we think that severe and frequent
practice may make a change for the better. The
Misses Corcoran seemed about the only ones at
home,.., We would like to see all the corps de
ballet with the same colored shoes on- -it looks
more uniform^ we can't have the legs all the
same size but common black outdoor boots don't
look v/ell mixed up with the pretty scarlet ones
that most of the corps wore.

"We may have one more grumble before closing our
notice, and that is the intorminablo length of
the piece. It was a quarter to 12 when the
curtain went down. The fourth act, the
Amazons' March, is too long; in fact, tiresome,
as there is nothing to relievo the sameness when
the first impression is over.... Wo missed tho
happy 'lovycrs' too, at tho closing scene. Tho
'lovyors' certainly wcro wanting to make tho
scene complete, in our humble opinion. Wo spent,
however, a pleasant evening, and were highly
pleased at tho entertainment, which reflects
groat credit on tho getter s-up of it, and wo
certainly shall take another opportunity of en-
Joying it."



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Burlesque 86

The critic of the Daily Dramatic Chronicle was by
this time evidently absorbed in the competitive productions of
the Opera House and the Metropolitan. After writing at such
great length about Maguire's efforts, he attended the final
dress rehearsal at the Metropolitan, no doubt with great curi-
osity. His report, April 20,1867 furnishes a very suggestive
account of the Black Rook which was to edge the Black Crook
completely out of the picture :

" The Black Rook had its final rehearsal last
night preparatory to its production on the
Metropolitan boards this evening. We are fully
justified in saying that it is the finest spec-
tacular piece ever produced in San Francisco.
The plot of the play is the same as that of the
Bl ack Crook , as played at the Opera House, al-
though there is a slight difference in the dia-
logue, and the characters are differently named,,
The ballet is immense - it is a wonder how the
management got together so many handsome and
shapely young girls j while the principal dan-
seuses - the well known favorites of the Marti-
netti troupe, fairly surpassed themselves in
this piece. Their dances are new and difficult,
and executed with remarkable grace and dexteri-
ty.

"The scenery is entirely new, and of the most
splendid description. Andrew Lehman, the artist,
has never painted better, and he has long en-
joyed the reputation of being one of the
best scenic artists in the world. The stage
decorations and paraphernalia are gorgeous and
abundant. In the ballet scene in the first act,
immense wreaths of roses are introduced with
splendid effect in the groupings. In the incan-
tation scene in the second act, a lofty water-
fall, with real water is introduced; while at
the close of the scene, after Hart stein, the
Magician (Mr. Howson) has ratified his compact
with Astaroff , the arch-fiend, there is a sud-
den rush of demons, hideous reptiles, black
rooks, phantom steeds with their riders, and
other things ghastly and horrible, that make up
a scene of awful weirdness and horror.



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Burlesque 87



"The Fairy Grotto is a scene of splendor with
many surprising and beautiful transformations,
among which is a broad lake, girt with rocky
hills, which is changed to a misty cataract,
through whose crystal waters, naiads are seen
disporting themselves. The Grand March of the
Amazons is another fine spectacle, presenting
a display of finely shaped limbs never excelled
on any stage.

''The closing scene eclipses in magnificence any-
thing hitherto produced on the San Francisco
stage. It consists of a succession of wonder-
ful effects which must bo seon to be appreciat-
ed. Tho charm of the piece is heightened by
the vocal music profusely introduced; Henri
Herberte, the Misses Howson, Mr. Howson and Mr.
Leach, each singing several songs as only they
can sing. The fencing of Miss Parker, in the
scene where Baron Wolfgang and the magician are
overcome, was superb. All in all, the piece is
cast upon the stage in a very superior manner
....The ballet is under the direction of the
Martinotti troupe who add to a long experience
a refined and cultivated taste in matters of
this kind."

The Daily Dramatic Chronicle critic did not attend
tho opening night of the Black Rook . Instead, ho made an un-
dignified foray into the Olympic Theatre April 25, 1867 and,
by way of complete coverage, reported the Olympic's burlesque
of Burlesque, The Black Rook with a Crook .

"No injunction was issued last night to prevent
the public from crowding into every available
inch of space of this cosy little theatre, and
the great spectacle of the Black Rook With a
Crook , which has been in preparation nine years
and cost :>3,000,000 was produced in a style un-
equaled by anything ever done in China or the
Feejee Islands. No other theatre in this city
outstrips in swelling proportions the beauti-
fully formed Venuses that nightly disport them-
selves in their vine and fig leaf paradise at
the Olympic."



