Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Some Sunshine from the Lady Lunatic

Allene Crater as Cynthia Cynch.

Happy Holidays!

Today I share a report on how Allene Crater, who played Cynthia Cynch (the Lady Lunatic), organized a toy drive in The Wizard of Oz company in 1905. 

Allene Crater took over the role of Cynthia during the original Broadway run of The Wizard of Oz, on August 31, 1903. Just less than a year after she joined the show, she married Fred Stone (the Scarecrow) on July 23, 1904. 

A bit less than a year after that, on June 3, 1905, their first child was born—she was named Dorothy after Dorothy Gale.

And six months after that, while performing Wizard in Boston, we find Allene Crater trying to make the holidays as good for Boston's needy children as I'm sure she and Fred made the first Christmas for little Dorothy.

A display of the toys collected by the company.

Here is the report as printed in the Boston Post of December 15, 1905:

Clarity and generosity, which are ever the accompaniment of the Christmas season, find cheerful expression in the action of The Wizard of Oz company at the Boston Theatre. In this case the object is the International Sunshine Society, or, to be more specific, its dependents, the children of the worthy poor.

Thanks to Miss Allene Crater, who in private life is Mrs. Fred Stone, the wife of the famous comedian, a movement was started several days ago to secure a bountiful Christmas box for the Sunshine Society. Every member of The Wizard of Oz company put in his contribution and yesterday the whole collection of Christmas toys and trinkets, as varied as there were individual contributors, was arrayed for inspection in the property room. The apartment itself was beautifully decorated and, filled with all these Christmas offerings, it looked to be a veritable fairyland.

The scope of the International Sunshine Society, in brief, is to care for all classes of unfortunates, more especially the children, and it reaches out its protecting arm to orphans, homeless ones of every color, race and creed, the limp, the blind, the sick and destitute, wherever and whenever found.


Copyright © 2020 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Pandemic Performance of 1918

I am always excited when a later performance of The Wizard of Oz is discovered. I am most grateful to musicologist Joseph Rubin for pointing me toward this one. It couldn't be more timely, given these performances were presented over Thanksgiving week in the midst of a pandemic and after a multi-week shutdown of all the theatres. 

Everything old is new again . . .


One hundred and two years ago, on Thanksgiving day of 1918, the United States was in the midst of the Spanish Flu pandemic. In Columbus, Ohio, audiences threw caution to the wind—the wind of a tornado in The Wizard of Oz.

The "cyclonic success" was playing a full week at the Grand Theater, opening Monday, November 25th, and closing after the Sunday night performance on December 1st. They did three matinees, too: Wednesday, Saturday, and Thanksgiving.

The Columbus Sunday Dispatch of November 24, 1918, laid it all out:

Extravaganza in Stock

The Wizard of Oz, a fairy extravaganza that set a new standard for beauty of staging, and was the cornerstone of the enormous reputation achieved by that famous team of comedians, Montgomery and Stone, is to be this week's production at the Grand. The novelty and originality of its characters, strange eccentric figure of the Scarecrow, which Roger Gray has played oftener than anyone except Stone, [untrue, see below] the weird Tin Man, the screamingly funny antics of the cow, named "Imogene," and the paradoxical figure of the Cowardly Lion, together with the appealing little girl Dorothy, and all the other funny and interesting characters of this piece, made it, and still keep it, one of the oddest, most fascinating and alluring of all musical productions. It is not often attempted by stock companies.

With Mr. Harris' usual desire to procure the very best obtainable for the patrons of the Grand, a special engagement for this one week has been made of Phil Dwyer, one of the foremost pantomimists in this country to play two important silent roles of the lion and the cow. Mr. Dwyer is an animal impersonator of great ability, and made sensation in New York some little time ago, as the lion, in the production of Androcles and the Lion, which was produced by Granville Barker at Wallack's theater.

A postcard advertising Phil Dwyer's vaudeville act (note the lion).

The story of The Wizard of Oz is well known to all, it being an adaptation from the well-known fairy stories of Frank Baum, and tells of the adventures of little Dorothy Gale, who is blown away with her pet cow, Imogene, from her Kansas home during a terrific cyclone. They land in the kingdom of Oz, and there she is befriended by a good fairy, who grants her three wishes. In her loneliness, she unthinkingly wishes that the Scarecrow in the field was alive, and immediately he becomes endowed with life, and joins her in her journey to find the Wizard of Oz, a fakir who rules the Emerald City. In their travels they discover a Man of Tin, who also goes along with them to the Emerald City. Through numerous exciting and funny adventures they wend their way, and become implicated in a conspiracy against the Wizard, [sic] which leads to the subsequent imprisonment of the Scarecrow and the Tin Man, and their release by the novel expedient of dismembering the Scarecrow and putting him together again, and finally, through the good offices of their guardian the good fairy, they are enabled to return to the earth.

All of the many beautiful effects incident to the production of this delightful fairy extravaganza have been built and the cyclone, the snowstorm, the wonderful field of poppies, and all the magical effects of Oz will be given as in the original production.

Among the many beautiful numbers that will enhance the score are 'Niccolo's Piccolo,' 'Love is Love,' 'The Man Without Brains,' 'When you Love, Love, Love,' 'The Traveler and the Pie,' 'Reincarnation,' and a host of clever dancing and singing specialty numbers by Roger Gray, Dan Marble and all the other favorites of the company.

