Copyright 2007 John Phillips, Kathleen, GA
THIS IS A STORY about the Banksons, a not-quite-forgotten family of actors from long ago. They came about as close to oblivion as you can come. They died before most of us were born, and they left no known descendants.
I first heard of them about 1977. An elderly uncle, Ray Phillips of Bryan, Ohio, mentioned that they’d visited him in Marion, Indiana, in his youth. He said they were “touring actors,” cousins who turned up now and then. He said the whole family of them played in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He couldn’t remember much else.
I checked other relatives; no one had heard of the Banksons. I advertised in the Genealogical Helper. No response.
In 2003 I mentioned them to a newly found Coatney cousin, Don Coatney of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. I told him that the Banksons didn’t seem to fit into my Phillips or Spear families. The Banksons, I’d long suspected, were Coatneys.
In February 2004 Don solved the mystery. He’d posted queries on the Internet. Victoria Connolly of Auburn, California, responded. She had tangible proof that the Banksons had existed: a scrapbook and some photos. Miss Connolly, who’s called “Tori,” had found them in a flea market in Palm Springs, California. She generously shared photocopies.
The Banksons’ lives boiled down to flea-market trash. They deserve better. The scrapbook shows that they were much more successful than I’d imagined. They were Broadway regulars. They played some legendary shows and they swapped lines with some legendary stars. This was long ago, back in 1875-1900, yet even today we see some of the Banksons’ co-workers on the Turner classic movie channel.
Mary Bankson and husband John weren’t stars; they were character actors. But their children were rising stars. Therein lies real-life tragedy.
Now, thanks to the scrapbook, we can piece together the Bankson story. Internet access to some old newspapers helps, too. Let’s go back and begin with Archibald Coatney/Courtney of Jefferson County, Indiana. Among his many daughters were Emeline and Lucinda. Genuine Hoosiers, they’d been born in Indiana in the early 1800s. Uncle Ray and I descend from Emeline.
Lucinda married Thomas G. Taylor, a carpenter from Kentucky. This happened Oct. 27, 1847 along the Ohio River in Jefferson County, Indiana. They had at least two children: Mary and Emma. Let’s focus on Mary Taylor.
MARY ELLEN TAYLOR was born Nov. 26, 1848 in southern Indiana. She was seven when her mother died. We don’t know if her father remarried or if she lived with other relatives.
Either way, she married very young. The groom’s name was Asa King. Civil War records show that an Asa A. King was a private in the 32nd Illinois Infantry. He was from Carthage, Illinois, a village in Hancock County just up the road from Hamilton.
Mary and Asa had a son who lived only 11 months.
Mary’s pension records show that her husband died in April 1867 at Hamilton, Illinois, a tiny town just across the Mississippi River from Keokuk, Iowa, and only a few miles from Missouri. We don’t know what killed him, or where his teenaged widow lived just afterward.
On March 10, 1868, Mary’s sister Emma married John Dennis Bell, a Civil War veteran, in Hamilton. Mary soon moved in with them. When the census was taken in 1870, Emma was 19, her husband was 25 and their daughter Francis was one. Mary gave her name as Mary King and age as 20. A couple of years later, Mary remarried.
“I was living at Keokuk, Iowa, when I met my husband, John W. Bankson,” she once told a newspaper reporter. “He had been a soldier in the Civil War but he was then an actor and was in a stock company at St. Louis. He was handsome and dashing, and he won my heart. When I found he was an actor, I was very much disturbed, for I had never been to a theatre in my life.”
Mary, though, had an uncle and male cousins who’d traveled, at least briefly, as performers. Later, another male cousin would go into vaudeville.
Mary said that John “persuaded me to go with him to a play at Keokuk. We were married March 21, 1871, and I went as his bride to St. Louis.”
John gave the wedding date exactly a year later in his pension records, and so did Mary, years later when she filed for a war widow’s pension. Both said a Methodist preacher named Powers performed the ceremony. Daughter Edna apparently was born in November 1872.
Although not glamorous, Mary joined her husband on stage. She apparently never played a lead. A character actress for about 40 years, she specialized in portraying old women, even while she was young, and, judging from reviews, she was among the best in the business. She played so many old ladies that she once had to learn four roles in four days. Certainly her most famous plays were Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Lights o’ London and what was arguably the first American musical, The Black Crook.
Mary told an interviewer: “ . . . I read the bible through once a year and have done so for many years. For 35 years or more I was constantly on the go, and yet I managed to attend church at least once on Sunday wherever I happened to be. My people were Methodists but I am a Baptist. If there was not a Baptist or a Methodist church handy, I would frequently attend the Episcopal, Congregational or some other church.”
She outlived both husbands, her children and most everyone she knew.
JOHN WESLEY BANKSON supposedly was born Jan. 16, 1847 near Little Rock, Arkansas. He fudged his age one way or the other, depending on circumstances.
He grew up in and around Keokuk. In 1860 he was living just across the river in Warsaw, Illinois (Hancock County) with his mother and four brothers. His mother, Mary, was a washerwoman. John was listed as 15 years old and a “painter.” The father, D.W., had died there in Warsaw in 1854
Not much else is known for certain about the family. Newspaper clippings say John was kin to the Hawkes family of Keokuk, and one of his brothers died relatively young.
On Oct. 28 1861, John joined the Union army at Warsaw, giving his age as 19. He went into Captain Brawner’s Company of the Black Hawk Cavalry, part of the Missouri Volunteers. In December 1861 the outfit was designated Company A of the Black Hawk Cavalry, then a couple of months later became Co. A of the 7th Missouri Cavalry. (But records dated 1865 say he joined Co. C under Captain J.W. Pappass; this probably was a later assignment. Such contradictions are common in these records.)
On Aug. 16, 1862, rebel guerrillas under Upton Hays fell upon John’s outfit at Lone Jack, Missouri, 25 miles south of Independence; 125 men died in the nasty little affair. John, “dangerously” wounded in the right chest, was hospitalized at Lexington, Missouri Aug. 22 through at least Oct. 31. Meanwhile, Hays and his men rode off to join cutthroat Bill Quantrill and his marauders.
On April 24, 1863, John was detached to serve at the small Union fort at Pilot Knob, south of St. Louis and about halfway to the Arkansas border. On June 3, 1863, he was detached as an orderly at regimental headquarters. Then he was an orderly at brigade headquarters through Oct. 31, 1863. He subsequently served at Little Rock and apparently other places as headquarters moved.
Post-war clippings say John was on Gen. Merrill’s staff. This likely was Lewis Merrill, a Missouri colonel breveted as brigadier. John apparently never rose above private before he was mustered out Oct. 26, 1864, and apparently discharged honorably. Considering that the first Confederate surrenders didn’t come for more than five months, this was an odd date to be discharged; perhaps his wound was troublesome.
Back in Keokuk as the war raged on, he applied for military pension. His application of Jan. 2, 1865 noted that the rifle ball had entered his right chest and exited through his back. L.C. Ayres and C.H. Grove appeared as his witnesses. His occupation was listed as printer. He likely was living with his mother and brothers, who, by the time of the 1870 census, had moved across the river to Keokuk.
John apparently was counted twice in that year’s census. The Keokuk tally shows he was working as a printer. The census of St. Louis shows him as an actor. His theatrical pursuits likely were still sporadic. His obit says he debuted on stage just after the Civil War at Benedict “Ben” De Bar’s old theatre in St. Louis, but no date is given. He was an “actor” by the time he met Mary, whom he soon married, and he remained an actor the rest of his life. He also wrote several songs and at least two plays.
EDNA ANNA BANKSON was born to Mary and John in November 1872. She was called “Birdie” and soon went on stage.
JAMES WILLIAM BANKSON was born to Mary and John in 1878 in Louisville, Kentucky. He was called “Jimmie” or “Jim” and attended school in Brooklyn in 1884-92. As he got older, he signed his name “J.W. Bankson Jr.” and was sometimes billed as J.W. (His initials matched his father’s.) He could sing well enough to earn fine reviews for The Private Secretary. He married an up-and-coming leading lady, Lotta Linthicum.
LOTTA LYNN LINTHICUM was born in New York City, just off Broadway, between 1870 and ‘77. Like most actresses–and actors, too–she was vague on dates. She was nicknamed “Lotte” and “Lottie.” Although from a wealthy family, she had close connections to Baltimore (where her father’s family was from) and Canada. She lived in Canada temporarily, her first husband died there and her second husband was Canadian. Certainly, theatre patrons in Montreal loved her.
Her family’s wealth established her as an international traveler and performer while still a teenager. Her obituary says she debuted on stage in London, likely in the early or mid-1890s. In 1896 American entrepreneurs Charles Frohman and Frank Sanger imported a London company to do The Sign of the Cross at the Knickerbocker Theatre in NYC. Lotta, as Dacia, was one of the supporting actresses in the opening performance that Nov. 9. Later the company toured successfully.
Although a leading lady on Broadway, she was somewhat stigmatized as a “stock lead” who often had to do two performances a day.
MARY AND JOHN BANKSON, after going downriver to St. Louis as newlyweds in 1871 or ’72, devoted the rest of their lives to the theatre. John became known for playing old-man and dialect parts. Mary played old women. They played dramas and comedies but apparently avoided Shakespeare.
Apparently it was in St. Louis that the couple weathered the financial panic of 1872-73. Fraud had caused the problem. Railroad entrepreneurs, riding a construction boom, had borrowed money and diverted it to their own use. Banks and businesses went bust, thousands of workers were idled. Shanty towns burgeoned in St. Louis and many other towns.
In 1876 the city had a good baseball team in the new National League that debuted that spring, but disaster out West marred the summer of the nation’s centennial year: Indians wiped out Colonel George Armstrong Custer and all of his U.S. cavalrymen at the Little Big Horn.
How long the Banksons lived in St. Louis is unclear, and immaterial. Actors kept their bags packed. Mary and John were always on the move. They lived some in New York City, in Brooklyn, in Chicago, and probably back in Keokuk, too. Mary even played California theatres while John was touring back East.
Unfortunately, Mary didn’t save many clippings from her first decade of marriage. We know that she had Edna in November 1872 and that, before long, Uncle Tom's Cabin became a family endeavor. Mary’s scrapbook does have undated clippings telling about Edna’s stage debut in McCauley’s Theatre in Louisville about 1876. She played Little Eva, when she was either three or five, depending on which clip you believe. The Louisville Courier-Journal and Commercial is said to have devoted a column to her. (This isn’t in the scrapbook and in 2004 the Courier Journal librarian reported finding no references to Edna.)
Edna’s youthful success is remarkable but hardly unusual. Countless actresses carried their babies on stage. Maude Adams, an eventual legend, was nine months old when she debuted in The Lost Child in Salt Lake City in 1873, and in the title role, at that. Harriet Hilliard (of Ozzie and Harriet TV fame) debuted at age six weeks in Des Moines, Iowa, about 1909. And the 50-plus companies doing Uncle Tom’s Cabin needed 50-plus precocious tykes.
Mary soon added a second little actor to the family: James William Bankson was born May 10, 1878 in Louisville. Before long the Bankson family had four wage-earners.
ELECTRIC LIGHTS AND “COMBINATIONS”
American theatre was changing rapidly in that era. For one thing, the lighting was becoming better, brighter and safer. In February 1879 the California Theatre in San Francisco became the first American theatre with incandescent electric lights.
In 1879 inventor Thomas Edison supervised installation of overhead electrical lighting in Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Workmen also put in folding seats and an elevator stage.) In 1882, Boston’s Bijou became the first theatre lit exclusively with electric lights. The Bijou introduced its lights Dec. 11 with the opening of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe. (On March 31, 1880, Wabash, Indiana became first town in the world to be illuminated by electrical lighting.)
Better stasge lighting meant that the rudimentary painted backdrops had to go. Theatregoers expected three-dimensional sets that looked real.
Theatre historians like to say the time between 1850 and 1920 was when the theatre was democratized. It catered, not to the aristocracy, but to the common man. Most plays of the era were melodramas; few were classics or even memorable. (We don’t watch those plays today. But about 1920 movies and radio changed things back. Entertainment got higher toned for awhile.)
