Wayne Men’s Club Minstrels, part 4 – Radnor H.S. Band, Main Line Kiwanis

Even some of Wayne’s old-timers have forgotten the connection between the Men’s Club Minstrels and the Radnor High School band. The fact is that the band owes its existence to the Minstrels. Originally the net proceeds of each show were put into the Organ Fund with the hope that this fund would grow to such proportions that an organ could be purchased and installed in the Radnor High School Auditorium. This was to be a memorial to the alumni of the School who lost their lives in World War I.

Although the Minstrel Shows were staged on a lavish scale and the cost of production was always high, nevertheless each year showed a profit, until in 1930 there was the sum of $1050 in the treasury. Then it was decided to convert the Organ Fund into the Band Fund, since at this time there was no High School band in Wayne. At the Radnor-Lower Merion football games it was even necessary to hire a band. The latter did not compare very favorably with the splendid school band or our neighboring community! Townspeople and students alike longed for a school band of Wayne’s very own. It was then that the Minstrel Men turned over more than $1000 for this purpose, and Radnor High School’s Band obtained its start.

The 1930 Minstrel Show was the last of the “gorgeous era” ones. This was in the first years of the depression and the returns from seats selling at $1.50 and $1.00 had to pay for the show. Although it was a gala one, attendance was off to such an extent that the Minstrels were several hundred dollars in the red. Fortunately, the Main Line Kiwanis Club had contracted for a show in Ardmore, and the proceeds from this made up the deficit.

Ironically enough, since the depths of the depression had not even been reached in 1930, the show of that year opened with the rousing song “Happy Days Are Here Again”. The Minstrel Men were evidently doing a bit of wishful thinking! The atmosphere and scenery were Spanish, with gay senoritas and matadors doing their parts in bright colored raiment. “Bub” Park, playing on the end of the circle for the first time, captivated his audience with the song “Me and the Girl Next Door”, while Ted Park followed with “The Load Is Heavy”. “Willie” Shuster repeated his great success of the previous year by singing “He Went In Like a Lion”, while “Doc” Standen made a hit with his song “I Can Get It for You Wholesale”. Among chorus numbers were “The Troubadours”, Victor Herbert’s “Moonbeams”, “Bells of the Sea”, and “Gunga Din” with the solo part sung by Bill Dowdell.

A playlet entitled “The Yankee Toreador” was the very amusing feature of Part II of the program, particularly the “bull”, as played by Dave and “Bunny” Hunt! And then there were Spanish dances by Hal Reese with “Doc” Standen and Ted Park as caballeros! Noteworthy among the soloists were Jimmy Smith and George Orr.

Since the 1930 show had gotten by financially only with the help of the extra performance in Ardmore, the Minstrels decided not to venture on a 1931 performance, particularly in view of the fact that the days of the depression were still upon the country. But in 1932, even operating under a budget cut some 50 percent, a very creditable performance was given. While not as lavish in costume and stage effects as its predecessors, it was still “a typical show of beautiful music, lively dancing and sprightly comedy”. That they did it at all is still much to the credit of these Minstrel Men. Perhaps it was partly because they knew the pleasure it would give to hundreds of spectators, perhaps it was the enjoyment of close fellowship on a common endeavor, certainly it was something of both that prompted them, for each show took months of work and preparation in assembling talent and in working out the details of the programs.

C. Linn Seller, of Haverford College, had now succeeded the well-loved maestro, Ed Hunt, as musical director. The chorus, always the keystone of these shows, sang “Winter Song”, “Buss Frog Partrol”, and “That’s Why Darkies Were Born”. Among the soloists were Lou Garratt, who sang, “River, Stay ‘Way From My Door” and Jimmy Smith, who sang both the “Serenade” from “The Studen Prince”, and “Uncle Rome.” Of the latter, one commentator has said, “A picture that will never fade in the memory of many was Jimmy Smith as the enfeebled and trembling old darky singing in the moonlight, “Uncle Rome”’.

(to be continued)

Wayne Men’s Club Minstrels, part 3 – Radnor High School

Spectacular scenic effects marked the 1928 productions of the Men’s Club Minstrels, given on the evenings of April 13 and 14 in the Radnor High School Auditorium. As the house lights dimmed and fifteen musicians from the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Pennsylvania Grand Opera Company, with Archibald Morrison at the piano, began to play Sigmund Romberg’s “My Maryland,” the curtains opened on a life-sized reproduction of the rear view of the Broadway Limited! Resplendent in all the glory of glittering brass work and an illuminated keystone on the platform, the Limited stood there true ot life to the smallest detail, even to red tail lights! The life-sized observation platform and end of the rear car jutted out on the stage – the whole on rollers to move it backwards. Only a half hour before curtain time were the workmen finished with this magnificent contribution of the Pennsylvania Railroad to the 1928 Minstrel Show.

As George Borst, standing with the train conductor and porter, began to sing “I’m Going Down South,” the minstrel men came down the aisles in long files, singing all the way up the platform steps, up the steps of the “Limited” and into the train itself. As the last man went aboard, the porter picked up George Borst’s bags, and singer and porter entered the car. The conductor swung his lantern, climbed aboard, pulled the signal cord . . . the distant locomotive whistled faintly, began its staccato music and the train moved slowly away in the darkness as the curtains rustled together.