Postcard showing Olentangy Park Theatre, Columbus, Ohio.
That was quite a write-up—no wonder audiences flocked to the theatre. The article is wrong about Roger Gray playing the Scarecrow "oftener than anyone except Stone." Both Bert Swor and George Stone played more performances than Roger Gray. But Gray was an important Scarecrow and he was involved in most of the post-Hurtig and Seamon revivals: Minneapolis; St. Louis; Washington, DC; and this one in Columbus.

Several other members of the cast were also Wizard of Oz veterans. Dan Marble had played the Tin Woodman in the 1915 Park Opera Co. performances in St. Louis, and both Della Rose had played Tryxie Tryfle, and Ralph Nichols had played Sir Wiley Gyle at Poli's Theatre in the Washington, DC, performances of April 1918, only two months before arriving in Columbus.

Sheet music for "Re-Incarnation."

You might, too, have noticed an unfamiliar song title listed--that of "Reincarnation." This new interpolation is almost certainly "Re-Incarnation," a song from the Ziegfeld Follies of 1907 with music by E. Ray Goetz and lyrics by Vincent Bryan.

 Bryan actually wrote many songs used in The Wizard of Oz: "Hurrah for Baffin's Bay," "Football," "Down on the Brandywine," "'Twas Enough to Make a Perfect Lady Mad," and quite a few others, including "Budweiser's a Friend of Mine," which was also interpolated from the Follies of 1907

The song explains about reincarnation and suggests how famous people of the era might be reincarnated, such as Teddy Roosevelt coming back as a teddy bear, and William Randolph Hearst coming back as Democrat! No program for this Wizard revival has surfaced, so it's unclear which character performed the song. I'd like to think the Scarecrow and Tin Man sang "Re-Incarnation" after they dismembered and reassembled the Scarecrow.

The stock company performing Wizard was billed as "The Grand Musical Players," but when they had first arrived in Columbus, six months earlier, they had been the "Grau Musical Comedy Co." The story behind the name change and their lengthy stay in Columbus follows below.

The Columbus Dispatch of May 19, 1918, announced that the Grau Musical Comedy Co. (organized by Matt Grau) would open an extended summer season at the outdoor Olentangy Park theater. The company arrived from New York (in a special train car) on May 26th and began rehearsals for Rudolph Friml's The Firefly, which opened on June 3rd.

The company included: prima donna Ferne Rogers, soubrette Berta Donn, character woman Flavio [sic] Acara, juvenile girl Della Rose, small part girl Mary Dunigan, tenor Arthur Burckly, juvenile man George Nathanson, basso Ditmar Poppen, first comedian Roger Gray, second comedian Dan Marble, general utilities: Ralph Nichols, orchestra leader Sid Riley, scenic artist Earnest Rand, costumer Henrietta Hausen, and parts: Rajal Cuttes. There was also a chorus of sixteen girls and at least eight men.

The principal cast in The Columbus Sunday Dispatch, May 26, 1918.  
The company opened their season with The Firefly, followed by: The Red Mill, A Modern Eve, Robin Hood, The Princess Pat, Naught Marietta, The Folly of Columbus, Little Boy Blue, The Only Girl, The Chocolate Soldier, The Red Widow, and The Mikado.

The company was so popular that Will Harris, manager of the Olentangy Park Theater, asked the company to move to the Grand Theatre and stay for the winter. He spent $10,000 refurbishing the theater, which had been serving as a movie house in recent years.

The Grau Musical Comedy Co. opened at the Grand Theater on August 26, 1918. Rebranded as The Grand Musical Players, their first show was Sweethearts, followed by The Candy Shop, The Lilac Domino, A Waltz Dream, and The Three Twins. 

And then the pandemic shut them down.

*          *          *          *          *

In March 1918, a new flu-like illness began appearing in the United States, with more than a hundred soldiers falling ill at Camp Funston in Fort Riley, Kansas. On April 5, 1918, the public health report mentions influenza by name and reports eighteen severe cases and three deaths. In September, a more lethal "second wave" of the flu emerged and Camp Devens (outside Boston) reported over 14,000 influenza cases and 757 deaths. 

Toward the end of the first week in October, many cities began to order the closure of churches, schools, and theatres to lessen the spread of the disease. Columbus issued their close-down order on October 10th.
 

Columbus Evening Dispatch, October 10, 1918.
That evening the Grand Theater closed its doors after the company's performance of The Girl in the Train. 

The October 11th issue of the Columbus Dispatch outlined the situation and a couple exceptions to the local rule:

The order for the closing of the theaters, which went into effect at last midnight, was no great surprise to most Columbus theater managers. Some of them had already held conferences with Dr. Louis Kahn, city health officer, and had told him that if the action was deemed necessary, they would be only too glad to cooperate on the shortest notice.

As the matter now stands the only exceptions made in the order closing all amusements are the national dairy show at the state fair grounds and the Galli-Curci concert to be given in Memorial Hall tonight . . . The [dairy] show was exempted because of it being such an important institution for which people from all over the country are already arriving in town. The [Galli-Curci] concert was put on the exempted list for somewhat similar reasons as visitors are coming from all over southern and central Ohio, and quite a number from adjoining states.