With preachers still sermonizing against the theatre, clever proprietors of those dens of sin concocted new ways to lure God-fearing customers. Some theatres gained respect as “opera houses,” or even as “museums” or “aquariums.” Some productions were “uplifting” (Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for example) or even had religious themes (The Sign of the Cross, Quo Vadis, The Christian, etc.).
No matter the name, each theatre was a sweat shop. Besides performing as often as local laws allowed, actors had to find and prepare their own costumes. They couldn’t do this in the mornings because they had to rehearse then. With many Midwestern towns allowing Sunday performances, companies worked seven nights a week. Management squeezed in as many matinees as proved profitable.
America was still dotted with traditional stock companies, so-called because local actors held stock in them. These actors remained in their towns, presenting as many as 60 different plays a season. Any actor who couldn’t do 50 parts was unwanted.
But now “combination” or touring companies were proliferating. No longer were actors generally stuck in their hometown theatre. Now, big eastern syndicates were sending companies on the road to perform wherever profitable. They were killing the local stock companies, which had relied on the same actors play after play--plus an occasional touring star.
THE JACKSON COMBINATION
No wonder the Banksons left Ben De Bar’s Theatre to tour with the “Jackson Combination.” The family’s first known review was found, not in the scrapbook, but in the files of the Atlanta Daily Constitution. On Saturday Oct. 4, 1879, the newspaper reviewed the Jackson Combination’s performance of Charley Ross: “The acting of little Birdie Bankson was wonderful. She was born for the part of Charley Ross.” Mary and John were “first-class players,” the paper said. (Further details appear below.) Overall, though, Captain William Jackson’s troupe seems to have been of dubious quality.
By 1879 the Banksons were often in NYC. Reviews are sparse, but obituaries give us a good look into the family’s life that era. One of Jimmie’s obits said he played “the baby” in Uncle Tom’s Cabin at the Aquarium in NYC. That likely was in December 1879, when the city’s newspapers told of the Aquarium’s revival of that historic play.
One of John’s obits shows he hit the big time in 1880, joining a stock company at NYC’s Standard Theatre. He was in at least three plays that year. One of them, A Golden Game, starred the playwright, Joseph W. Shannon. Old newspapers show that Shannon and his play opened at the Standard at 102 West 33rd in New York City on Aug. 30, 1880.
The company soon took that show on the road. It opened Sept. 20, 1880 at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C., where John found unexpectedly horrible press notices. The Washington Post reported Monday Sept. 27, 1880: “John W. Bankson, an actor, was arrested on the charge of forgery.” That was the extent of the item that appeared in a roundup of Sunday’s news.
The next day’s Post noted: “The charge against John W. Bankson, an actor, of forgery, was yesterday dismissed, it being a case of mistaken identity.”
Before year’s end, John was in two plays with one of top stars of the era. The obit tells us: “He played with Clara Morris as Joseph in The Countess of Somerive and Paul in Article 47.” It’s unclear if those performances were in NYC, but any play anywhere that starred Clara Morris was a major event.
In 1881 John was Major Samprey in Lester Wallack’s production of Ours. John’s obit says it was staged at the Grand Opera House, and old newspapers confirm that Wallack’s company did perform the play in NYC then. Ours was one of the sophisticated drawing-room plays then much in vogue.
In September 1881 John played in Michael Strogoff at the Academy of Music at East 14th and Irving Place in New York City.
Where was Mary? She and daughter Birdie were with the Collier Company doing The Banker’s Daughter in Chicago, among other places. The Chicago Tribune noted they were at Hooley’s opening Nov. 7, 1880. A photo also suggests they played New Orleans about this time, too. Edna played Natalie, and Mary, made up as usual to appear old, played Natalie’s great aunt. Mary and Edna probably also played in the popular A Celebrated Case about this time.
THE LIGHTS O’ LONDON
The whole Bankson family was involved in a second legendary play at one time or another. A business card pasted into the scrapbook states that John was with Collier’s company for The Lights o’ London for the seasons beginning in fall 1881, ‘82, ‘83 and ‘84. The card carries the words “New York,” meaning at least that the company was based there. The Lights o’ London debuted in America Dec. 5, 1881 at NYC’s Union Square Theatre. Various productions, sometimes competing, ran off and on well into the next century.
John’s obit said he played Squire Armytage in The Lights o’ London in 1884 at the New Park Theatre. Clippings in the scrapbook show that, at one time or another, he played Detective Cutts in that show, which also cast Mary as Sal the Boxer’s wife, and Birdie as the waif. Birdie probably did the show in 1882 (and apparently was scheduled to do in it in ‘83 and ‘84). Whatever the details, all four Banksons played in it one time or another.
George Sims’ melodrama about life in England had debuted Sept.10, 1881 at the Princess's Theatre in London. Within two weeks the American rights were sold. “Lights” offered a little of everything: romance, cops and robbers, stolen jewels, a missing will, some chases and fistfights, plus a couple of near-murders. Counting extras, the cast could surpass 100. Children loved the show as much as adults did.
Extraordinary sets gave “Lights” unprecedented pizzazz and permitted vignettes that broadened the show’s scope and appeal. In one scene a kindly policeman with a lantern finds Tim the waif sleeping in snowy Regent’s Park. Toward the end, villain Clifford Armytage throws Seth Preen from the bridge, creating a splash that, if done right, amazes audiences. (Preen actually falls between strips of “water” onto a mattress concealed under the stage.) Hero Harold Armytage rescues Preen, a good deed that soon enables the show to end happily.
Perhaps the best part of the show for the Banksons was that it enabled the family to travel together. The four of them traveled with Collier’s “No. 1 Company” when on the road with “Lights.” The scrapbook includes reviews from Joliet (presumably in Illinois), and the Music Hall in Lowell and the Worcester Theatre (presumably both in Massachusetts), but no dates are shown. Birdie seems to have stolen the show wherever it went. Reviews don’t mention John, Mary or James, but the scrapbook contains a program for this show without revealing times or places. (See the reproduction.)
Birdie died when she was about 10. Details are lacking, and even the date is questionable. Years later Mary told a newspaper reporter that Birdie died in June 1882, but the scrapbook has a business card stating that the child was with Collier’s No. 1 company of The Lights o’ London in the seasons beginning in fall 1882, ‘83 and ‘84. Undated clippings confirm that she played the waif Tim. One clip called her “the leading child actress of America” and “the hope of the American stage.” Finding an obituary would be difficult; she could have died anywhere in North America. Her experience in The Lights o’ London would have been between December 1881, when the play debuted in America, and, presumably, June 1882. (Laurie Reilly remembers hearing that Birdie died of typhoid or cholera somewhere in the east, maybe in NYC.)
Little Jimmie began playing the waif in “Lights.” (One of his obituaries says he did so “with Ida Van Cortland, in repertoire.”)
The New York Times of March 30, 1884 gave good insight into the rigors of travel, noting that the touring company for a play called Romany Rye had covered 20,000 miles in six months. The manager bragged that the 47-member troupe hadn’t missed a performance or had an illness despite freezing weather, snow and floods. (Romany Rye was another of George Sims’ plays.)
JOHN’S PLAY SEEN IN KEOKUK
John returned home about 1884. A scrapbook clipping from a Keokuk newspaper reveals that his play, The Deer Lick, was presented there in “the summer of 1884 or thereabouts.” He’d written it as a youngster or young man. The way the family liked to tell the story was that a group of amateurs performed it just once, at the Grand Opera House in Keokuk on Friday the 13th with a 13-person cast. Further, a storm during the performance is said to have toppled the nearby Baptist church steeple. All of these unlikely events, of course, made a dandy family story.
John, expecting great things, took his script and notices back to New York. To his great disappointment, no one would read the play or its notices, much less buy it. Life changed, though, once the family returned to NYC in 1884. John and Mary were working so much there that they put Jimmie in school in Brooklyn.
Many theatrical families didn’t educate their children. George M. Cohan, for example, never attended school. Theatre people often ducked the “Gerry Society,” which tried to make sure children (under 16) weren’t exploited. Formally, it was the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and it opened in 1875. Its founder, lawyer Elbridge T. Gerry (1837-1927), was a true zealot who hounded theatrical parents if he thought they weren’t doing right by their children. (The family name was pronounced “Jerry.” Grandfather Elbridge Gerry, fifth U.S. vice president, is remembered as the founder of the much-less beneficial practice of “gerrymandering.”)
John and Mary didn’t leave visible footprints in the mid-1880s is hard. Not until 1888 does a Bankson turn up again in the press. Then, as we learn from John’s obit, he joined the Main Line Company at the Windsor Theatre, then the only legitimate stage on New York’s East Side.
That same season John was stage manager for one of Chapman and Sellers’ touring companies. The play, My Partner, was a melodrama about two friends loving the same woman. A hit at the Union Square Theatre on Broadway in 1879, the show did well on the road, even in London and Berlin. We have no idea where it played when John was with it. (Incidentally, most theatres in America and Europe had electric lighting by the mid-1880s.)
Mary and John turned up May 10, 1889 at the Red Bank Opera House, where they performed in Life in Jersey. This probably was in Red Bank, New Jersey, just south of New York City. The performance that day was a benefit for the Eureka Base Ball Club, apparently the famous old team based in Newark. The occasion likely led to some interesting and offbeat goings-on.
In the 1890s, Broadway below Long Acre (later named Times square) was the liveliest and most diverse area in town. It was where the bright lights were. The Metropolitan Opera, at 39th Street, sold its best seats for $5. Weber & Fields Music Hall was six blocks further down. Burlesque thrived there. This, of course, was the old-fashioned burlesque, which parodied plays. It was fit for family viewing, but, before long, Billy Minsky would transform it into girlie shows.
Another four blocks south was the Cumberland Hotel. Beginning in May 1892 its north wall, the one facing Madison Square, had NYC’s first spectacular electrical sign. Its 1,475 lights dazzled residents and tourists alike.. The sign flashed ads for beach resorts, Sousa’s band, patent medicines, etc. When proprietors announced that the hotel would be demolished to make way for the Flatiron building, pickle king H.J. Heinz decided to get the last word. He rented the space full-time. His verse, which he himself wrote, played endlessly the rest of the century:
Here at the death of the wall of fame.
We must inscribe a well-known name
the man whose varieties your palate did tickle
Whose name is emblazoned in the big green pickle.
They had to demolish the building to get rid of the pickle sign.
HIGH TIMES IN CHICAGO
Sometime between 1889 and ‘92, Mary Bankson played in Drifting Apart. We don’t know just when or where. The playwright, James A. Herne, also was a manager, director and entrepreneur. He proved an excellent connection for the Banksons.
With Jimmie done with school in 1892, Mary and John sought new horizons. They turned up in Chicago in 1892, along with Jimmie, 14. Mary kept a photo of him in blackface, marked “Jimmie Bankson, 14 years old, first man's part.”
Chicago was where everybody wanted to be in 1892-93. The Democratic Party’s presidential convention there in June 1892 was only a minor sideshow. (It nominated Grover Cleveland on June 23.) The world’s fair–officially, the World’s Columbian Exposition--was America’s major event of the era. Chicago intended to celebrate Columbus’ discovery of America (and profit thereby). And the cock-sure nation intended to proclaim itself foremost among equal world powers.
Mary’s scrapbook displays her business card. It lists Herne as her manager and notes that she was with McVicker’s Stock Company in summer 1892. McVicker’s, dating to 1857, was a well-known and respected theatre at 25 West Madison Street in downtown Chicago. It had to scuffle to stay solvent because it wasn’t part of the eastern syndicate (but its stock company would become famous).
On May 15, 1892, owner James Hubert McVicker announced that he’d organized a new company to perform the “human plays” he loved so much. Herne, known for his homey dramas, was to be in charge.