When the curtains opened again, it was on the Minstrel Company in the traditional circle with Ben James in the center arrayed in white satin and “unsullied by any trace of the more plebian black.” Then followed the usual jokes, amusing stories and many songs by Ed Hunt’s well trained chorus. Jules Prevost and the chorus sang “Spring is Here” and Ashby Wallace with the chorus “portrayed the poignant shadows of the swamplands of the deep South in “Chloe”. Lew Garrett, aided by the chorus, gave a splendid rendition of the old darky spiritual “Bow Down,” while George Orr sang “Ol’ Man River” in a way never to be forgotten by those who heard him that night.

Written for this production and dedicated to the Men’s Club Minstrels was a song by Clay Boland, entitled “He Ain’t Never Been to College,” sung by “Doc” Standen and the chorus. At its conclusion the circle gave the college yell, doubtless still remembered by some among us:

“Oi. Oi. He done vell
Gif him a good substantial yell,
City Collitch.”

After the intermission the curtains opened on the second half of the show, made up of a number of skits, the highlight of which was “In a Chinese Temple Garden,” with its oriental atmosphere skilfully interpreted by the orchestra. Bud Morrison as Buddha, immobile of countenance was seated cross-legged before a wall of typical Chinese design.

The synopsis as given in the program describes the scene thus: “A few bars characterize the introduction, the incantations of the priests at the shrine, while the perfume of the incense floats on the air. A melody (given to ‘cello, viola and oboe with pizzicato accompaniment) represents the lover. A Manchy wedding procession passes noisily by; a street disturbance ensues among the coolies . . . the beating of the gong in the temple restores quietude; the incantations of the priests are heard again, and the lover’s song, with a brief quotation from the temple and coolies’ music, brings the piece to a conclusion.” The part of the lover was enacted by James Smith, while the priests were F. A. Wallace, E. B. Stanley, L. W. Garrett, C. E. Riley, R. E. Hinkle and H. C. Creutzberg. The unusual scenery demanded by the “Chinese Temple Garden” was built by Morris Groff and painted by B. F. James.

The setting of the 1929 Show when it was given in April of that year was distinctly nautical. When the curtains opened on another of their performances of the “gorgeous era” the entire backstage was taken up with a replica of the ship “I’m Alone,” the original of which was at that time the subject of an international controversy. The minstrel company, though black of face, were in sailor regalia, while Ben James, ruddy of complexion and glittering in gold lace, was “Admiral of the Queen’s Navee.” As the show started there was a frantic cry of “Man Overboard,” when it was discovered that end-man Ted Park was missing! But a life preserver, making a long arc into the audience, unceremoniously hauled Ted aboard “spouting like a whale the glass of water he had taken while in Davy Jones’ Locker.”

Part of this show was broadcast over WCAU. Notable in the first part was Lou Garratt’s singing of the Negro Spiritual, “Talk About Jerusalem Morning”; “Chalita” and “Buccaneers,” as sung by the chorus; Jim Smith in “Neapolitan Nights” and George Orr in “Comin’ Home.” “By the Swanee River,” in part two of the program, was a musical description of a Southern Jubilee. According to the synopsis “the opening depicts the darkies shouting on their way to the camp meeting. The second part introduces “The Old Folks Dance,” followed by the younger element doing the buck and wing. This leads up to some lively coon shooting, which in turn is succeeded by Old Ephriam Jones dreamily singing “Wid the Old Folks at Home”.

Then follows a finale in which everybody participates”. Other numbers on this part of the program included “Levee Days”, in which “Levee Folks at Play” were introduced and “The Birmingham Quartette”, consisting of Jim Smith, E. B. Stanley, Ted Park and Ashby Wallace, sang various numbers. The finale came with the chorus rendition of “Down South”.

(to be continued)

Wayne Men’s Club Minstrels, part 2 – WCAU

A year after the great initial performance of the Minstrels of the Men’s Club of Wayne, in April 1918, another performance was given, this time on April 24, and April 25, 1919. Again it was staged in the auditorium of Radnor High School. It was an elaborate affair in three parts, part one opening with an overture by the orchestra, followed by many musical numbers sung by the minstrel men. Part two consisted of several skits and part three of a “Farcical Medley of Funny Business” entitled “Good Morning, Si!”

Ben James was interlocutor again, while “Billie” Cochran and “Willie” Shuster were bones and Arthur Standen and Charlie Clay were tambos. The song of the opening chorus was “In the Land of Yamo, Yamo,” and the overture was “Melody from the South.” Among the soloists were Charles Clay, Arthur Standen, R. C. Jacobs, William B. Dowdell, William Shuster and W. P. Cochran. The latter made an especial hit with a number entitled “Plant a Watermelon on My Grave.”