Then, as now, people were balancing health risks against angering the populace, and doubtless many people became infected at the Dairy show and the Galli-Curci concert. For those unfamiliar with Amelita Galli-Curci [1882-1963] she was one of the biggest opera stars of the era and a major recording star for Victor Records. Below is one of my favorite recordings of her--for those curious. Her final note is simply incredible. Click here to listen or on video below:

With most of the country under "lock down" the Grand Musical Players hunkered down. There was no way to travel, no where to obtain new bookings, so they remained in Columbus "continuing their regular rehearsals, though necessarily abandoning performances," reported the November 11, 1918, Columbus Evening Dispatch. "The Musical Players are rehearsing The Spring Maid, which will be put on the first week that the ban is lifted. However, should it be raised October 28, Halloween week, the projected Hallowe'en Follies will be played that week. Mary's Lamb is another Grand production in prospect."

On October 15th the same paper reported the "Closure in Statu Quo . . . Columbus managers [have] received no word from the health authorities looking to an opening of the theaters . . ." The paper also explained that "traveling companies" salaries stop when they are not performing, but that "Manager Harris, however, paid the full salaries to the Musical Players last week. It is estimated that over 300 people have been thrown out of work in Columbus legitimate theaters by the closing orders."

More than a month after closing down, the company finally held a dress rehearsal for The Hallowe'en Follies.

Columbus Evening Dispatch, November 9, 1918
 

On November 11, 1918, the armistice agreement was signed, effectively ending World War I; and the Grand Theater reopened its doors with The Hallowe'en Follies--eleven days after Halloween. The jubilant crowds poured in. The Columbus Evening Dispatch of November 14th announced: 

That Columbus was waiting the Hallowe'en Follies is evident by the capacity audiences of the week. The matinee yesterday afternoon was the largest in the history of the company since its Columbus engagement began, and the evening audiences are equal to those of state fair week.
The next week The Spring Maid opened, and the week after that was The Wizard of Oz, and we're back to where this blog began. The Grand Players were more popular than ever and audiences flocked to the theater to escape the pandemic. The company extended their stay and continued working their way through a lot of the Witmark stock catalog. 

After The Wizard of Oz, they presented Canary Cottage, The Bohemian Girl, Sergeant Kitty, A. Baldwin Sloane's The Gingerbread Man (another favorite vehicle for Roger Gray), Round the World Follies, Martha, HMS Pinafore, The Chimes of Normandy, Her Regiment, High Jinks, Have a Heart, Katinka, Pom Pom, The Pink Lady, You're in Love, Sari, Very Good Eddie, The Man Who Owns Broadway, and The Fortune Teller.

They originally came to Columbus for a summer season in the park. They stayed for fifty weeks, and had hoped to play another summer in the park.

Columbus Evening Dispatch, April 10, 1919
 Sadly, the April 18, 1918, Columbus Evening Dispatch announced:

No More Musical Stock.

There will be no musical comedy at Olentangy Park this summer, due to the fact that the Park Amusement Co., which has succeeded Will D. Harris in control of that institution, believes it too expensive and doubtful a proposition. . . . Mr. Harris will devote most of his time this summer to the management of the Grand, continuing its present picture program.

*          *          *          *          *

It is estimated that 675,000 Americans died in the Spanish Flu pandemic, and 50,000,000 died worldwide. Please stay safe, wear your mask, and social distance.

Happy Thanksgiving, and don't go to the theatre!


Copyright © 2010 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Palmer Method

One of the ways I hope to bring this show to life for my readers is to present the participants as real people who had real lives—both before and beyond their time in The Wizard of Oz. It's easy to look at a photo from the early 1900s and not see the individuals, the human beings who lived with this show—sometimes for years. Chorus girl Allie Palmer is a good example.

Allie as an Emerald City boy.
Allie joined the Hamlin and Mitchell Wizard of Oz Company No. 1 at the beginning of the 1905-06 season playing Premonia the Munchkin girl and a Poppy. As a chorus member she would have played many uncredited parts as well, such as this charming lad from the Emerald City (seen at right).

Later in the year she began playing Claude Cliquot (a Cook) and eventually swapped that role for Gloria Jane, one of the Waitresses, both parts in Act III. She was also working as an understudy, and in October of 1906 she went on as Locasta, the Witch of the North.

In the 1906-07 season, the first year of the Hurtig and Seamon tour, she began playing a Snow Sprite (helping to kill the poppies at the end of Act I) and got two speaking parts in the show: Leo, Captain of the Relief Guards; and Bardo, the Wizard's factotum. She kept these two parts until the end of the Hurtig and Seamon tour in 1909.

She was born Alice Sayers on July 7, 1876. She began her stage career by 1896 when she and her sister, Edna, became "The Palmer Sisters." Where the girls got the name "Palmer" is unknown. Her sister eventually left the act and Allie went solo and began appearing in better and better shows.

But what was Allie like? What happened to her after The Wizard of Oz? Well, immediately after Wizard she went into Lew Fields's The Merry Widow and the Devil for the 1909-1910 season; but after that I find no more evidence for her career. But thanks to her great niece, Blanche Madden, I can share a good deal of information regarding Allie's personal life.