The Chicago Tribune listed the new company’s male actors: George Fawcett, Leslie Allen, C.B. Hawkins, L.R. Grisco and J.M. Cody. Then, the Tribune continued: “Among ladies who will be recognized by Chicago play-goers are Mrs. James A. Hearne [sic], Mary Tyrrell, Belle Theodore, Mora H. Brooks and Mary Bankrin.” Besides misspelling the Herne name throughout, the Tribune obviously booted Mary’s name. (A computer search through ProQuest found no other “Bankrin” of that century.) McVicker said the company’s first effort would be Herne’s new rustic drama, Shore Acres.
But back to Mary’s business card. It also listed her credits:
● A Celebrated Case.
● The Banker’s Daughter.
● The Lights ‘o London.
● Drifting Apart.
● Uncle Nat.
Someone–probably Mary--crossed out Uncle Nat and wrote: “afterward called Shore Acres.” We already know about the first four plays, but the scrapbook reveals nothing more about Shore Acres. A look at old Chicago Tribunes helps. It tells us that Herne wrote Uncle Nat in 1891. It was first performed in Chicago on May 28, 1892, probably with Mary in it. The Chicago Tribune called it Shore Acres Subdivision, but the accompanying ad stuck with Uncle Nat, which must have confounded theatre-goers Reviews were so-so.
After three weeks of Shore Acres, McVicker’s turned to Herne’s “new Irish comedy,” My Colleen, on June 20, 1892. Ads in the Tribune reveal that Jimmie Bankson had a role, along with Herne, William Courtleigh and George Fawcett. Jimmie’s obit says he also played in Shore Acres at one time or another.
The Banksons couldn’t have been busier. Next, a program in the scrapbook reveals that John and Mary played in The Volunteer, a Civil War melodrama that followed the Irish comedy at McVicker’s. It opened July 17, 1892 with John playing Captain Bond of the U.S. Army. Mary replaced Helen Tracy as Mrs. Chadburn at the outset, or sometime during the two-week run. (She wrote her name over Miss Tracy’s on the program in the scrapbook.) Moreover, the Tribune had noted on July 15 that Jimmie had a role. Herne, besides directing, played the off-lead, and Fawcett (a future silent film stalwart) also was in this cast.
This was no routine thriller. Act II featured a balloon ascension. It seemed to whisk the hero and heroine, a Confederate colonel and his rebel girlfriend, from behind Confederate lines at Petersburg, Virginia. After a violent thunderstorm whipped the balloon thither and yon, the audience oohed and aahed as the clouds parted, revealing a panoramic view of Washington, D.C. This illusion rivaled the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in The Last Days of Pompeii, showing elsewhere in Chicago. (Such theatrical “realism,” of course, began with The Lights o’ London.)
A drum corps, a military band and two companies of soldiers maximized the thrills. Moreover, many Grand Army of the Republic veterans somehow helped in the presentation.
Although the fair hadn’t yet opened, the summer was already magical. Stage icons such as John Drew flitted in and out of town, and so did top musical stars. There were two-headed boys, moonlight concerts, boat rides, a cyclorama depicting the Chicago fire, major-league baseball with Pop Anson–and many of the fair’s attractions already were open. After My Colleen and The Volunteer closed at McVicker’s, they moved elsewhere in town (the Haymarket, etc.), so, even as summer waned, Herne was gleefully juggling successes. That must have kept the Banksons busy somewhere or other, but we can’t tell for sure. We simply lose track of them–even before the fair officially opened.
The formal opening scheduled Columbus Day, Oct. 12, 1892 was postponed. Work was running behind. A ceremony did take place Oct. 26 with Vice President Levi Morton presiding. (President Benjamin Harrison wasn’t available because his wife had died Oct. 25.) Officials claimed that Oct. 26, 1492 was “the correct date of the discovery according to the New-Style Calendar,” but people knew doubletalk when they heard it. Anybody could see that construction was continuing. Things simply weren’t ready.
Meanwhile, Herne took Shore Acres to the Boston Museum, where it played 113 performances by the time the season ended May 27, 1893.
FINALLY, THE FAIR
Why wasn’t the fair in 1892? After all, Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue in 1492. Comedians guessed maybe he’d sailed the Ocean Green in 1493, although the rhyme was faulty.
Finally, with preparations done, the fair opened for certain May 1, 1893. The new president, Grover Cleveland, pushed a button starting the electric motors and turning on the dazzling electric lights. Unfortunately, social worker Jane Addams’ purse was snatched during the ceremony.
A few days later, on May 10, 1893, Jimmie celebrated his 15th birthday by getting his picture taken. Mary saved it, marking it “age 15, 10th of May 1893, six feet tall.” Embossed is: "Haymarket Theatre, 161 West Madison St., Chicago.” (And on that day back in Jimmie’s hometown of Louisville, Lookout won the 19th running of the Kentucky Derby.)
Jimmie must have reveled, as only youngsters could, in the world’s fair atmosphere. The site, on Chicago’s lake shore, covered 633 acres, far and away more acreage than any fair ever in London or Paris or anywhere else. Actually, everything was far better and bigger than at any prior fair. About 200 buildings had been specially constructed. (Only one remains: the Palace of Fine Arts, now the Museum of Science and Industry. The others burned or were demolished. Construction was not intended to be permanent.)
Streetcar and elevated railway transportation from the heart of the city cost a nickel. Adult admission was 50 cents, a high price indeed. Children under 12 got in for a quarter. For a total of $13.05 a visitor could see each and every thing along the Midway Plaissance, the amusement area that was seven-eighths of a mile long (and which introduced the term “Midway” to the language).
The Midway’s biggest money-maker was called A Street in Cairo. It featured belly dancers, by far the most famous of whom was “Little Egypt.” A legend to this day, she introduced the “hootchy-kootchy” to America. (Her actual name and nationality vary, according to the historical source.)
Nearby, a gigantic metal wheel revolved passengers skyward. It bore the name of the designer-inventor, George Washington Ferris. Also at the fair was Florenz Ziegfeld, a young promoter who hadn’t yet dreamed up his “Follies.” His attraction was strongman Eugene Sandow.
Special performances or “days” brought huge throngs. On Aug. 30, Rose Coghlan and Otis Skinner performed As You Like It outdoors. On Oct. 9, “Chicago Day” attracted more than 700,000 people.
Peripheral events abounded. Lillian Russell starred in comic operas in the central business district (not yet called “The Loop”). With an eye for publicity, Ziegfeld tried to link Sandow with Miss Russell, but she preferred the company of supersalesman “Diamond Jim” Brady, who had more blubber than muscle.
The most popular and profitable of these unofficial events was Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show just across from the fair. It averaged 12,000 people at 318 performances and made nearly $1 million in profit. Nothing on the Midway–even Little Egypt--came anywhere close. Mary Anne Keeley, the legendary English actress known simply as “Mrs. Keeley,” chatted with Col. William F. Cody while admiring his show. “I am an old actress,” she told him, admitting that she’d first played in New York in 1836. But she assured Buffalo Bill she’d never seen any show like his. (She was then nearing 90.)
Visiting celebrities, besides the horde of politicians, included Spain’s Infanta and the Duke of Veragua, said to descend from Columbus himself. James Holroyd, 73, one of Britain’s last three survivors of the Crimean War’s Charge of the Light Brigade, showed up.
STOCK MARKET CRASHES
Amid all this glitter and gold, the stock market crashed in June. The infamous “Panic of ’93" signaled the onset of the worst depression Americans had even seen.
When the fair closed Tuesday Oct. 31, 1893, ceremonies were muted in deference to the late mayor, Carter H. Harrison; coincidentally he’d been murdered in his home. Total attendance was 27.5 million. Of those, 6 million got in free. The fair grossed $32,750,000 and had expenses of $30,500,000. The concessions provided $4,000,000, about four times what was expected. (In appropriating money, Congress mandated that the fair close Sundays. When Congress reneged on some of the money, exposition management used that as a rationale for staying open on Sundays. This aroused local controversy. Of 26 Sundays, the fair opened on 22.)
Meanwhile, Herne had taken Shore Acres to New York City’s Fifth Avenue Theatre, where it opened Oct. 13, 1893. The first week was so lackluster that only its four-week contract saved it from closing. After two weeks, though, it blossomed. It did well for years on tour and in stock. Shore Acres made up for Drifting Apart, restoring Herne’s bankroll. It proved that interesting characters can make a homely melodrama fly, despite even a contrived plot.
Did Herne take Mary, John or Jimmie to Boston and New York with him? It’s hard to tell. The New York Times listed the top 14 members of the cast and no Bankson was among them. We don’t know just where they were working, or if they were. A lot of people weren’t.
The winter after the Chicago fair was grim. Unemployment soared. The Pullman Palace Car Company, for example, laid off half its workers and cut pay 20% for the rest. On May 11, 1894, Pullman workers struck; soon the nation’s railroads were tied up and President Cleveland dispatched federal troops. Making matters worse, the World’s Fair buildings burned the night of July 5, 1894. Seven buildings were gone before fireman extinguished the blaze. When newspapers blamed strikers for torching the buildings, wholesale rioting erupted.
THE BLACK CROOK
Sometime, somewhere, Mary played in what was arguably America’s first modern musical show, maybe even the world’s first. This is not to say that she played The Black Crook when it was new, shocking and revolutionary; she didn’t. She likely did a revival between 1893 and the end of the century. Her scrapbook shows that she drew raves as Dame Barbara at a theatre called the St. Charles. There was such a theatre in New Orleans, and it was quite famous until burning in 1899. (It reopened as the Orpheum in 1902.)
The Black Crook was a phenomenon. It debuted Sept. 12, 1866, long before Mary became an actress. A spectacular melodrama, it was the sensation of its decade. Its history is remarkable because the show came about accidentally.
In spring 1866 Henry C. Jarrett and Harry Palmer had imported a huge amount of trick scenery and a ballet corps from Europe. They intended to produce the ballet La Biche au Bois at NYC’s Academy of Music. But the Academy burned May 22, 1866. No other stage was suitable, so the producers unloaded the sets cheap. The buyer, William Wheatley, managed Niblo’s Garden on lower Broadway at Prince Street. Niblo’s was a big theatre with 3,200 seats, and it catered to the masses; its patrons wouldn’t have been caught dead at a ballet.
What was Wheatley to do with his bargain? Using his ingenuity, he and a hired writer supposedly named Charles M. Barras concocted a production to accommodate everything on hand. Borrowing from Goethe’s Faust and Weber’s Der Freischutz, Barras set his action in Germany’s Harz Mountains in the 1600s.When Wheatley decided to inject music into the show, Barras objected, lest it demean his work. Wheatley shut him up with a $1,500 bonus.
In all, Wheatley spent the then enormous amount of $25,400 in preparations for whatever he was intending to do. This included salaries for the idle ballet dancers and a crew of 50 workers hammering away to redo his stage. The resulting show had a delightfully convoluted plot--one might say the thinnest wisp of a plot--but it did string together the music, dance and dialogue.
A century later, Leonard Bernstein liked to say “spit and chewing gum” held The Black Crook together.
It opened with a corps de ballet of 100 pretty girls in daring costumes that included --horrors--buff tights. The spectacle was, one critic gasped, “damning to the soul to see.” The premiere lasted from 7:45 p.m. to 1:15 a.m. Nobody complained. New York had had its first extravaganza. Everybody wanted to see those naughty girls in tights. (With the birth of “leg shows,” burlesque, as we know it today, wasn’t far away.)
The New York Tribune reported: “The scenery is magnificent, the ballet is beautiful, the drama is rubbish.”
Philip C. Lewis’ wonderful little book Trouping (1973) tells of a preacher who viewed the show so he could warn his parishioners about it. In his ensuing sermon, he condemned “the immodest dress of the girls, the short skirts, undergarments of thin material allowing the form of the figure to be discernible; the flesh-colored tights imitating nature so well that the illusion is complete; with the exceedingly short drawers, most tight-fitting, extending very little below the hips; arms and legs apparently bare, and bodice so cut as to show off every inch and outline of the body above the waist. The attitudes were exceeding indelicate–ladies dancing so as to make their undergarments spring up, exposing the figure from beneath the waist to the toe, except for such coverings as we have described.”
