Wednesday, January 19, 2011

1860s Minstrel Shows

I've been prospecting for primary source accounts of Minstrel Shows in the early 1860's... Here are a couple accounts lifted from Alf Doten's journals.

Sept 18, 1861- [San Francisco] Stephen & I went to Tuckers Academy of Music this evening - a sort of free and easy place - no ladies there - pretty good house - about 500 present - women waiters carrying round drinks cigars, &c that were ordered, among the audience - a long, varied and amusing performance - commenced with the male & female minstrels - 16 of them in all - Only 2 of them blacked, the tambourine (Walter Bray) and bones - ladies all in short skirts and tights - guitars, flutes, banjos, violins, &c - songs & grand chorus - jokes, conundrums &c - curtain fell - then followed lots of dancing, and songs, by single performers - pas de deux &c - whole wound up with a very laughable burlesque, entitled Norton the 1st or the Emperor of a day...

Oct 20 1862 - arrived at San Francisco a little after 11 oclock... Went up to Cofrans for supper - Hadsell there also - after supper he and I went to the Bella Union - full house - good company - male & female minstrels, about a dozen of them - Ned Buckley as "Brudder Bones" was the only one that was blacked up - gave us lots of songs, ballads, conundrums, fancy dances &c - Grand walk around - J H O'Neil gave us some of his No 1 jig dancing & the girls showed considerable leg - especially Miss Amanda Lee, who showed a splendid pair of the finest fat legs I ever looked at - in dancing she showed them completely up to her hips and we could see almost everything...

Sunday 14 Dec 1862 [San Francisco?] - At 7 oclock went to the "Athenaum" - in Stark's Theatre - free & easy - crowded house - 2 girls waiting upon the crowd with liquors, cigars &c - 2 & 4 bits admittance - Frank Medina & Gus Carl proprietors... jig and hornpipe by little Frank Medina, son of tother Frank - only some 8 or 9 yrs old - National song by Mrs Thomas - "We know no North, we know no South" - whole concluded with very laughable farce called the "Persecuted Dutchman" - Audience were well-pleased, and threw money upon the stage to Miss Paullin, also to little Frank, when they danced solo...

May 21, 1863 [San Francisco] evening I went to Gilbert's Melodeon - male and female minstrels &c ... songs, music, choruses, jokes &c  - Johnny De Angelis & Joe Murphy were blacked up - Grand medley walk around - best I ever saw - overtures, ballads, solos &c - Farce of the "Two Gregories" - whole concluded with the comic ballet of "the Vivandiere" - between pieces Md'lle Fleury, a French lady of fine operatic talents, appeared and sung, in all four ballads - "Napolitaine," "Don't let the Roses Listen" in English and two others in French - sings splendidly but speaks very poor English - The dancing was best I ever saw - Miss Lotta [Crabtree] is an A No 1 jig dancer but the comic little capering rogue of the evening was Jennie Worrell - She beats all I ever saw in her line - she danced some very comic, dashing, rattling, capering jigs and sung several comic and Irish songs - The whole performance was highly satisfactory and all the fun one could ask for one evening - No vulgarity...

Dec 26, 1863 [Como, Nevada] Evening performance Bryant & Case's minstrels - our troupe - doors open at 7 1/2 oclock - Martin & I played big drum, cymbals & fife in front of door half an hour - full house - 50 cts a ticket - lots of ladies present - at 8 oclock curtain rose - 8 of us on the stage - Cross's hall - Overture - sang several songs - plenty of gags, jokes, conundrums &c - Walk around by the company - I led the whole performance with violin - Lindsay played 2nd violin - Andrews did banjo a little - bones & tambourine - part 2nd, I & Lindsay were in the orchestra - solos, overtures, songs & dances, & little funny acts - were much applauded throughout the entire performance - Martin the Wizard followed with his trick  of the "magic rings" - then ventriloquism - & wound up with his dancing figures - the benches were then cleared away & we had a few quadrilles &c - I played - Lindsay helped some - we got nothing for it - The whole performance was a perfect success and a decided hit ... had terrible time washing black off tonight -

above: Martin the Wizard and his "magic rings" circa 1863

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mark Twain at work

I love these two glimpses into Sam Clemens' relaxed way of working. Both are taken from notes to the online collection of letters at the Mark Twain Project.

Mr. Clemens was a believer in personal comfort while at work. On hot days in particular he cast aside formalities—and a considerable portion of his clothing as well. At the outset he bought a comfortable lounging chair with a writing board hinged on to the arm, and it was no infrequent sight during the summer to find him nestled cosily in that chair, a pipe in his mouth and only a negligee shirt, trousers and socks in evidence as costume. His collar and shoes would most likely be in a waste basket and his hat, coat and waistcoat wherever they chanced to land when he cast them off. 
(Earl D. Berry, 1869)

And there was Mark Twain in a little back room, with a sheet-iron stove, a dirty, musty carpet of the cheapest description, a bed, and two or three common chairs. The little drum stove was full of ashes, running over on the zinc sheet; the bed seemed to be unmade for a week, the slops had not been carried out for a fortnight, the room was foul with tobacco smoke, the floor, dirty enough to begin with, was littered with newspapers, from which Twain had cut his letters. Then there were hundreds of pieces of torn manuscripts which had been written and then rejected by the author. A dozen pipes were about the apartment—on the wash-stand, on the mantel, on the writing table, on the chairs—everywhere that room could be found. And there was tobacco, and tobacco everywhere. One thing, there were no flies. The smoke killed them, and I am now surprised the smoke did not kill me too. Twain would not let a servant come into his room. He would strip down his suspenders (his coat and vest, of course, being off) and walk back and forward in slippers in his little room and swear and smoke the whole day long. Of course, at times he would work, and when he did work it was like a steam engine at full head...
(from “How ‘Innocents Abroad’ Was Written,” New York Evening Post, 20 Jan 1883)

above: Mark Twain looking very relaxed indeed!