She had married William E. Allen, a Spanish-American War veteran, on March 22,1903. They never had any children. But in 1910, at the end of her season with The Merry Widow and the Devil, Allie's second sister, Pauline, died and Allie and William took in Pauline's son, Fred Wagner, to raise as their own.

Allie, husband Bill, and nephew Fred lived on a large houseboat on Sheepshead Bay, in Brooklyn, with their French Bulldog from 1913 to 1916.

Allie & the French Bulldog on the Allen's Houseboat circa 1913-1916.

After the houseboat, the family moved to a house in the NYC area for several years while "Captain Bill" owned and operated a fishing boat, called the "Yankee Doodle," part of the fleet from the Bay.  When he sold the boat, they moved to Manhattan, where Bill worked as a doorman.

Allie (in an amazing dress) and Bill circa late 1930s.

After Bill's death, Allie moved back to Sheepshead Bay.

Allie's time in The Wizard of Oz must have been a big deal to both her and her family. One of her nieces was named Dorothy after Dorothy Gale in the show (see below). Seated in front of Dorothy is another niece, Blanche, who was a nun for over sixty years.

Allie with two nieces: Dorothy standing, Blanche seated.



Allie's great niece, Blanche Madden, (with whom I've been corresponding) was named after Blanche the nun.

Allie at great niece Blanche's wedding in 1953.

Allie remained active and vital till the end of her days. In the late 1950s she demonstrated some "buck and wing" dancing like she had performed in The Wizard of Oz with Dorothy in the "Ball of All Nations."

Allie performing a "Buck & Wing" dance like she had performed in Wizard.

Allie's great niece Blanche, who saw the dance, remembers Allie "moved around the floor quite a bit with some of her steps, while others were more like tap dancing."

Allie spent her last years at the Percy Williams Home for Actors on Long Island. She died on October 5, 1957.

Allie as a Cowboy in Act II of The Wizard of Oz.

Copyright © 2020 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

The Wizard of Milwaukee

I have been compiling a complete listing of every production of the Baum and Tietjens Wizard of Oz, from its premiere in Chicago through the handful of modern revivals. Obviously, it will never be wholly complete, but beyond 1915, productions become exceedingly infrequent.

I am very happy to be able to report on a production recently discovered by Joseph N. Rubin, the musicologist and theatre historian who staged the 2010 revival of The Wizard of Oz at the Canton Comic Opera Company. And most excitingly, this newly discovered series of performances dates from 1945-46, making this the last known licensed production of the original Baum and Tietjens Wizard of Oz, albeit with some interpolations from the MGM Arlen and Harburg score—but since when were interpolations into this show unusual?

The production was first announced by the Milwaukee Sentinel on September 2, 1945: "There was music in the air last night at Siefert Social Center where the Milwaukee Civic Light Opera Co. of the Municipal Recreation Department held auditions for the Wizard of Oz, which will be presented Dec. 1 and 8." The company later altered the performance schedule, omitting the December 1st performance and choosing instead to do both performances on December 8th.

Milwaukee Sentinel, September 2, 1945

The Milwaukee Journal of December 2, 1945, announced:

Players Are Named for Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz, musical fantasy of Montgomery-Stone fame a generation ago, will be presented Saturday afternoon and evening by the Milwaukee Civic Light Opera company at Lincoln High School. Lorna Warfield is director, and a double cast will give the performances.

The Milwaukee Sentinel from the same date also announced the show. This paper confirms that "Music from the original opera by Tietjen [sic] will be augmented with music by Harold Arlen from the movie."

Milwaukee Sentinel, December 2, 1945

On December 5, 1945, the Milwaukee Journal published a publicity photo with the following caption: "Here you see the scarecrow, the tin woodsman and Dorothy, leading characters in The Wizard of Oz, that is to be given twice by the Milwaukee Civic Light Opera Company . . . No use trying to get tickets for the afternoon; it's a sellout."

Milwaukee Journal, December 5, 1945


The production got great publicity. The Milwaukee Sentinel shared a different rehearsal photo (below right) the next day, showing Elaine Bishop as a Court Lady, William Culbert as the Scarecrow, and Ray Sobczak (alternate spelling Subczek) as the Tin Man.

Milwaukee Sentinel, December 6, 1945
The production played two performances on December 8, 1945. In the review of the show in the Milwaukee Sentinel on December 9, we finally get confirmation that this is in fact a performance of the "Extravaganza," not the St. Louis MUNY version or other newly created script.


Wizard of Oz Charms 700 at Lincoln High

The Milwaukee Civic Light Opera Co. offered a creditable performance of the musical fantasy, The Wizard of Oz, last night in the Lincoln High School auditorium before 700 persons.

The delightful take, which has enchanted young and old for a generation, is woven around the adventures of Dorothy and her friends in the wonderful land of Oz.

Dorothy is played by Miss Jane Paradowski; the Wizard of Oz by Victor Wiening; a convincing Pastoria by George Paczena; the Scarecrow by Merlin Griffith; The Tin Man who wanted a heart by Clarence Eron, and Sir Daschimoff, [sic] Dorothy's lover, by Ray Kujawa. Lorna Warfield was musical director. 