As Lewis mused, “the show’s press agent could not have done better.”
That first run broke all records, lasting 120 performances and grossing $1,100,000. Other records say it ran from Sept. 12, 1866 to February ’68, totaling 474 performances. It must still have been great fun when Mary played in it, presumably doing her usual “old-lady” routine.
JIMMIE HITS THE BIG TIME
As late as 1893 NYC had no theatres on Broadway north of 42nd Street. Certainly there were plenty of them south of there. One count in 1894 showed there were 39 legitimate stages, most of them very busy. But Oscar Hammerstein had been buying up properties in that no-man’s land of sin north of 42nd Street. In 1895, he opened a cultural oasis, a huge facility called the Olympia. Stretching up the east side of Broadway from 43rd to 45th streets, it included two large auditoriums (the Lyric and Music Hall), two smaller theatres (the Roof Garden and concert hall), an oriental restaurant, a bowling alley and a billiard hall. One 50 cent ticket would get you into anything in the whole complex.
One spring day in 1895 Diamond Jim Brady and his chauffeur drove the first horseless carriage seen in NYC. They cruised at 10 mph down Fifth Avenue from 58th Street to Madison Square, causing numerous horses to bolt. The battery-powered vehicle functioned well but failed to attract buyers.
By then young Jimmie Bankson had graduated to significant roles throughout in the East. On Feb. 27, 1896, he opened as the male off-lead in a revival of William Gillette’s comedy The Private Secretary at the Grand Opera House in New Haven. Dan Packard headed the cast with Jimmie filling the role of young spendthrift Douglas Cattermole. His acting and singing were well reviewed, not bad for a teenager.
In April 1896 he played in McKenna’s Flirtation in Washington, D.C. He must have been working on his own by then–without his parents. Mary was with the Grenier & Vinton Stock Company at Chicago’s new Lyceum Theatre when it opened in fall 1897. Its first play was an old standby, The Runaway Wife. After doing that, she did East Lynne with that company.
By then, big-city manipulators controlled the theatre industry; 1896 was the year they formed the Theatrical Syndicate that enabled them to dictate terms to managers and actors. Charles Frohman, Alf Hayman, David Belasco and a few others called all the shots. The actors, trying to protect themselves, formed the Actors Society in 1896; it soon failed. (Not till 1913 was Actors Equity born.)
In December 1897 Jimmie appeared in The Secret Enemy at New York City’s Grand Opera House, earning better reviews than the leading man and lady. He quickly cashed in: in May 1898, just as the Spanish-American War was heating up, he signed a 35-week contract with the Liebler Company for $35 a week. This led to a profitable association with one of America’s top actors, Charles Coghlan, and to romance with a leading lady.
THE ROYAL BOX
Way back in 1836 the elder Alexandre Dumas (1802-70) wrote the drama Kean. about English actor Edmund Kean, a notorious scalawag who lived 1787-1833. In the 1890s Coghlan, rejiggered, transformed, adapted, reworked and pirated Kean, all in the manner of the times, and he christened the result The Royal Box. It was his play, his meal ticket. Instead of long-dead actors and nobles, The Royal Box centered on a fictitious modern actor named Clarence at the Theatre Royal at Drury Lane. Although reckless and drunken, Clarence was eminently likable. This, of course, was the role Coghlan wrote for himself, and he certainly fit it well. A secondary male character was the Prince of Wales. One of the main female characters was Countess Helen, sexy wife of the Swedish ambassador.
Coghlan’s handiwork debuted at the Columbia Theatre in Washington, D.C. in November 1897; it then went to New York, opening Dec. 21, 1897 at the Fifth Avenue Theatre at Broadway and 28th Street. (Fires caused the theatre to be moved somewhat over the years.) It was the hit of the season, and constituted Coghlan’s greatest success; in its seven weeks on Broadway, receipts surpassed $49,000.
In those days, theatre seasons opened in the fall and closed in the spring. facilities were remodeled in the summers. After all, there was no air conditioning; no one wanted to go to a sweaty theatre in June, July or August. Successful plays were revived quickly in those days, even from one season to the next.
This is where Jimmie came in. On Sept. 10, 1898, Coghlan and his backers revived The Royal Box in the Fifth Avenue Theatre, meaning that, really, it had merely closed for the summer. But the revival was to receive royal treatment: its more elaborate presentation included new scenery and special effects, and an souped-up supporting cast. Jimmie was one of the bright new actors brought in. He doubled as Montmorency and Mercutio. Among the new supporting actresses was Lotta Linthicum.
Jimmie couldn’t have had a better opportunity. Coghlan, a dashing Irishman, was perhaps America’s top leading men. Not only did this romantic play give Jimmie steady work; it sprang him to prominence. The Royal Box was a hit show with which he was identified.
After a month-long run in NYC, the show went on the road. That’s where the real money was made–in those hundreds of theatres across America. First stop for Jimmie, Lotta and the others was Washington, D.C. After that, we lose track of the company. Toronto apparently was just one of many stops.
JOHN ON TOUR
Diamond Jim Brady (1856-1917) once figured he’d seen 2,500 opening nights. His pal Flo Ziegfeld said Brady was the best nonwriting critic around. As Ziegfeld phrased it: “If Diamond Jim went to sleep before the first act was over manager knew it was a sure bet that the show would be a failure. If he stayed awake for two acts they knew the chances were the show would have a fair run. And if he stayed awake for all three acts, they knew that there was nothing to do but go out front and hang up the ‘Seats Reserved for Six Weeks in Advance’ sign.”
Hammerstein’s Olympia wasn’t staging many hits. Debt-ridden, it was auctioned June 28, 1898, leaving Broadway north of 42nd to the hookers.
The Bankson family was based at 245 East 13th Street in NYC when John corresponded with the pension office in early 1898. He was receiving some pension by then, although the incomplete records make it difficult to determine just how much.
He found a good role in Tempest Tossed, a comedy opening Oct. 31, 1898 at the Grand Opera House in NYC. Actually he was billed ambiguously as “J.W. Bankson,” but the role called for an older actor who could do dialect, meaning it was just up John’s alley. As old Martin Preston, a fisherman with a marriageable daughter, he earned a nice review for the scrapbook. Manifee Johnstone had the lead in this show, which was billed as “a dramatic story of land and seas.” The New York Times noted that it was “the type of melodrama that appeals to the gallery.” The Times man liked the many well-painted backdrops and the way the story was told.
Meanwhile, Mary played in Wife for Wife over Christmas 1898. The site is unknown.
Right after that, John did Herne’s new play, Rev. Griffith Davenport. It was a three-hour examination of slavery that some critics called a new Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Herne had adapted it from Helen M. Gardener’s novel An Unofficial Patriot. He wove together plantation songs, the Civil War and some elaborate cycloramas, and threw in an actor portraying Indiana Governor Oliver Morton, plus plenty of allusions to Abraham Lincoln. (But Herne chose to write Lincoln himself out of the script.)
Herne had written the play for himself and his family. He was leading man. His real-life wife played Mrs. Davenport, and two of his daughters were in the show. John Bankson played a black servant named John. Sidney Booth was in the cast, which had 40 parts and involved about 100 people.
The play opened Jan. 16, 1899 at the Lafayette Square Theatre in Washington, D.C. and on Jan. 31, 1899 moved to NYC’s Herald Square Theatre. It played there through Feb. 25. The Times liked it, calling Herne a competent actor and an expert playwright. The scrapbook has some excruciatingly long reviews, leading modern readers to wonder if the play was as dull as its reviews.
We’ve lost track of Mary: perhaps Herne had a role for her in that huge cast.
When The Royal Box closed its road season in early 1899, Jimmie headed for Pittsburg (it lacked its H in those days) to do light comedy at the West End Theatre. Lotta Linthicum, though, was in the big time: she supported the First Lady of the Stage, Mrs. Minnie Maddern Fiske, in Love Finds the Way at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in mid-March 1899. No sooner had Mrs. Fiske closed than Jimmie and a huge cast moved in to rehearse Charles Coghlan’s newest brainstorm, Citizen Pierre.
Citizen Pierre, a romantic tragedy about Robespierre and the French Revolution, was cursed from the outset. Opening night April 10, 1899 attracted that most unwanted of patrons: the process server. He arrived just as the Fifth Avenue Theatre’s curtain was about to go up. He served a $2,000 attachment on Coghlan’s manager, J.A. Reed. A Supreme Court judge of Rensselear County had signed it at the behest of the manager of the Rand Opera House in Troy, New York. The manager in Troy alleged that the Liebler Company contracted to perform there April 6 and 7, and hadn’t shown up.
Apparently Allen or Coghlan satisfied the attachment, or fast-talked its bearer; the curtain went up late, but it did go up. (Technically, the Liebler Company had been dissolved by then, probably as a ploy to thwart Coghlan’s many creditors.)
The Times reviewer didn’t like what he saw. Not only was the play “talky,” it was “dry” and just plain “dull.”
Citizen Pierre died quickly, leaving everyone scraping for money. There was no unemployment compensation in those days. Jimmie tried some vaudeville at Proctor’s Theatre. A “farcette” entitled Running For Office, was playing there; it starred the four Cohans, and George M. himself had tossed it together.
This was at an important time in Cohan’s life. He aspired to go beyond vaudeville, to go “legit” on Broadway. Jimmie became part of this transitional period; amid the jugglers, comedians, singers and acrobats, he did a scene from The Royal Box. He played Clarence, the actor, which was normally Coghlan’s role. Coughlin’s pretty adopted daughter Gertrude, 23, made her vaudeville debut as The Royal Box’ stage-struck girl. (You could throw just about anything into vaudeville. The inclusion of excerpts from plays was common. It was good advertising.)
Jimmie’s main project, though, was courting Miss Linthicum. No sooner had he returned to New York than she’d left. In mid-April 1899 she’d gone to Baltimore, replacing Jennie Kennark as the Lyceum Stock Company’s leading lady. This was for the “supplementary” season, that short interval between the formal winter season and summer stock. She had relatives there, and, besides, residents remembered her as Mercia in The Sign of the Cross.
On Sunday May 14, 1899, Jimmie slipped off to Baltimore. After Lotta rehearsed the morning of May 15, she and Jimmie caught a north-bound trolley for nearby Towson. While she sat in the shade of the maple trees in Courthouse Square, he went into the clerk’s office for a marriage license. Presumably he soon called her in to give her information. Both bride and groom gave New York City as their residences. He gave his age as 21, and she, perhaps crossing her fingers, said she was 22.
When they said they wanted to be married immediately, the clerk directed them to the Rev. W.E. Robertson of the nearby Calvary Baptist Church. No luck. The preacher was at a conference in Louisville. Next they tried the Rev.W.H.H. Powers of the Trinity Protestant Episcopalian Church. But he’d gone off to Baltimore on business.
Finally they found the Rev. W.H. Wright of the Epsom Methodist Church. He married them, then and there. They caught the next electric car back to Baltimore as husband and wife. Somehow, the newspapers found out; they gave the newlyweds celebrity coverage. They were identified as members of Charles Coghlan’s company. (As Tori Connolly noted, Jimmie and Lotta were the “Ben and Jen of 1899"; this was an allusion to Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez of 2003.)
Lotta was late for rehearsal Tuesday morning. When a reporter confronted her, she denied the stories, saying she and “Mr. Bankson” had gone sightseeing at Sparrows Point on Monday, not to Towson. She was warmly received at the Lyceum the night of May 16 when the curtain went up on Two Can Play at That. By then the public had discounted her denials.
On May 18 Jimmie was back at Proctor’s in NYC. Lotta was to join him May 27, after finishing in Baltimore. They’d planned their summer but had put off any engagements for fall, saying they merely wanted to be together.
SUMMER 1899 AT THE SEASHORE
With the major theatres closing for the summer, the big-name celebrities vacationed in luxury at beach resorts. Most actors, though, needed summer jobs. They tried to get roles at summer theatres, especially those at resorts. A nighttime role there enabled them to loll at the beach all day, just like their rich co-workers.