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Burlesque 88

April 29,1867 this same critic announced the demise

of Maguire's production after a two-weeks' run:

"It ( The Black Crook ) was put upon the stage
in a splendid style and was admirably rendered,
but the comparative weakness of the ballet pre-
vented it from successfully competing with its
rival around the corner."

The life span of the Olympic production is nowhere
described. But the Black Rook successfully kept its demonic
paraphernalia in the public eye until the latter part of May.
The lack of structure in the new leg show burlesque was in-
dicated by the flexibility of the program; acts were deleted
and others added. There is, for instance, the announcement
May 15, that six ladies in a crystal grove would further en-
hance the production. From point of view of attack, the en-
chanted hypocrites in town came to point of view of defense.
Leg visibility became pure and beautiful. The repressed di-
mensions of a tightly laced front line, kicking up many lay-
ered flounces, became cold, and classic The Bulletin for
May 2,1867 wipes itself clean of any reservation whatsoever:

"The beautiful spectacle of the Black Rook con-
tinues to draw large and fashionable audiences.
There is nothing to which the most fastidious
can object. The scenery is gorgeous, the bal-
let charming, and the music fine..."

The last conspicuous notice the black humpbacked

sorcerer received in the local press had to do with some \in-

planned action on the last Saturday night of the run at the

Metropolitan. The backdrop for the Chaos scene was already



38



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Burlesque 89

in place and the audience had evinced the usual gasping ap-
proval of the wreck-of -worlds mwa^al. Behind this backdrop,
a stagehand was hastily adjusting one of the gauze hangings
for the final scene when the gauze flamed up from contact
with a top border light. The "fly man" instantly cut the
rope which suspended the gauze and let it drop on the stage,
a heap of flaring textxire. Quickly, the Chaos scene was
lifted forward away from the fire and the audience beheld the
real chaos which threatened. There was the inevitable panic.
The Daily Dramatic Chronicle for May 13 clarified the pic-
ture to the quality of an early American engraving:

"A rush was made for the doors; men shouted
'fire'; and women screamed and fainted; 'keep
yovir shirts' cried out several cool men, while
the Prince of Jokers, Charley Schultz, the
leader of the orchestra struck up his celebrat-
ed 'Firemen's March,' never letting his orches-
tra stop playing for an instant during contin-
uance of the excitement. As the fire was soon
trampled out, and the stage manager came for-
ward to assure the audience that there was no
danger, the stampede was stopped, and the audi-
ence remained standing until the conclusion of
the piece. Mens. Gruet, who held the rope
sustaining the car upon which Paul Martinetti,
as Neptune, descends to the center of the
stage, had his hands badly burned by the fric-
tion of the rope while rapidly lowering Paul to
the stage, he being endangered by the burning
gauze. The arch little Clelia Howson went into
a corner and quietly swooned away. One lady in
trying to get out had nearly the whole skirt of
her dress torn off. Great credit is due those
in charge of the stage for the cool and prompt
manner in which they extinguished the fire."

For the time being the curtains of the three the-
atres were drawn down upon this bat-winged abracadabra in a
paste jewelry setting. But the trend of burlesque had been



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Burlesque 90

set. EllSe Holt, the Zavistowskl sisters, the Worrell sis-
ters, the Gougenhelm sisters, Lydla Thompson and her British
Blondes, now had clear sailing. The Influx of these pulchri-
tudinous kick-girls reached its height in 1870, and 1867 to
1870 vms a marked period of decay for the old legitimate
theatre, and of ascendancy for the melodeons.

XXV — UNDER THE GASLIGHT - AFTER DARK
The events of the 1867-68 season all pointed toward
the trivunphant march of tho flesh- colored tights. The book-
ings of the improsarlos brought a variety of entertainment to
town, most of which quickly foil into the red and oblivion.
The public had seen the Crook, Rook, and Cook variations on
the new theme and a criterion had been established. The few
successes were revelatory. A troupe of Japanese jugglers
was in great favor. And there were Harry Leslie and Harry
Raynor, minstrels at the Olympic. A men-only show still pre-
vailed there,* but the excited reports the male audience com-
municated to tho women in town stimulated a female clamor
which netted a contract at the "respectable" Metropolitan for
the talented minstrels. Apparently inexhaustible, the Mar-
tinottis played in all tho theatres in townj tho gay symbolo-
gy of their acrobatic pantomime was the most consistently
popular entertainment of the docado.

In August 1867 Maguire sold his Academy of Music
to Goodwin and Company. Hereafter the building was to be
used as a furniture store. It was like the first confessed



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Online LibraryEttore RellaA history of burlesque (Volume 1939 14) → online text (page 8 of 29)