The production of the old Wizard of Oz show was clearly a success, and it proved popular enough that it was revived by the company for the summer season at the Open Air Theatre in Humboldt Park on August 17, 1946.

Advertisement in Milwaukee Sentinel, August 11, 1946
The Milwaukee Sentinel reviewed the revival on August 18, 1946:

Capacity Crowd Joins Dorothy in Merry Hunt for 'Wizard of Oz'

An almost capacity audience last night gave itself to the perennial magic of The Wizard of Oz, presented by the Civic Light Opera co. at Humboldt Park.

The cyclone smitten Dorothy, played by Jane Paradowski, and her cow Imogene, portrayed front and rear by Bertram Behrens and Peter Sinclair, arrived zestfully in the Land of Oz, and their adventures in search of the Wizard were as merry as the Munchkins.

The terrible Witch of the North; Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow who wanted a brain and the Tin-man who though he needed a heart; demented Cynthia, Tryxie and all of the enchanted characters of Paul Tietjen's [sic] classic tale, tripped and sang their way through a capable performance.
Milwaukee Sentinel, August 18, 1946.
The reviews  of this Milwaukee staging list all of the major characters from the Extravaganza. I wish there was some information on audience reaction to the unfamiliar characters and subplots. From the photo above we can see that the Lion is portrayed with a human face and walking upright a la Bert Lahr. But neither review mentions the lion wanting courage, while both the Scarecrow and Tinman are singled out for wanting brains and heart. The costume of the Wizard in the photo above is interesting, as it's similar to what the Wizard wore in the original stage show, very Irish looking with a sash across his chest—not imagery from the book or MGM film.

No mention is made of what MGM songs were interpolated into the show. Obviously "Over the Rainbow" would have been included. The penciled alteration to one of the surviving conductor's scores with the Tams-Witmark rental parts (seen below) might even have been made for this production. These notes insert "Over the Rainbow" into the middle of Tietjens's Opening Pantomime music in Kansas.

Penciled notes marking insertion of "Over the Rainbow" into Tietjens's score.

I think it likely the production also used "If I only had a Brain/Heart" for the Scarecrow and Tinman, and possibly interpolated "Off to see the Wizard," too.  They might also have added a quick romp through "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead"—a very popular song from the film—after Dorothy's house crushes the Wicked Witch (Note: I suspect the reviewer above confused Locasta, the Witch of the North, with the Wicked Witch that was crushed by Dorothy's house when he cited "the terrible Witch of the North.") It would also have been quite fun if Tryxie Tryfle had been given "The Jitterbug" in place of "Sammy."

Baumophiles might have found it curious that there is no mention of L. Frank Baum. The publicity evens refers to the show as "the original opera by Tietjens." But it is fairly commonplace to only reference the composer in connection to a show. One generally hears of Victor Herbert's Babes in Toyland or  Lehar's Merry Widow.

I am most grateful to Joe Rubin for discovering this long-lost revival. I hope to find a few more!



Copyright © 2020 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Attend the Tale of Blanche Powell Todd

Blanche Powell Todd as Dorothy Gale.
This is the tumultuous tale of Blanche Powell Todd.

Blanche Powell Todd was the third actress to play Dorothy Gale, replacing Isabel D'Armond, who had been company No. 2's Dorothy in the 1903-'04 season. Anna Laughlin, who had created the part, was still touring with company No. 1.

Blanche's husband, Frank Todd, was also connected with The Wizard of Oz and this tale involves him almost as much as it involves Blanche.

Blanche Powell was born March 19, 1880, in Greenville, Pennsylvania. By 1900 she was getting small parts in popular touring shows, including playing Captain Sigsbee in A Female Drummer. In 1902 she was playing Wilhelmina in A Runaway Girl.

For the 1902-'03 season she joined the Foxy Quiller tour, playing Leona, the tight rope walker. Despite her small part, The Oregon Daily Journal of December 13, 1902, took notice: "Miss Blanche Powell, sweet-voiced and of startling beauty . . . earned recognition for [her] painstaking work."

Also in the Foxy Quiller tour was Frank Todd, who played "Splicer" and had staged the tour for Klaw and Erlanger. As stage manager, Frank may have been responsible for casting Blanche. The two began a relationship and were married during the run of the show.


Frank Todd (Nathaniel Frank Todd) was born in Lexington, Massachusetts, September 8, 1875. The Boston Daily Globe of June 1, 1902, discussing his career, reported that Todd "went on the stage a few years ago because he had a good voice and knew how to use it. . . . Klaw and Erlanger discovered in him a rising stage manager, and for the past seven years he has served that enterprising theatrical firm. For the past two seasons he has been out with Foxy Quiller." The first season starred Jerome Sykes for whom the show was written; the second season starred Richard Golden.

Jerome Sykes in The Billionaire.
After the Foxy Quiller tour ended, Frank was hired as stage manager for Peggy from Paris, but soon he was back with Jerome Sykes on his next show, The Billionaire. Sykes became ill, supposedly from attending a party without warm clothing and catching pneumonia, and Frank Todd had to perform as Sykes's understudy. When Sykes succumbed to his illness, December 29, 1903, Frank Todd continued in the starring role, seeing the tour through its next several engagements.

