Sunday, March 28, 2010

Doubly interesting

On Friday, I spent the afternoon at the State Library of California in Sacramento going through yet more microfilm of California newspapers. This time, I went through a few years of newspapers from both Yuba City and Marysville, as well as a few reels from Grass Valley and Merced. One advertisement I came across turned out to be unique - and doubly interesting.

So far, in my quixotic quest to document instances of Louise Brooks films being shown in Northern California, I have documented some 750 to 800 screenings. Most took place in the Twenties and Thirties. One screening I came across - from the Atkins Theatre in Yuba City - is unique. I have never come across anything like it. Here is an advertisement for that event.

Many times, as was common in the silent film era, a film was preceded by a short or a stage act with musicians or Vaudeville performers. This was true for Brooks' films. Sometimes, a film played as part of a double bill. Once or twice, two of Brooks' films were even shown together.

What makes this screening unique is that The Street of Forgotten Men (1925) was preceded by a live stage play, The Waifs of New York. Of all of the hundreds of ads I have looked at - I have never come across such a pairing, a film with a stage play. What also makes this doubly interesting is that the film was paired with a thematically similar work. Both stories are set among the down-and-out in New York City.

And if that isn't enough, this unique event took place in February of 1927 - that's nearly a year-and-a-half after The Street of Forgotten Men was released! That's pretty late in the film's history, as most films did not continue to circulate after more than a year or so during the silent film era.

[I haven't been able to find much about The Waifs of New York. It may date from the late 1800's, and may be a one-act. Does anyone know anything about it? Otherwise, I was able to find a little about the Atkins Theatre. I believe it was one of two in Yuba City, and was owned by a fellow named Atkins who lived in nearby Marysville.]


  1. I'm guessing the May Sheldon of The Waifs of New York that was to be performed by Kelley's Comedians in 1927, is the May Sheldon who teamed with Loring Kelley (and was a.k.a. Minnie May Kelley) to write Dancing Fathers, A Nevada Divorce, Major Jones, and Ain't Nature Grand (period catch phrase), all three-act plays published by Eldridge Entertainment House in Ohio in 1930; and A Dollar Down and The Ghost Chaser, staged in three acts at Poughkeepsie church venues in 1935 and '39. I'm guessing The Waifs of New York wasn't thematically similar to Street of Forgotten Men, that it was more Our Gang than Brooks's gang.

    "May Sheldon" appeared in three music-al plays on Broadway in the second decade of the century. "Loring Kelley" married "Pearl Dykman, a Tacoma girl", on the stage of Tacoma's Star Theatre in August, 1906, after performing in a show (titled Lynwood).
    There was indeed a nineteenth century Waifs of New York (N.B. four words, no article), and a Hoosier named Richard Bennett appeared in it. (His stage debut, incidentally, was in Chicago in May, 1891; Broadway that November, at age 19.) It was written by Thaddeus W. Meighan (1822-1874), "a well-known New York journalist" and playwright (Waifs, Fairy Circle).(Buffalo News)

    I say it's not the Waifs of Yuba City ... yet does hold points of interest, beginning with the name Meighan. Matt Meighan, an online historian for his clan, doesn't connect journalist Thaddeus to thespian Thomas. But, he reports Dance History Archives asserts that Thaddeus, while an editor at the New York Aurora (see Walt Whitman) in the spring of 1844, relayed sheet music and a description of a new dance from the Aurora's man in Paris (or London) to the ballet master at New York's National Theatre; and thus did Ballet Master Brookes become the first man to dance the polka in America. !! (Not an April Fool's joke for you.)

    Katie Emmett "starred" the rôle of Willie Rufus, the newsboy, throughout the nineties and then some, as Waifs of New York played in metropolitan theaters throughout the country. It sounds like she became a producer of the show, which was noted for its scenic effects, e.g., "the railroad bridge, with its moving trains ... and the perilous leap of Miss Emmett from a burning building in rescuing a child."

    "Katie Emmett's Sad End." "Katie Emmett's lonely death in a remote Michigan shanty recalls the once vital figure of an actress born in Philadelphia and popular here in the palmy days of melodrama 30 or 40 years ago, says the Philadelphia Bulletin....

    "She was a melancholy memorial of a vanished theatrical era." (Binghampton Press, March 28, 1927.)

  2. Hi,

    Fwiw, I believe Thaddeus W. Meighan the New York playwright and journalist was, in fact, related to Thomas B Meighan the actor - family lore has them as second cousins, and there does seem to be evidence of a relationship - I just haven't been able to prove it yet. More info about Thaddeus is on my page about him,

    - Matt Meighan

    RE: "Matt Meighan, an online historian for his clan, doesn't connect journalist Thaddeus to thespian Thomas." above

  3. I write a weekly column of West Virginia history for the newspaper in my hometown, Clarksburg. Among my files from old newspapers is a Nov. 24, 1892 (Thanksgiving Day) report about "The Waifs of New York," from the Wheeling, W. Va., Daily Intelligencer. A performance of "Waifs" was opening at Wheeling's Grand Theater that evening, and it was described as a "great drama." Reserved seat sales were already large and expected to remain so throughout its run.

    If it was selling a lot of tickets, it was probably a well-known and popular play of the time, because it was competing with performances by the popular comic actress Rosina Vokes at Wheeling's Opera House.


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