Jimmie was booked at McCullum’s Summer Theatre, hub of an actors colony on Cape Elizabeth near Portland, Maine. Lotta was to rest amid the wonderful real-life scenery.
According to a clipping in the scrapbook: “The colony is located on an extremely picturesque part of the cape. There is a fine beach and good fishing, bathing and boating, all of which are taken advantage of daily.” It sounds perfect for honeymooners.
(Among other such theatrical havens were Bar Harbor, considerably northeast of Portland in Maine; Petoskey, on Lake Michigan on the northwest coast of the lower peninsula of Michigan; and Sciasconset, on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts. So many theatrical people summered on Long Island that they had a traditional Christmas party for their children on July 4. Lillian Russell had 14 guest rooms at her summer home, “Cedar Hill,” on Long Island. George M. Cohan and Florenz Ziegfeld had summer homes nearby at Great Neck. Ziegfeld’s assistant, Gene Buck, had such a plush layout that Ring Lardner called it “the Yale Bowl with lamps.” Broadway was only half an hour away via the new Long Island Express. Later, F. Scott Fitzgerald used Great Neck as a setting for his novel The Great Gatsby.)
Jimmie played D’Artagnan in The King’s Musketeers at McCullum’s in July. Contrary to plans, Lotta filled the secondary female role, that of the French queen. McCullum’s probably put on some other plays that summer, but the scrapbook doesn’t mention any.
Coincidentally, Jimmie’s father played the king in one of the Musketeer spinoffs about that time. The cast was a good one–James O’Neill and Maude Odell played the leads–and the production opened in Trenton, New Jersey, Sept. 18, 1899.
On Sept. 19 Jimmie signed with Coghlan at $40 a week to play Montmorency in The Royal Box in Newark, New Jersey. (Coghlan was earning about $500 a week. President Cleveland earned $961.54 a week. Nationwide, union workers averaged less than $17 a week. Nonunion workers got less than half that. Major league baseball had a salary cap of $2,400 a season, although a top star received maybe a few hundred dollars extra under the table.)
TROUBLE IN TEXAS
Soon the newlyweds went on tour with the show. Lotta played flirtatious Countess Helen, wife of the Swedish ambassador. Andrew Robson, the No. 2 male, played The Prince of Wales, and Jimmie was the No. 3 male. J.A. Reed managed the tour, which began with one- and two-night engagements in many Texas towns. When the company arrived in Galveston on Oct. 30, 1899, Coghlan had gastritis, so Andrew Robson took over the lead. As Coghlan’s illness lingered, Robson and the company fulfilled engagements in other towns.
Coghlan remained in Galveston with wife Louisa caring for him. Weeks passed. He whiled away the time by working on his dramatization of Vanity Fair, but he got no better. Doctors couldn’t help, and on Nov. 27, 1899, he died. The papers gave his age as 56. Sister Rose Coghlan, playing in The White Heather in Montreal, collapsed when she heard the news. A doctor was summoned to look after her.
Meanwhile, the touring company had to eat, so it continued to tour. The Los Angeles Times, quoting a dispatch from Memphis, said simply that the “understudy played the lead throughout Texas, apparently to satisfaction.”
The Washington Post went considerably further: “The company was booked for a series of one- and two-night stands through Texas. Robson, a young actor who had been with Coghlan as his understudy, was put on to play Coghlan’s part without announcement. . . . for almost a month he was billed as Charles Coghlan and even had to register at hotels under that name. Meanwhile, Charles Coghlan, attended by his wife, was in Galveston ill, few people knowing his identity. It is asserted also that after more than a week after Coghlan died The Royal Box continued through Kansas with Mr. Robson billed on the programs and hotel registers as Coghlan. These statements were made by people who traveled with the company.”
With Robson moving up to the lead, Jimmie took the No. 2 male role of the Prince of Wales. Looping into the Midwest, the show hit Marion, Indiana; there, Jimmie and Lotta likely visited Mary’s first cousin George Addison Phillips and his family. It was about that time that Mary and probably John turned up at the Phillips house, too. That raises the possibility that Jimmie had secured minor roles for them in The Royal Box.
Mary and Addison had had the same grandfather: Archibald Coatney/Courtney. Mary gave Addison’s son Ray, 6, an alphabet book inscribed “To Raymond, From Mary Bankson, Christmas 1899.”
When The Royal Box opened in Indianapolis the night of Jan. 5, 1900, the reviewer missed Lotta, noting in his writeup that she’d had a minor accident. The company likely played St. Paul, too, because Jimmie and Lotta were photographed there.
Jimmie played the Prince of Wales at the Hyperion in New Haven. A newspaper there noted that Coghlan had done the lead there a year earlier, with Jimmie in a lesser role, apparently that of Montmorency. The reviewer in Hartford didn’t mention Lotta.
Coghlan had provided steady work for Jimmie and Lotta. No more. Now, looking for new opportunities, they joined the Baldwin-Melville Stock company for at least two shows in New Orleans: Quo Vadis and The Prodigal Daughter. Lotta likely was leading lady opposite William Farnum, 24, in these. Jimmie and Lotta also did A Lively Legacy that spring, playing Albany, Washington, Baltimore and perhaps other cities.
The coming of the 1900s found Mary and John facing new circumstances, too. They were past their primes. She was 51, he about 54. After months of unemployment, she found work in San Francisco. Ticket prices were traditionally high there, and so were salaries. Many actors wanted to work there. Mary was staying in a boarding house on Octavia Street–it runs south from Fisherman’s Wharf--when the census taker came about June 8. Mary said she’d been unemployed 10 months in the last year, meaning times must have been lean, indeed. Her scrapbook shows nothing for this period.
John remained back east. In NYC, the northernmost landmark of the Herald Square Theatre district was the Casino Theatre, which showcased operettas on the southeast corner of Broadway and 39th. Broadway north of 42nd Street remained an expanse of sin and prostitution.
John appeared in Dangerous Women! opening at the Star Theatre on Broadway on April 16, 1900. He doubled as detective Edward Nailor and priest Father Raymond in this drama. Also in the cast was Taylor Holmes, 27, a character actor in Hollywood films well into the 1950s.
For one reason or another, John was in Chicago by late spring. He was boarding in a men’s hotel on West Madison when the census was taken June 9, 1900. He gave his year of birth as 1846 this time. He’d been unemployed three of the previous 12 months, a circumstance he couldn’t have complained about. He and Mary might have complained about not seeing each other. As Iris Adrian, a character actress of a generation later, often joked: “Every time I married somebody I went out on the road and never saw them again.”
SUMMER 1900 IN MONTREAL
The world belonged to Jimmie’s generation. He and Lotta went to Montreal with the Baldwin-Melville Stock Company for a frantic summer at la Theatre de sa Majeste--at least 15 plays in 13 weeks. (All apparently were in English.) Walter S. Baldwin headed the company. Farnum was to be its leading man in early summer. Lotta was to be leading lady. Jimmie would usually draw the second male lead–often the “heavy” or villain.
Here’s the summer schedule, pieced together from newspaper announcements in the scrapbook. It gives a good idea of the astonishing amount of work thespians of that era had to do:
Week 1: May 28-June 2 The Prodigal Daughter
Week 2: June 4-9 Sapho
Week 3: June 11-16 Rosedale
Week 4: June 18-23 Quo Vadis
Week 5: June 25-30 The Two Orphans
Week 6: July 2-7 Cyrano de Bergerac
Week 7: July 9-14 The Black Flag
Week 8: July 16-21 The Three Musketeers
Week 9: July 23-28 East Lynne on 23-25, Rip Van Winkle on 26-28
Week 10: July 30-Aug. 4 unknown (perhaps Madame Sans Gene)
Week 11: Aug. 6-11 Probably Monte Cristo
Week 12: Aug. 13-18 The Charity Ball
Week 13: Aug. 20-25 Camille on 20th. Ten Nights in a Barroom 21st. Little Lord Fauntleroy apparently 22-25 with Friday matinee of East Lynne on 24th.
The company opened in Montreal with Jimmie playing villain Maurice Deepwater in The Prodigal Daughter. After that safe start, the second week introduced local playgoers to Sapho. It had scandalized NYC that spring, causing authorities to shut it down and arrest the leading lady. Only after her acquittal at a sensational trial was the show allowed to resume.
Montreal took Sapho in stride; Lotta wasn’t hauled off to the Bastille for playing French courtesan Fannie LeGrand. One reviewer merely noted that the play was too talky and that the comedy was weak.
Even the staircase scene, when Fannie is carried to an unseen bedroom, failed to offend patrons. One paper noted: “The celebrated staircase episode was no more exciting than it would have been had Mr. Farnum carried up a bale of wool. Indeed, it was principally as a feat of strength that it attracted the attention of the audience. For the staircase is a long one, and Miss Linthicum is a healthy young lady. One can quite pardon Mr. Farnum for pausing in the middle of the ascent to get his second wind.”
During the third week, Jimmie played Myles McKenna in Rosedale, again outperforming leading man Farnum--according to one review, anyway. Lotta won praise as Rosa Leigh. It was a comfortably picturesque play compared to Sapho. Coincidentally, though, a rival company performed Sapho June 11-16 at the Royal. The previous week’s run had whetted the public appetite; crowds swarmed the Royal, although a reviewer warned: “Of real, hair-raising immorality, there was none . . . ” He approved Julia Glover’s portrayal of Fannie LeGrand but rated the rest of the cast inferior to Baldwin-Melville’s.
Jimmie appeared as Petronius, and Lotta was Lygia in Quo Vadis. A reviewer praised both but suggested that Miss MacGregor (Poppaea) tone down her shrillness. Jimmie played Jacques in the next play, an old tear-jerker called The Two Orphans.
Farnum, of course, did the title role in the much-awaited Cyrano de Bergerac. James played the Count de Guiche, and Lotta topped the female cast as Roxane. Jimmie and Lotta were a tad too sedate for the reviewer, who preferred histrionics. “Business was exceptionally large,” one paper recported.
After that, Farnum left the company to do Ben Hur elsewhere. (His five-year tour with it made him famous. Jimmie’s fate was quite different.) Jimmie and Lotta then did The Black Flag, a venerable English comedy drama. Jimmie played John Glyndon. Lotta was heiress Naomi Blandford. The reviewer wasn’t overly impressed.
Lawrence Hanley was brought in to replace Farmum as leading man. Hanley was about 35, although no one was sure. Considered extremely handsome, he’d made a fine reputation while touring with Edwin Booth. He was, however, an alcoholic and morphine addict, and everybody knew it.
When it came time to do The Three Musketeers, another of the many dramatizations of the Dumas novel, Jimmie didn't play D'Artagnan, as he'd done a year earlier in The King’s Musketeers version. He was relegated to playing arch-villain Richelieu, undoubtedly in a white wig with heavy makeup to make him appear older.
Hanley earned cool notices. One reviewer cited Hanley’s nervousness and “tendency to overemphasize some of the points.” Jimmie fared well as Richelieu.
On the night of July 19, Hanley was “indisposed.” One newspaper said he’d “broken down.” Jimmie took the lead that night, and he ran with it. After all, he'd played D'Artagnan before. Reviewers loved him. It was the highlight of his career.
L.O. Hart covered by doing both his role of Boniface and stepping in as Richelieu. It’s unclear if this arrangement lasted more than one night; we do know that almost immediately Jimmie fell ill with typhoid. Lotta was playing Lady Isabel in East Lynne July 23-25 when the company juggled assignments to cover for Jimmie. D’Artagnan was to be his last role.
TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY
Lotta spent her days with Jimmie, except when she had a matinee performance. She maintained her nightly schedule at Her Majesty’s Theatre. She and Lawrence Hanley did Monte Cristo without much success. Dramatic News called it “a very poor performance.”
One newspaper reported that Jimmie had rallied, that he would recover. It was wrong. With his condition grave, Lotta’s mother arrived from New York on Tuesday Aug. 14. Lotta performed that night, then on Wednesday Aug. 15 was told that her husband was dying; she left the theatre to be with him to the end. Ella MacGregor, 17, read Lotta’s part of Anne Cruger in The Charity Ball. Jimmie died that night.