While Frank was touring with Peggy from Paris and The Billionaire, Blanche (now performing as Blanche Powell Todd) joined the tour of The Sultan of Sulu during the 1902-'03 season. Many theatrical couples found ways to tour together, but Blanche and Frank seem more often than not to be working different tours of different shows.

Click to Enlarge

During her time in The Sultan of Sulu, Blanche's career got a major boost when she appeared in the June 1903 issue of Burr McIntosh Monthly, a high-end magazine specializing in beautiful photographs. Blanche was featured in a full page photograph under a large rubber plant. The explanatory text stated:
" 'Rubber!' So many are interested in the development and growth these days. Blanche Powell Todd has gone to visit the Sultan of Sulu, and is interesting herself in the great problem of what the future has in store. Most of us are daily cultivating the rubber plant to aid us in our various searches, so we can not blame the poor girl."
In August 1903, Burr McIntosh featured Blanche wearing a swimsuit in another full-page photograph, this time printed in full color (see below).

By the winter of 1903-'04 Blanche had moved from The Sultan of Sulu to  the tour of A Chinese Honeymoon where she played Sing Sing.




Blanche Powell Todd in Burr McIntosh Monthly, August, 1903.

While Blanche continued her tour with the Chinese Honeymoon company, the death of Jerome Sykes left Frank Todd without a job. But another death of an actor would bring Frank, and eventually Blanche, into The Wizard of Oz.

J. Lod Sutherland had been stage manager for company No. 2 of The Wizard of Oz in addition to playing the part of Brigadier General Riskitt. While the Wizard company was in Beloit, Wisconsin, Sutherland died suddenly of a burst appendix on January 8, 1904. Wizard of Oz stage director Julian Mitchell, in need of a new stage manager and a new General Riskitt, hired Frank Todd. He was a perfect replacement, not only could he serve as stage manager, but he was also a basso—a prerequisite for singing the part of General Riskitt.

Frank seems to have found a good home with The Wizard of Oz company and he almost certainly suggested his wife, Blanche, would make a wonderful Dorothy Gale for company No. 2's 1904-'05 tour.

Blanche Powell Todd, March 1903.
On August 11, 1904, Blanche Powell Todd opened the new season of company No. 2 as Dorothy Gale in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Unfortunately, Frank had now moved on to Chicago to assist in Julian Mitchell's debacle of a musical, Bird Center, in which Frank played the part of Chris Newbower. So the couple were once again performing in different shows.

Mitchell clearly had long-range plans for Frank Todd. The same day Blanche debuted as Dorothy, the following appeared in the papers: "Hamlin and Mitchell have engaged Frank Todd to produce their pieces, The Wizard of Oz, Bird Center and Babes in Toyland."

Blanche did well as Dorothy Gale. The October 14, 1904, Portland Oregonian said: "Blanche Powell Todd has the part of Dorothy Gale, the Kansas girl . . . She is one of the daintiest little women you might see in a year's beauty quest."

The Atchison (Kansas) Daily Globe of December 15, 1904, reported:
The Atchison people who fell in love with Maud [sic] Powell Todd, who took the part of "Dorothy Gale," the Kansas dairy maid, last night thought she might possibly be fourteen years old. She told reporters she has been married three years, and is so old she no longer tells her age, but she did not look it even when she said so. She said she appeared in Atchison three years ago in the chorus of Jerome Syke's [sic] production of Foxy Quiller, and that year married Mr. Todd, the stage manager of the company. . . . Mrs. Todd said her part in The Wizard of Oz is her first big part, and she seemed as delighted with her success last night as a high school girl who makes a hit before her relatives in an amateur play.
While performing in Nashville, Tennessee, on January 24, 1905, Blanche had to withdraw from the performance in the middle of the first act due to "an unfortunate attack of acute hoarseness." She was replaced by her understudy, Ethel De Marcy. (Ethel appears in some Wizard of Oz programs as Helen D' Marcy.)  By the time of the performance the next evening in Chattanooga, Blanche "was excellent as Dorothy."

September 3, 1905, cast announced for No. 2 Co.

The producers seemed to like Blanche, too. The New York Clipper announced on August 12, 1905, that Blanche "has been reengaged for [the 1905-'06 season of] The Wizard of Oz, in the part of Dorothy Gale. She is at present in the Catskills." But was this for company No. 1 or company No. 2?

Blanche was announced as the Dorothy of the No. 2 company on September 3rd (see image at left). But the following item appeared in the (New York) Morning Telegraph of September 14, 1905: "How nice to be sent for and made a fuss over! Blanche Powell Todd, after being transferred from the 'Wizard of Oz' No. 1 company to the No. 2 show was recalled after three performances and reinstated."

It seems likely that the producers had promised to get her into the No. 1 company at some point, and it's possible Blanche performed the role a couple times with the No. 1 company before Blanche launched No. 2's season in Meriden, Connecticut, on September 18, 1905.

The producers were having a Dorothy dilemma in the No. 1 company.

Anna Laughlin, the original Dorothy, had left the No. 1 company at the end of the previous season to star in The Land of Nod. And on September 4, 1905, the No. 1 tour began their new season in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with Katherine Roberts as Dorothy Gale. Yet even before Roberts's first performance, the producers had sent for Mabel Barrison to take over the part. Mabel had created the part of Tryxie Tryfle when The Wizard of Oz premiered in Chicago in 1902 and had gone on to star in Babes in Toyland in 1903.