Skits in the second part of the show started off with one entitled “Back from the Front-Lying” in which the two characters were “Captain Lives” as portrayed by Arthur Standen and “Private Bacon” as interpreted by Fred Radcliffe. “The Musical Mokes,” John Rogan, Fred Ristine and Bert Ehart were heard in a “review of current events.” William Shuster and Charles Clay were the two actors in “Taking Chances.” “As Others See Us,” a novelty in the art of impersonations, as done by Ben James, concluded part two.

Characters in “Good, Morning, Si!”, the “Medley of Funny Business,” which constituted part three were “Si, a Grosser,” W. P. Cochran; “Joe, still grosser,” J. A. Standen; “Tom and Jerry,” Charles Clay and W. B. Shuster; “Hank, a Constable,” F. P. Radcliffe; “Tramp, Bird of Passage”, W. B. Dowdell; “Artie Choke, Gentle and Neat”, H. S. Norris; “Jim Spruce, Back from the Wicked City”, William Fox; “Tillie Oddsox, Who Takes a Chance”, T. G. Roberts and “Ima Boob”, J. M. Rogan.

Printed programs of these early shows, still in the possession of Harry C. Creutzberg, and lent to the writer for this series of articles, are interesting not only for the names and for the program material, but for their advertisers as well. The Counties Gas and Electric Company has long since changed to the Philadelphia Electric Company; the Edgar Jones grocery and meat market is now the Fairlawn Food Market; Frank O’Brien Hardware Store is the Wayne Hardware Store; H. C. Hadley’s Drug Store has long since become Norman Wack’s Pharmacy; the Hubbs Grocery and Meat Market has gone out of existence, the site of its former shop now occupied by the Firestone Store: La Dow’s Drug Store, after passing through several ownerships, is now a Sun Ray Drug Store; Cox and Lynam’s Electric Company has long been known as Lynam Electric Company.

On the inside of the title page of the 1919 program, the Penn Publishing Company of Philadelphia, of which C. C. Shoemaker, president of the Men’s Club, was president, ran a full length advertisement of “The Tin Soldiers”, by Temple Bailey. Miss Bailey was for years a writer of a long line of best sellers published by that company. On the other hand, however, some of the advertisers’ names are those still always appearing on local programs, such as the Wayne Title and Trust Company, the Delaware Market House, Wayne Plumbing and Heating Company, L. K. Burket and the Wayne Suburban.

After the 1919 performances came those of 1920 – and then no more for seven long years – just why there was such a lapse in the highly successful performances of the Minstrel Show is as much of a mystery as their sudden revival in 1927. At any rate, in April of that year the Men’s Club Minstrels played to capacity audiences on two different nights.

By that time a well organized movement was under way to place an organ in the high school auditorium as a memorial to alumni of the school who had given their lives in the war over but a few short years before. With the endorsement of the Radnor Township School Board and of various civic organizations an Organ Fund Committee had been formed, with Mrs. Humbert B. Powell as chairman. Serving with her were Walter S. Mertz, Edgar L. Hunt, C. Walton Hale, Allyn S. Park, Philip W. Hunt and A. M. Ehart.

The Minstrel Show men decided to devote the proceeds of the 1927 performances to this fund. Seats sold for $1.00 and $1.50 and the profits, though not large, formed the nucleus of a fund to which profits of later minstrel shows were added.

So vivid is Harry Creutzburg’s description of this 1927 performance that this writer feels it should be quoted almost in full. “The house lights dimmed as a splendid orchestra followed the baton of Ed Hunt through the melodious overture of “The Student Prince”. At its conclusion the curtains parted and “the spots” picked up George Borst, who, in a reminiscent mood, sang “Bring Back Those Minstrel Days”. Down the aisle and into their places on the stage, as the curtain widened, came the gaily caparisoned minstrel company as they sang the refrain. High silk hatted, satin coated in red, green, blue and yellow, end men capering – bones a-rattling – the lid was off with a bang and the minstrels had come into their own again.

“The well balanced chorus, trained to perfection, as Ed Hunt’s choruses always are, gave a spirited rendition of “Medley from the South”, followed by the lingering beauty of “Lassie O’ Mine”. Other fine chorus numbers were “Hangin’ Out de Clo’es” and “The Bells of St. Mary’s”.

“As to the end men: Jules Prevost made his final bow as a minstrel with “I’ve Never Seen a Straight Banana”: Ted Park sang “Sam, the Old Accordion Man” … The redoubtable Doc Standen sang with gusto that pathetic ballad, “The Coat and the Pants Do All the Work, While the Vest Gets all the Gravy”, while Bill Shuster convulsed all with his powerfully rendered “Can You Tame Wild Women?” . . . Ben James was his usual urbane and pulchritudinous self as interlocutor . . .

“Jimmy Smith, with the show for the first item, captivated all with his exquisite “Serenade from “The Student Prince” . . . and then George Orr’s marvelously rich baritone took us “Somewhere East of Suez” in “Mandalay.”

“In Part II, the curtain rose on several lively skits. Then followed a scene revealing an Arab tent in the desert. In nomad costumes a trio – Ashby Wallace, Jimmy Smith and George Orr – assisted by the concealed chorus – sang the rapturous and haunting melody, “The Desert Song’.

“More skits and then the show ended with the ‘Drinking Song’, from “The Student Prince.’”

(to be continued)