The funeral was Friday Aug. 17 at the Church of the Advent in Montreal. Pallbearers were members of the company. Certainly L.O. Hart, Albert Brown, Harold Mordaunt and Giunio Socola were cast members. The other pallbearers--E.F. Maxwell, Arthur Elliot and T.B. Findlay--likely were somehow connected to the company. (Arthur Elliot might have been the person of that name who co-wrote The Better Ole, a war comedy that was a Broadway hit of 1918.)
The burial was in Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal. Cemetery records show the casket is in section D 123-A. Jimmie's most recent address was noted as 214 Wood Avenue. That’s in Westmount, south of downtown Montreal and near today’s Forum. (The cemetery records confirm he was 22 and had been born in Louisville.)
On Aug. 19 Lotta’s mother took her to Nantucket. One of the Baldwin Company’s stalwarts, popular Laura Alberta, was whisked in from NYC to replace Lotta. Apparently no one else in the cast became ill.
Newspapers noted that Jimmie had been engaged to play the lead in The Adventures of Francois, apparently for the fall-winter season. One paper observed: “It has been an open secret in Montreal that a famous New York manager had been watching Mr. Bankson with the confessed expectation of starring him in the near future. His talents and perseverence would without doubt have won him a position among the few great actors of the American stage.” There was no mention of John or Mary’s whereabouts.
One paper said the Banksons lived in Baltimore. One obituary noted that Jimmie had appeared “with James A. Herne in Shore Acres, and with Mrs. Bernard-Beere.” (Fanny Mary Bernard-Beere lived 1856-1915. A British-born Victorian opera singer and actress, she was best known for singing Desdemona in Otello in London and for playing Bathsheba in Far From the Madding Crowd. She toured the United States in 1892, but her association with Jimmie remains unclear.)
The theatrical world believes deaths come in threes. And another death, although hardly comparable, hurt John and Mary’s careers: James Herne, 62, died in 1901. It’s unclear if he was still Mary’s manager–maybe John’s too–but he’d usually found work for them. First Coghlan, then Jimmie, and now Herne . . . .
ON THE ROAD In 1901-03 the three Barrymore siblings--John, Lionel and Ethel--debuted on Broadway. In 1900 Ethel and John lodged at Mrs. Wilson’s theatrical boarding house on West 36th Street, opposite the Lambs Club. Maude Adams and Ida Conquest lived there, too.
New York City had 41 theatres. But Mary and John Bankson were still headed the other direction; they were on the road separately. John was touring the South and Midwest with a romantic comedy called Private John Allen. Nationally-known Charles B. Hanford played the lead, but John, portraying a black servant called Uncle Si, usually stole the show with his comic dialect.
One reviewer noted that Uncle Si “is an old Negro who is always in the right place at the right time and who can lie if he is paid for it.”
The company played Washington, D.C.; Richmond and Lynchburg, Va.; Charleston; Savannah and Augusta, Ga.; Montgomery; Shreveport; Little Rock, Houston; Hannibal, Mo.; Topeka; the Capital Theatre in Burlington, Iowa, and likely lots of places in between. John got special treatment when the play reached Keokuk. The local newspaper noted: “At the theatre last night Mr. Hanford said a word of praise for Mr. Bankson and called him out to make a speech; he finally got the modest Si on the stage, but the latter only bowed and bowed and started off again. Finally, still in character to perfection, Si said: ‘Massa Allen has said all that can be said.’”
Another clipping in the scrapbook notes that “John W. Bankson is believed to be the only Keokuk product who is now a professional actor. He started from here, began his work from here, was reared here, has relatives here . . .”
Reviewers along the way remarked that Hanford certainly looked like politician William Jennings Bryan. Maybe that helped; notices were generally good. The scrapbook has a program that’s headlined: “Mr. Charles B. Hanford assisted by Miss Marie Drofnah.” She was the leading lady. Drofnah is Hanford spelled backward, giving some idea of her importance. One critic sniped that her few lines hardly justified her capital letters in the program. The Bankson scrapbook preserves the dressing room assignments. Miss Drofnah had none, but a Mrs. Hanford did. She was in No. 5 with Hanford.
The show played at Kansas City’s best theatre, the Coates Opera House, in January. Sarah Bernhardt was scheduled there in February. On Jan. 31, 1901, the night before she was to arrive, the Coates burned to the ground. Miss Bernhardt had to play at the city’s Auditorium.
In April 1901–eight months after her husband’s death–Lotta played the title role in Camille at the American Theatre in NYC. She earned fine reviews, although snobs noted that she was the new leading lady for the new cut-rate Greenwall Stock Company. The New York Sun’s review in the scrapbook has only one complaint about her: she looked too healthy for that role.
Certainly, Lotta earned faint praise as a “stock lead.” She was like the house wine in a not-too-fancy Broadway restaurant. And she often had to do “two-a-days,” interspersed with vaudevillians and trained animals.
In June 1901 she returned to Montreal as leading lady of the Baldwin-Melville Stock Company. She replaced Maude Odell, who quit to do King Dodo in Chicago. Lotta Linthicum does appear on Canadian immigration records. She said she was 22 when counted in the 1901 census of Canada. Records say she’d moved there in 1900 and lived in St. Antoine Ward of Montreal.
MARY TRIES LOS ANGELES
Mary was in southern California in 1901-02. Joining the Ralph E. Cummings Company, she played regularly at Morosco’s Theatre in Burbank, a suburb of Los Angeles best known today as the site of TV’s Tonight Show.
The Cummings Company also included Laura Nelson Hall, a statuesque 23-year-old from Philadelphia who eventually became a star, even making some silent movies.
Actors worked harder in the West. Back East, Sunday closing laws mandated a day of rest. Not so in the Midwest or West. Actors often did 10 performances a week–one each night, plus three matinees.
An actor would give the last two performances of Play No. 1 on Saturday, then go finish studying his lines for a new play–and lay out his wardrobe for the Sunday-morning dress rehearsal of Play No. 2. Then he went on and did two actual presentations that same day. That night, he’d be given his script for the new production that would open the next Sunday–Play No. 3. He’d have to study No. 3 between that week’s performances of No. 2.
Mary played the Duchess of Burwick in Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, Mrs. Ruth Winthrop in Young Mrs. Winthrop, Mrs. Fenton in The Adventures of Lady Ursula, Patsy Wilson in Puddin-Head Wilson, la Frochard in The Two Orphans--and that was just in April and early May1901! One reviewer even scolded Mary for not remembering her lines in Young Mrs. Winthrop.
After playing in A Social Highwayman, Mary was in Woman Against Woman, a sob story that attracted considerable attention. For one thing, the set was so authentic that, as a reviewer noted, “a real beefsteak is cooked upon a real stove.” (But, alas, the baby was merely stuffed.)
Reviewers had some fun with the outlandish plot: a young lady named Miriam palms off her bastard to her married older sister so that she (presumably Miriam) can marry a baronet. The lively and thorough review likely was as entertaining as the play. It noted that Mr. Hynes’ makeup is “overdone, a fault that is not uncommon in this company.” The critic scolded Charles Giblyn for overacting. Mary did fine as old Mrs. Barton.
On or about May 26, 1901, Miss Hall became ill, leaving understudy Edith Lemmert as an unlikely leading lady in The Mysterious Mr. Bugle. (Coincidentally, Miss Lemmert was really Mrs. Lawrence Hanley.) This provided the only really bad review in Mary’s scrapbook. One big reason for its preservation, undoubtedly, was that the reviewer liked only two performers and Mary was one of them. Obviously the reviewer had expected to see glamorous Laura.
Mary was a meddlesome mother-in-law for the company’s one performance of Arabian Nights, then played Mistress Wimpole in A Lady of Quality in early June. It was quite a flurry of parts to learn.
Late that June the James Neill Company from San Francisco performed Barbara Frietchie at the Burbank. There’s no indication that Mary was involved, but she likely used the occasion to secure a new engagement.
BACK TO SAN FRANCISCO
Mary turned up next with Neill’s Company at the posh California Theatre in San Francisco. This was the theatre that in 1879 had become the first American theatre with incandescent electric lights. On Bush Street between Kearny Street and Chinatown’s Grant Avenue, it was the city’s best. Mary played Mrs. Hunter when Barbara Frietchie opened there Aug. 18, 1901 with Neill’s wife Edythe Chapman in the title role.
The city had two theatre districts. One, on Market Street between 6th and 9th, was near where the Civic Center stands today. Theatres there included the Lyceum, the Central, the new Belle, the Empire and the Majestic, and the nearby Alhambra.
The other district was just northeast, toward Union Square. These theatres included the Grand Opera House on Mission, was less compact. It included the Tivoli at Mason at Eddy, the California on California Street, the Novelty on Powell and the Columbia at Powell and Market, plus, just around the corner from the Columbia on O'Farrell Street were the Orpheum, Fisher's and Alcazar. The Orpheum and Fisher’s booked vaudeville. The Alcazar was the home of a well-known stock company.
Apparently with more work than she knew what to do with, Mary also performed with the Alcazar Stock Company, a well-known outfit at the Alcazar Theatre on O’Farrell Street. In October 1901, she played Claire in the comedy The Girl in the Barracks.
Meanwhile, Lotta was winding up a sequence of plays at Proctor’s Fifth Avenue Theatre in NYC, a house best known for vaudeville. In late 1901 she headed for New Orleans to become leading lady at the Grand Opera House.
John Bankson was on the road back east with Toll Gate Inn, a lively Revolutionary War yarn with redcoats, Indians, half-breeds, narrow escapes and a dandy recreation of the Battle of Bennington in Vermont. It played Sept. 17, 1901 at the Opera House in Newport, Rhode Island; on Dec. 2, 1901, at the Bijou in Milwaukee, and continued touring well into spring of the next year.
Mary ended 1901 as part of the stock company at the Grand Opera House on San Francisco’s Mission Street. She had major roles in three plays that December. One was the old warhorse Diplomacy. Minnie Seligman, boomed as “the new Sarah Bernhardt,” was leading lady, but Mary and Laura Nelson Hall came off with the best notices. Mary then supported Miss Seligman in The Crust of Society and A Wife’s Peril.
1902: WORKING HARD IN CALIFORNIA
San Francisco’s Grand Opera House presented a double bill Jan. 6, 1902. First came Comedy and Tragedy, advertised as a drama, followed by the romantic tragedy Cavalleria Rusticana. Mary, Miss Seligman and Miss Hall were in the latter. Mary didn’t preserve the playbill for the first presentation, probably indicating she’d gotten to rest.
Later that month Mary drew a familiar role as Mistress Wimple in A Lady of Quality (starring Miss Seligman), and played in Claire and The Forge Master. (Miss Hall had the lead.) A well-known actor, Edwin Arden, came to town to star in Don Caesar de Bazan, which opened Jan. 20, 1902 at the Opera House. Arden, who looked like attorney general John Ashcroft, played the title role, and Mary portrayed la Marchionesse de la Rotunda.
Next, Mary played Mary Jane Jones in A Temperance Town. Comedian George Ober headed the cast for this, another in playwright Charles H. Hoyt’s string of successful comedies about city life. His best, A Trip to Chinatown, had opened in 1890 and established a New York record of 650 performances.
With Ober lined up, the Opera House followed quickly with two more Hoyt comedies. On Feb. 24, 1902, A Midnight Bell opened with Mary playing the Widow Grey amid a huge cast. Next, on March 3, came A Contented Woman, with Mary in another old-woman role.
Finally, in April 1902 Mary and John rendezvoused in New York City. In noting their return from the hinterlands, newspapers said the couple would tour together in the fall. It had been a long season apart but at least the New York dailies had noted the Banksons’ return and spelled their names right. What more could they have asked?
John, though, was ailing. He was having trouble working. He filed more pension papers and was granted military pension certificate No. 82647.