Mona Desmond as Dorothy in Co. No. 1
Barrison began Wizard rehearsals on September 3, 1905. Company No. 1's season premiered the next night, September 4th, with Roberts still in the role. Indeed, a review from the September 9, 1905, Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Telegraph states: "Katherine Roberts, as Dorothy Gale, who has a captivating appearance and manners sings well. She will appear to a better advantage when she has become thoroughly acquainted with her new work." Barrison performed the part for the first time on September 11, 1905, at the Majestic Theatre in Brooklyn, New York.

Barrison only played the Wizard engagements in Brooklyn and Manhattan and did not continue with the show to their next stop, the New National Theatre in Washington, DC, (September 25-30) where Dorothy was played by Netta Vesta. But the deluge of Dorothys continued, and the October 5, 1905, issue of the New York Morning Telegraph announced that Mona Desmond would soon be taking over the part, which she did by mid-October.

By late fall 1905, there was Dorothy trouble in company No. 2. Blanche Powell Todd had left the show, and Dorothy was now being played by Ethel De Marcy.

While Blanche's professional life was skyrocketing, her personal life had recently imploded. Her husband, Frank Todd, had begun an affair with Bessie Holbrook, an actress in Miss Dolly Dollars, in the spring of 1905. I've no evidence exactly when Blanche found out, but on October 5, 1905, Frank married Bessie Holbrook, who was already five months pregnant. I have not been able to find any evidence of a divorce between Blanche and Frank, but I haven't found their marriage record either. I assume all of this chaos is why Blanche withdrew from company No. 2 of The Wizard of Oz.

But in December 1905 company No. 1 needed a new Dorothy. Mona Desmond would be leaving the show when they finished their Christmastime run in Chicago, December 24-January 20. Julian Mitchell offered the job to Blanche.

Blanche Powell Todd, October 1904.
Blanche arrived in Chicago from Milwaukee to begin rehearsals and learn the latest routines in The Wizard of Oz. She quickly made friends with the cast and all was proceeding well when Blanche fell suddenly ill. Her condition worsened and the producers sent for her (former) husband, Frank. The day before she was to have debuted in company No. 1 Blanche Powell Todd died at 5:00 in the morning at Mercy Hospital on January 16, 1906, after an operation for gall stones, Frank Todd at her side. The New York Morning Telegraph reported that "she was being treated, it is said, for one malady, and just before her death it was discovered that she was suffering from another." Blanche was only 25.

Blanche's mother was grief-stricken and asked that Blanche be laid to rest where her life began. She was buried in Greenville, Pennsylvania, on January 19, 1906, in the Shenango Valley cemetery. Her husband, Frank Todd, suffering from "inflammatory rheumatism" resulting from a serious injury to his kneecap, was unable to travel back east to the funeral. I suspect Blanche's family would not have welcomed him either.

The Wizard of Oz chorus sent an arrangement of Easter lilies, and two of her "dear girl friends" sent a beautiful wreath of autumn leaves. Most touching was a large floral tribute of white carnations sent by Fred Stone and his wife, Allene Crater, the Scarecrow and Lady Lunatic in the show, bearing a card inscribed "Sleep well, little Dorothy."

The sudden loss of Blanche left an urgent need of a new Dorothy for company No. 1. The producers selected Reina Davies, sister of actress Marion Davies. The show continued on its tour. Blanche's mother fell into a deep depression and never truly recovered. She died three years later, July 27, 1909.

Frank Todd circa 1906.
A few months after Blanche's death, Bessie Holbrook Todd took Frank to court, charging him with non-support and abandonment. The New York Sun, April 13, 1906, reported Bessie testifying that Frank Todd "lived with her only six weeks after their marriage. Then he went West with his company [The Ham Tree], and when he came back to New York recently took a room at 233 West Twenty-fifth street, refusing to see either herself or the baby. . . . Todd told the Court that he didn't even know he had a baby, never having been notified by his wife of the baby's arrival."

He agreed to pay his wife $10 a week. Adjusted for inflation that's about $290.00 a week. The newspaper report continued: "As he went out of the court he met his wife, who was waiting for him in the hall. They looked at each other for a moment. then tears came into the wife's eyes, and Todd went over and spoke to her. In another minute they had their arms around each other. They kissed and left court together, both apparently very happy."

I've no idea if the couple reunited beyond their exit from the courthouse.

A little over a year later, Frank Todd entered Massachusetts General Hospital on June 29, 1907. He died on July 3rd of Mesenteric Thrombosis and peritonitis due to a burst appendix. He was 31.

*          *          *

One of my goals with this project is to bring these long forgotten people whose lives were touched by The Wizard of Oz back to life, or at least back to memory, for my readers. Blanche was headed toward stardom. But in only a few short months her personal life imploded and she was struck down by disease. She was soon lost to people's memories. She was only 25.

That is the tale of Blanche Powell Todd.

"Sleep well, little Dorothy."

Blanche Powell Todd's grave in Greenville, PA.

