Wayne Men’s Club Minstrels, part 6 – Anthony Wayne Theatre

Beginning in 1933, the Men’s Club Minstrels, and later the Merriemen gradually began to include outside talent in their shows rather than to make them exclusively the product of their own numbers. As stated in last week’s column, the Wayne Junior Drum and Bugle Corps participated in the performance given at the Anthony Wayne Theatre that year, while in January, 1934, James and Jean Blackstone were featured in a Winter Concert put on by the Merriemen at the Saturday Club.

Later in that same season Betty Ott, then a student in High School, was the partner of the interlocutor Joe Forrest in “The Easter Parade”. In 1935 the Delaware County L. W. D. Orchestra contributed several lively musical numbers to the program. A chorus from the Bala Cynwyd Junior Woman’s Club was one of the hits of the evening in 1936. That same year saw the introduction of an instrumental sextette from the High School.

On the 1937 program there was a tap dancing number by Betty Brooke, while a dancing chorus from Mrs. Renee P. HIll’s class put on a number entitled “The New Orleans Strut”. Peter Marcantonio played a cornet solo and Francis and Joey Lennon presented guitar and banjo novelties. And Alice Hart’s singing was the big hit of the after-piece of that evening’s show.

In 1938 the “Sauer Kraut Band”, a small group of German musicians, played “Wienerschnitzel”. It was in February of either ‘37 or ‘38 that an “Amateur Night” for “any one who could do anything” was staged in the High School by the Merriemen. The public was invited and during the fifteen or more acts and stunts merriment and entertainment was about equally divided between those behind the footlights and those in front of them!

The ‘37 and ‘38 Merriemen shows were the last ones to be put on by that group. Both were for the benefit of the Radnor High School Scholarship Fund and both were pretentious affairs with full programs of music, dancing and acting. Ben James, old time favorite, was interlocutor of the former, while Charlie Smith, of the high school was the surprise hit in that capacity in the latter. Charles Mintzer was the musical director of both shows, while Paul Teel and Walter Howson were at the piano.

Many of the high school faculty, students and maintenance force assisted back stage in the 1937 show, which was a particularly elaborate one, with the scenario of Part II written by R. Rhodes Stabley, of the English department of the school. This was of the 1865 period with the scene laid on “a southern plantation, untouched by the War . . . a tried and true gentleman of the Old South . . . his daughter . . . a Yankee captain, wounded, brought in by the slaves”. Sentimental songs, many of them old timers like “Darling Nellie Gray”, were sung by the chorus and others, among them Alice Hart with the appealing “Lover, Come Back to Me”. With Hal Reese and the chorus she also sang “Your Land and My Land”, from “My Maryland”. Jules Prevost as “Jemima”, Ted Park as “Sam” and Bub Park as “Rainbow” united in a rendition of “Alabama Barbecue”. “A Medley of HIts From Former Shows” as arranged by Paul Teel and sung by “Two Parks, Art Stilwell and Two Brookes” was one of the most amusing numbers of the first part of the show.

The ‘38 show opened with a chorus number appropriately entitled “We’re Singing Again”, the words written by Jules Prevost. Other chorus songs were “A Little Close Harmony” “Harrigan”, “Song of the Jolly Roger”, “Just A-Wearying For You”, “Who’s That Tapping At My Door”. But the real hit of the show was a take-off on “Show White and the Seven Dwarfs” entitled “Pitch Black and the Seven Giants!” Bob Morrison was “Pitch Black” who, sweetly sleeping, was carried on the stage by her “seven giants”. Once there “she” awoke and brought down the house!

At this time Harry Creutzburg was president of the Merriemen; William Holloway was treasurer and Albert Ware, secretary. The executive committee was composed of J. Arthur Standen, L. W. Garratt, Benjamin F. James, Carl Wetzel, Ralph Aman and F. Ashby Wallace. These men and many others had worked hard with the Minstrel Shows, most of them from its very beginning. Many of the older group would have been glad to continue the brilliant successes of the last shows. For some, however, this had been enough, and it was not easy to recruit new members.

Ashy Wallace has told the writer of one encouraging renewal of interest just before the War, when some thirty voices were training under Charlie Mintzer and Paul Teel. These promising recruits soon dwindled in number to twenty, then to twelve . . . And with that they disbanded . . . the War would have put a temporary stop to the activities of the group, anyway. Hal Reese, who served in both World War I and World War II, was killed in action . . . many of the young voices recruited for the last few shows were stilled forever.

Before concluding this series on the Men’s Club Minstrels and The Merriemen, the writer has talked to four of the “old-timers” Al Ware, Grif Roberts, Harry Creutzburg and Ashby Wallace. From them she has obtained some of the material for this last piece, for they love to talk of the fun – and the work – of those days that are over, over unless indeed there can be a renewal of interest sufficient to start again, and to carry on. The older men would be glad to give their support to such an undertaking, providing there is a sufficient group of the younger element to do their share, too. Few Wayne organizations have given their community as much pleasure and entertainment as the Merriemen have, while at the same time they were enjoying the pleasure of that companionship that comes from working and playing together.

But the Wayne Minstrel Show that started all Minstrel Shows in the community was given in the old Opera House before the Men’s Club Minstrels and the Merriemen were ever thought of, according to Grif Roberts. Just how long before he doesn’s quite know. But according to him it was the original minstrel show! Jay Canizares and George Allen were the end men. Among those who sang in the show and took part in the “after-piece” were Gene Bonniwell, Matthew Randall, Bill Beatty, Sr., Sam Jaquette, Charlie Tatnall, Bob Lynch, Frank Muller, Walt Whetstone, Sr., Fred Ristine, John Rogan, Ashby Wallace and Grif Roberts. (There were probably others, but this was as far as Mr. Roberts’ memory took him at the first try!)

Part I consisted of the usual minstrel show of songs and jokes as passed around in “the circle”. The “after-piece” was a take-off on a courtroom scene with Eugene Bonniwell, a judge in real life, acting as “the Judge” in the play. Grif Roberts as the “dizzy blond” was suing Johnny Rogan for breach of promise. Doc Standen was “the new woman”, so commonly satirized in that day. The jury, much confounded by the evidence, got into an argument, which was highlighted by the talk of three of the members. One stuttered, one lisped, and one spoke with a German accent! In the end, “the dizzy blond”, Grif Roberts, fell into the arms of the man she was suing, John Rogan! Both took a tumble, as the writer understands it!

This was the original Wayne Minstrel Show!