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)