Copyright © 2020 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Milkmaid Song

Toward the end of their first-draft version of the Wizard of Oz musical, L. Frank Baum and Paul Tietjens have made both the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman kings—of the Emerald City and the Country of the Munchkins, respectively.
GLINDA: Well, everything seems to be turning out splendidly. (To Dorothy) You ought to be proud to have two kings with you.

DOROTHY: They're all right to draw to, but I wouldn't bet much on this pair. I'm not proud. I don't want to be a queen.

Dorothy then performs "The Milkmaid Song," an up-beat number about how she would rather spend her life back on the Kansas farm as a dairymaid, "a farm-yard dignitary."

This is the first time Baum has suggested in script or song that the Kansas farm is a dairy farm. The song predates the introduction of Dorothy's pet heifer, Imogene, as well—Dorothy won't get a pet cow until draft three.

I am delighted to share the first presentation of the original 1901 "Milkmaid Song" in well over a hundred years. But before you listen to it I must share some backstory.

Back in the late 1990s, James Patrick Doyle and I were collaborating on a restoration of the 1903 Wizard of Oz musical. We were not trying to restore it to a particularly "authentic" version, but rather a "best of all possible worlds" version that represented Baum's and Tietjens's desires, included all of their surviving music (including the cut Act 2, Scene 1 from Chicago), and a tasty new Finale that truly tied up all of the loose ends.

One song we particularly wanted to restore was "The Milkmaid Song." Baum had obviously liked his lyric, as he included it in his anthology Baum's Juvenile Speaker (1910), later reissued as Baum's Own Book For Children (1912). But we did not have any music for the lyric. We began looking through the score to see if any of Tietjens's music fit Baum's words. We quickly realized we could sing the chorus to the latter half of the "Winter Jubilation" music from the Act I Finale. Then James found that with a subtle change to the value of a note or two, and a shift from waltz time to common time, the "Happy Maidens" melody from the Act II finale fit the verse of the "Milkmaid" quite nicely.

We were so pleased with our efforts we published the song as sheet music and released an mp3 file James had made. James Patrick Doyle died suddenly in January 2002, and our original plans for restoring the show were ended.

But now, to jump nearly two decades forward, when I finally got access to Baum's original 1901 manuscript I found a marvelous note in Baum's own hand next to the typed lyrics for "The Milkmaid Song": "This song put into 1st act scene 3 . . ." This meant James's and my deduction that the chorus of "Milkmaid" scanned to the second half of the "Winter Jubilation" melody had been accurate.

What we had failed to realize back then was that the entire song fit the full "Winter Jubilation" melody. But without Baum's handwritten clue, this fit had been easy to miss. "Winter Jubilation" wants to be played at a fairly quick tempo, and the music was probably slightly tweaked for its reuse as the Sleigh-bell dominated frolic for the snow sprites. But a careful listen reveals the fit—and so we have another of Baum and Tietjens's songs from the 1901 first draft that survives.



Please listen to Baum and Tietjens's original version first [VIDEO ABOVE]. The music is from Tietjens's piano score for the Finale of Act I. There are a few spots where the lyrics sit oddly on the tune, but stilted lyrics seem a specialty of Baum's.

Then listen to James's and my recreation of the song from 2000 [VIDEO BELOW]—in a performance of the song at OzCon 2016. This version contains a singer, too. Note that James Patrick Doyle "improved" Baum's lyrics in a few spots. The singer is singing James's revised lyric—the captions reflect Baum's original text.



I will be discussing the placement of this song, the evolution of the cow, and the introduction of Imogene in future posts.

Copyright © 2020 David Maxine. All rights reserved.


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Cowardly Lion's Jewel Box

At the matinee performance of The Wizard of Oz on April 15, 1903, the producers of the show presented the audience with souvenirs to commemorate the show's one hundredth Broadway performance.

Newspaper ads would mention the forthcoming souvenir anniversaries a week or more before, driving a demand for tickets to such special occasions. The producers began running advertisements for the 100th performance, and its souvenirs, more than two weeks in advance.

Ad announcing souvenir matinee in New-York Tribune, March 29, 1903.

This anniversary garnered one of the most elaborate of the Wizard of Oz souvenirs— a charming little jewel box featuring the Cowardly Lion standing on the hinged lid. The Cowardly Lion was one of the biggest attractions in the show and a favorite especially of the children in the audience.

Souvenir 100th Performance Cowardly Lion Jewel box, April 15, 1903.


The sumptuous little box reflects the quality and effort put into some of the theatrical souvenirs. Made of a gilded metal, the box measures 3-3/8" x 2-3/8" and is 2-1/2" tall to the top of the lion's head. The box and hinged lid are each lined with padded pink satin.

Interior of the Cowardly Lion souvenir jewel box.


The bottom of the jewel box reads: "MAJESTIC THEATRE, 100th Performance, WIZARD OF OZ, JB 827, Wednesday April 15, 1903."

Bottom of the Cowardly Lion souvenir jewel box.

These "souvenir" performances sometimes made national news as seen in the clipping below from the Sioux City [Iowa] Journal.

Sioux City Journal announcement from April 19, 1903.
We'll be discussing other souvenirs from The Wizard of Oz in coming posts—and maybe a few from other shows.

Advertisement from the New-York Tribune April 5, 1903.

Copyright © 2020 David Maxine. All rights reserved.