THE 1902-03 SEASON
It’s hard to find any continuity in Mary’s clips for this era; the Banksons probably did what they usually did: work some in the NYC area, look for more work, and spend a lot of time riding trains with touring companies. It probably was about this time when Mary played Aunt Samanthy in The Fisherman’s Daughter. This was at an Armory Theatre somewhere; the clip mentions nearby Wenona Beach, so that sounds like Bay City or Saginaw, Michigan.
We know that the Banksons were touring at Christmastime 1902 because Lotta telegraphed them greetings from NYC. She addressed the message to the Fisherman’s Daughter company in Marietta, Ohio. (The telegram is in the scrapbook.)
Lotta soon returned to Montreal to play in Madame Sans Gene at the Francais. A newspaper commented that her tragedy there assured that the city would always open its heart to her. It was about this time that Mary and John joined the Corse Payton Lee Avenue Theatre Stock Company of Brooklyn. The scrapbook’s several programs/ads for Corse Payton productions are worded ambiguously; it’s hard to tell if the performances were in Brooklyn or on the road.
Corse Payton was the name of the actor who headed the company. Applying reverse spin to his image, he advertised himself as “the world’s worst actor.” Besides bringing him notoriety, this reminded theatre-goers of even worse actors they’d encountered. Payton and his employees often hit town for a week at a time, putting on a different popular thriller every night. His company was notorious for hard work, and Payton, for one, made barrels of money.
Mary debuted with Corse Payton by playing Mrs. O’Grady in a revival of The Sunshine of Paradise Alley. Her scrapbook shows that she was billed as “Mrs. Mary Bankson” during a performance in late March 1903. A rousing affair, this show had more than a good title. It blended football players with kids and sailors, and it had a hit tune, too, as musical comedy became more and more common on American stages.
In April, Mary played Mrs. Hulda Slocomb in My Old New Hampshire Home at the historic old Gotham Theatre at Broadway and Fulton streets in Brooklyn. In May 1903 she played Theresa, the old nurse, in the talky incarnation of Francesca da Rimini. This time the program is specific: this performance was at Payton’s Fulton Street Theatre.
Meanwhile John played the villain in A Blue Grass Cavalier for the Corse Payton Lee Avenue Company. Whether the production was in Brooklyn or not is unclear. The play seems to have made little impact.
It was about this time when Mary played Maria in a stage adaptation of Tolstoy’s Resurrection at the Newark Theatre in New Jersey. Local icon Una Abell Brinker was the headline attraction, and the cast also included prominent actors Claude Brooke and Arthur Hoops. The program for Resurrection noted: “Ladies who will kindly remove their large hats will confer a favor on the management and earn the thanks and appreciation of those behind them.”
AT THE LAGOON NEAR CINCINNATI
Mary kept several clips about “the Lagoon.” This apparently was Ludlow’s Lagoon near Cincinnati. Chester Park, a well-known amusement attraction, was nearby. Just when the Banksons were there is uncertain. It was probably summer 1903. By then, John was ailing seriously.
The scrapbook has a large clipping showing a photo of John and Mary. Mary apparently clipped it from the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune. This caption says Mary had just finished an engagement with the Neill Stock Company in San Francisco and that John had written Hope, which was to be produced in NYC. While John was hoping it would be produced, Mary did enough work for two. While with the Lagoon Stock Company:
●She played Mrs. Atwood in His Other Son.
●She played Marie in Follies of a Night, which had a cast similar to His Other Son.
●She was in Caste, a comedy, on Sunday June 5, apparently in 1903.
●She played Mrs. Dobbinson in Our Regiment; a photo clip noted she was “attracting attention.” (The clipping is reproduced in the front of this book.)
Mary and John probably visited the Phillips family on West Sixth Street in Marion, Indiana in the summer of 1903. An undated clipping tells of the visit and mentions that Jimmie had died. It was about this time, too, that Addison Phillips’ niece Pearl Phillips wanted to become an actress. Mary Bankson discouraged her. (About 1980 Ray Phillips remembered that his cousin Lucille Napier had once told him this story. Pearl, born in 1888, was a daughter of Addison’s brother Riley Phillips. Everyone involved, of course, was kin to Mary.)
OFF INTO THE SUNSET
On Sept. 25, 1903, John and Mary played in The Billionairess, but we don’t know where. The unfamiliar cast gives no clue. It was about this time that the Banksons played in The Fisherman’s Daughter in Manchester, New Hampshire. Comedienne Hilda Thomas was the star, and, according to John’s obit, this play provided his swan song.
Dec. 30, 1903 lives in infamy in the theatrical world. That was when fire swept the Iroquois Theatre in Chicago, killing 602. This calamity changed the business forever. Afterward, theatres used asbestos curtains.
Meanwhile, back In NYC, the triangle of land where the Times Tower is cited, officially became “Times Square” on April 9, 1904. That spring, Mary played in The Royal Box and a comedy called My Friend From India for the Glazier Stock Co. The latter was at the Grand Opera House, but the city, or cities, for these two plays is unknown. Mary’s friend Hazel Harroun was in both.
By then John couldn’t act. Perhaps he tried song-writing. Mary’s scrapbook contains the lyrics of three songs that he wrote. “When I First Saw You” and “My Wild Enchantress” were copyrighted in 1904. At some time he wrote words to a comic song, “I’ll Make a Snoot at You.” This is a dialect song about sneering. Mary told reporters that John was a successful playwright, but evidence hasn’t turned up.
In October 1904 the Banksons went to Portland, Oregon, apparently seeking a quieter life and better weather. Presumably they also sought some security through Mary’s sister Emma Bell, who’d moved there in 1878 or ‘79. (John Bell had died in 1895.)
John Bankson’s retirement was brief; he died Dec. 26, 1904 of heart trouble at Emma's home at 326 Grand Avenue in Portland. One notice said he had kidney trouble, too. A Baptist preacher presided at the funeral. The burial was in Lone Fir Cemetery there. The Actors’ Fund paid the final expenses, indicating that he was indigent. (Social Security was a generation away.) One obit said he was 58.
The pension roles dropped him Jan. 16, 1905. Two days later Mary filed for a war widow’s pension. She was living with Emma on Grand Street in Portland then. Emma and C.C. Wells signed as her witnesses. (Emma was already receiving a Civil War widow’s pension.)
Mary kept on acting, first with the Baker Stock Company in Portland in 1904-06, then with the new Louise Brandt-Edgar Baume Company. She was in the cast when that company performed Clyde Fitch’s old hit, Lovers’ Lane, at the Empire in Portland.
She was with the Columbia Stock Company in Portland when she played Mrs. Vernon in In Mizzoura at the Columbia Theatre. Meanwhile in San Francisco, the historic earthquake and fire of April 18, 1906 destroyed all of the city’s theatres and most everything else.
The Actors’ Fund proved a real boon. It provided Mary a pension until the federal government finally came through with one. Uncle Sam gave her $40 monthly as the widow of a Civil War veteran.
In 1907 Charlotte Wade Daniel, an actress-friend from Brooklyn, sent Mary a postcard. It was addressed to her in Touchet, Washington, and is marked for rural free delivery. Touchet is a tiny town in Walla Walla County17 miles west of downtown Walla Walla. (That’s where Ray Phillips thought she died–in a home for retired actors.) It’s in the southeast corner of the state, nearly on the Oregon border. We don’t know why she was in Washington State, but she soon left. The 1910 census of Clackamas County, Oregon, finds her in Eagle Creek, a tiny town southeast of Portland. When the census taker came April 16, she was boarding at the home of a couple named Boyer. She said she’d had three children, none of whom was living. She said she had no occupation.
Later in 1910 Mary, 61, moved to Newberg, Oregon, which is in Yamhill County just southwest of Portland on the Willamette River.. She lived at the home of J.L. Van Blaricom, where she was called “Auntie.” Her widowed sister, Emma Bell, had moved to town, too.
Sometime early in the century Lotta Linthicum had married William C. Strachan, probably in Canada. This likely had something to do with her apparent hiatus from the stage. But the marriage didn’t last. After more time back on Broadway, she joined the Poli Players in Washington, D.C. early in 1913. This kept her busy until summer stock that year. Perhaps her return to acting had something to do with the failure of this marriage.
Another marriage changed the circumstances of the Taylor sisters: on Dec. 24, 1913, Emma Bell remarried. The groom was Chris H. Christenson, 55, a native of Denmark who lived in Corvallis, Oregon. This cost Emma her Civil War pension of $12 a month. How Emma and Chris met is anybody’s guess. The marriage took place in Los Angeles, a long way from Corvallis, which is 50 miles south of Newberg, in Benton County.
When the census taker came by Jan. 14 or 15, 1920, Mary was living with Emma and Chris on Taylor Street in Corvallis. Mary was 71, Emma 68 and Chris 59.
LOTTA MARRIES AGAIN
Lotta was in her forties when she remarried in 1915. The groom, civil engineer Armor Barbour, was about 26. He’d been born April 23, 1889 in Chicago. He lived on West 44th Street in Manhattan, but the couple eventually moved to “Plandome Manor” on Long Island. That certainly sounds sumptuous, and apparently it was.
Although bridges seem to have been his profession, Mary Bankson referred to him as a “banker.” He likely did fund some Broadway shows. He was somehow connected with the American Theatre, although many years after Lotta had first played there.
Someone identified as Barbour, or A. Barbour, co-produced Excess Baggage at the Ritz and It Is To Laugh at the Iltinge, both of which opened Dec. 26, 1927; and The Clutching Claw, a haunted-house tale, at the Forrest in 1928. Lotta didn’t play in those Broadway productions. (Excess Baggage is worth noting. It was one of a record 11 plays that opened on Broadway that night. It was the only one that did well. With Miriam Hopkins portraying a small-time vaudevillian trying to make the big time, it ran 216 performances.)
Lotta loved dogs. On Feb. 16, 1922 her Pomeranian was among the best at the Newark Kennel Club in New Jersey. On Feb. 5, 1925 her entry won the five-pounds-and-under bracket at the American Pomeranian Club show at the Plaza Hotel in NYC. She also was a member of a rose-growing society. In 1929 Plandome Manor was on the garden-club tours in Long Island.
The New York Times reported on July 4, 1922:
KEEPS HIS WORD TO DIE.
Canadian Theatrical Man Commits
Suicide, as He Said He Would.
MONTREAL, July 3–William S. Strachan, prominent Canadian theatrical man, was found dead in his room today with a tube attached to an open gas stove in his mouth.
A note was found addressed to “Maude,” which read: “You doubted my word this afternoon when I told I was doing the jumping off act, and laughed. Tell them to cremate me and not bury me in the family plot. Scatter the ashes.”
There was also a newspaper clipping which referred to divorce proceedings started by his wife, Lotta Linthicum, a well-known Canadian actress of the early ‘90s.
By 1930 Mary was living alone back in Newberg. She was probably 86 when she died of coronary thrombosis Aug. 28, 1935. A certified copy of her death certificate, included in her pension record, lists her age as 94 years, 9 months and 2 days. It gives her day of birth as Nov. 26, 1840, instead of 1848. (She gave the 1848 date in a newspaper interview and that’s the date we quoted up front in this book.) Obviously she could have shaved her age like most actresses, but not for the 1850 census.
The death certificate says she’d lived on River Street for three years and had been a stage actress 34 years, last working in 1904. A Mrs. Van Blaricom, who provided the official information, said Mary’s father was T.G. Taylor, a Kentuckian. Mrs. Van Blaricom couldn’t remember the mother’s name, so perhaps she was mistaken about when Mary was born. (More than likely, though, someone confused 8 with 0 in copying the date.)
W.W. Hollingsworth & Son was the undertaker. Mary was dropped from the pension roles Oct. 30, 1935. The Newberg Graphic newspaper, which dates at least to the 1920s, hasn't kept bound volumes from Mary's era.
Lotta’s later years–Depression era years--might not have been too comfortable. The New York Times mentioned on Nov. 13, 1938 that some of her hooked rugs, porcelains and firearms were being auctioned. Her name was given as Lotta Linthicum and her address as Plandome Manor, L.I. The agent’s name was American Art Association-Anderson Galleries, Inc.
On Nov. 20, 1938 the Times reported that the gallery sold $9,387 worth of Remington bronzes, furniture and decoration for Lotta Linthicum and two other parties, who might or might not have been connected with her. The gallery’s address was given as 30 East 57th Street.
Variety carried her obituary in its April 26, 1952 issue (page 63, column 2):
Lotta Linthicum (Mrs. Armor Barbour), retired legit actress, died in Port Chester, N.Y., March 19.
Miss Linthicum made her stage debut in London in 1899. On Broadway she appeared as leading lady to John Drew, Grant Mitchell and Aubrey Boucicault. She appeared with Victor Moore in the musicomedy Some Day.
She would have been about 79. Port Chester is across Long Island Sound from Long Island. It’s northeast of Manhattan, nearly on the Connecticut line and just outside Greenwich.
As her performance in NYC in 1896 is well-documented, she probably had fibbed about her age, leading to Variety’s erroneous date of her debut.
The Broadway Data base doesn’t verify her performances with Drew, Mitchell and Boucicault. It remains a work in progress. Some Day isn’t listed, either (but there must be life off Broadway and outside New York City!)
She did appear with Victor Moore, William Frawley and William Gargan in She Lived Next to the Firehouse at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway. Frawley is best remembered as Fred Mertz in TV’s I Love Lucy. Gargan played Martin Kane, Private Eye, in the early days of TV.
The Banksons’ old friends continue to appear on TV, too. If you’ve ever seen Gary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in the film Bringing Up Baby, you’ve seen Mary’s friend May Robson. Then there were Taylor Holmes (Father of the Bride, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), William Farnum and others . . . .
THE FOUR BANKSONS’ CREDITS
The following credits are in alphabetical order. Lotta Linthicum’s credits, most from a later era, are printed in a separate booklet focusing on her. . . . Some of the scrapbook clippings carry the names of theatres without revealing cities. There was many a "Grand Opera House." . . Touring companies probably didn’t have programs printed at every stop. I suspect they carried a “canned” supply with them. So it’s not always possible to look at a program and tell what town it’s from. The Banker’s Daughter programs typify this problem. . . . The dates shown below are not always precise; especially, the shows sometimes ran longer than the dates indicate. . . . The names of characters sometimes vary from production to production: Fannie/Fanny, Wimple/Wimpole, Sie/Si, DeChallette/DeChelette, Miss Corney/Miss Corny, Price/Pryse, Basset/Bassett, etc.
The Adventures of Lady Ursula
April 28, 1901, Morosco’s Burbank Theatre in Burbank, California
Mary Bankson played Mrs. Fenton in a revival of playwright Anthony Hope’s successful comedy. Hope is best known for The Prisoner of Zenda. (Ralph E. Cummings & Co.)
Spring 1901, Morosco’s Burbank Theatre in Burbank, California
Mary Bankson played a meddlesome mother-in-law in this one-time-only performance by Ralph E. Cummings & Co.
Article 47 (L’Article 47)
John possibly in the production in October 1880 at Abbey’s New Park Theatre in NYC
John Bankson played Paul in a revival of the play that made Clara Morris famous in the 1870s. Augustin Daly had adapted it from Adolphe Belot’s French drama dating to the 1850s. Miss Morris played Cora. a disfigured Creole who goes mad. It was a perfect role for such an emotional actress. Just where John and Miss Morris appeared together, though, is a muddle. Miss Morris definitely was in the production at Abbey’s New Park. John probably was, but we don’t know for sure. See the further discussion below.
The Banker’s Daughter
Opened Nov. 7, 1880 at Hooley’s in Chicago
The Chicago Tribune noted that the play would open and listed the cast. It included Mrs. Mary Bankson, Miss Lizzie Hudson, “Little Fanchon Campbell” and “La Petite Edna Bankson.”
The Banker’s Daughter
Before 1883, location unknown
Mary and Edna Bankson were both in Bronson Howard’s romantic society drama, but not as mother and daughter. Frequent co-worker Lizze Hudson played Edna’s mother. Mary, as widow Fannie Holcombe, played Edna’s great aunt. The playbill says that Collier’s Combination Company No. 2 was performing “under the auspices of A.M. Palmer, Union Square Theatre at Broadway and 14th” in NYC.” But that doesn’t quite tell us that the production was in NYC.
A.M. Palmer first produced the play at Union Square when it was new in 1878. A note in the Times of Feb. 6, 1881, said that the “Union Square traveling company” would revive it at the Grand Opera House late that winter. The production did open Feb. 20, 1881 at the Grand Opera House at 8th Avenue and 23rd Street in NYC. Newspapers also said Collier’s Company then took the play on tour. Obviously, there’s a good chance that Mary and Edna had been in the revival at the Grand Opera House, but none of this really pins things down. Incidentally, this was a triangle play rife with human interest; its sad ending brought out the handkerchiefs.
The Banker’s Daughter
Before 1883, location unknown, but perhaps in 1881 in New Orleans or during that tour
Mary Bankson and Lizzie Hudson had the same roles as mentioned in the preceding production, but this time “La Petite Edna Bankson” shared her role with “Little Fanchon Campbell.” Most of the other cast members were different from the preceding listing. Again, this was “under the auspices of A.M. Palmer of the Union Square Theatre, N.Y.” J.W. Collier was listed as manager. Note that Fanchon is discussed in the “Bankson Friends” and photo sections. Mary kept a photo showing Fanchon and Edna together; markings show it was taken in 1881 in New Orleans. Perhaps it was taken while The Banker’s Daughter was touring.
Aug. 18-24, 1901, California Theatre in San Francisco
Mary Bankson played Mrs. Hunter, the minister’s wife, in the James Neill Company’s presentation of Clyde Fitch’s popular play. Neill played a Union officer, and wife Edythe Chapman had the title role. William H. Harkness was Stonewall Jackson. The play used the “Frietchie” spelling; nowadays the name usually appears “Fritchie.” That’s odd, considering John G. Whittier spelled it “Frietchie” in his poem, which in 1864 originated the legend.
Incidentally, the Neill Company had presented this play at the Burbank, near L.A., in late June 1901. There’s no proof that Mary Bankson was in that production, but there’s plenty of circumstantial evidence. (And this likely was how Mary came to depart for San Francisco.) The Los Angeles Times observed in reviewing it that it “was entirely different from Whittier’s popular poem. . . . Barbara in the play is a young and beautiful Southern belle, quite different from the gray-haired old lady made familiar to us in our school [books]. The action opens on a summer evening, with Barbara disdainfully casting aside the love of a village youth, who has been driven fairly mad by her heartless flirtations. A Union officer, Capt. Trumbull, is on a fair road to win her, when he saves her rebel brother from capture by a Union provost guard searching for spies. After that, the conquest is fairly complete, and although still a rebel she consents to become his wife. He is ordered to join his regiment at the front, but Barbara agrees to join him the next day and go through the marriage ceremony before the fighting begins.
“The second act shows them waiting for the minister, with witnesses and everything in readiness. Instead of the minister, an orderly enters with instructions from the commanding general for Capt. Trumbull to take immediate command of his company, as the enemy is near at hand. Two days later, after she has returned to her home, they meet again, but under the most pathetic circumstances. The Union forces have suffered defeat, and Capt. Trumbull is brought to the Frietchie home mortally wounded–shot in battle by Arthur Frietchie. The father orders the wounded officer thrown out of the house, but relents upon the tearful pleadings of Barbara . . .
“After a night of terrible suspense for Barbara, Capt. Trumbull breathes his last, just as the victorious Confederate troops are heard entering the town . . . The street in front of the Frietchie house is crowded with excited humanity, gathered to do homage to the approaching army. Confederate flags are flying from every vantage point, and enthusiasm is kindled to fever heat as Barbara staggers out onto the balcony and unfurls the American banner of her dead lover. The scene that follows is said to beggar description, beginning with the wild rage of the mob, followed by the realistic march of the army, the entrance of Gen. Stonewall Jackson, and the tragic death of Barbara, shot by her former mad village lover.” The play debuted in 1899 with popular Julia Marlowe in the title role.
Sept. 25, 1903, place unknown
John Bankson played globe-trotting Gustavus Nordeau, and Mary Bankson was Martha Hauminan in this musical comedy review. Mary’s scrapbook clipping is grouped with others from about 1903 at the Lagoon. This play apparently never made NYC, but it did play Chicago’s Warrington Opera House on Oct. 22-23, 1903. It was advertised as an “original musical comedy” starring Miss Lorain Buchanan.
The Black Crook
Date unknown, perhaps at the St. Charles in New Orleans
Mary Bankson drew raves as Dame Barbara. It’s said that within a year after the “Crook” first hit Broadway, 14 of NYC’s 16 theatres had knock-off shows. At one time or another there was White Crook, Golden Crook, Red Crook and Black Crook Jr. As for Barras, the author: luckily he had a royalty contract; he lived off the “Crook” for years. Then, unluckily, a train hit him. See elsewhere in this narrative for descriptions of this epic. As for the performance, a woman named Lotta Hollywood was the star. See information about her below. The St. Charles in New Orleans was no ordinary theatre. It was a gem–a classic, European-style opera house. There was a St. Charles Theatre in St. Louis, too.
The Black Flag
July 9-14, 1900, Her Majesty’s Theatre in Montreal
James Bankson (as John Glyndon) and Lotta Linthicum (as heiress Naomi Blandford) appeared in this venerable English comedy drama that probably concerned pirates. The play dated at least to the 1880s. (Baldwin-Melville Stock Company)
A Blue Grass Cavalier
Monday May 23, 1903, Corse Payton Lee Avenue Theatre in Brooklyn
John Bankson played bad-guy Gardner Howard in the inaugural presentation of Gertrude Andrews’ drama about a small-town newspaper editor who takes in a homeless little girl. Years later, he discovers he’s in love with her. Politics, North-South relations and the villain complicate matters. The play, which sounds risque for its era, seems to have had little impact.
Probably summer 1903, the Lagoon near Cincinnati
Mary was in this, another of Tom Robertson’s successful old comedies. This is the one that made Mrs. Gilbert famous on Broadway in 1864. In 1909 one nasty critic appraised Caste: “Robertson’s plays are very old-fashioned now. Who could regard very seriously the romance of George d’Alroy and Esther Eccles . . the one a well-washed, poorly educated, well-bred scion of aristocrats, the other a pantomime actress in cheap theatres, daughter of a voluble sot, sister of a gas-fitter’s wife, dwelling in a mean little house in a squalid neighborhood?” But this play had a role that Leon Errol later made famous: Eccles, one of the most celebrated drunks in drama. Laudon McCormack handled the role in the Lagoon presentation.
Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry)
Jan. 6, 1902, Grand Opera House in San Francisco
Mary Bankson and Laura Nelson Hall were in this, the second half of a double bill. Mary apparently wasn’t in the other half, entitled Comedy and Tragedy. Cavalleria Rusticana is based on Giovanni Verga's drama of 1884, which also inspired Mascagni's famous opera.
A Celebrated Case
Probably before 1882, place unknown
Mary had a role, according to a card she had printed, and daughter Edna was in this production, too. It was a French play, by d’Ennery and Cormon, that had done well at the Theatre Porte St. Martin in Paris. While still playing there, it opened at the Union Square Theatre in NYC Jan. 26, 1878. There’s no indication the Banksons did this play then, though.
Oct. 4, 1879 at DeGive’s Theatre in Atlanta
Edna “Birdie” Bankson played the title role, winning a fine review. John played Judiah Merritt, with Mary as his wife. Leading lady Anna Boyle portrayed Pearl Ross. The leading man was absent, necessitating an understudy. (A review is reprinted below.) This touring show apparently played Nashville before Atlanta.
April 11-17, 1899, Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York City
James Bankson appeared in Charles Coghlan's romantic tragedy not long before getting married. Coghlan’s ambitious undertaking grew out of Victorien Sardou’s success with Robespierre. Sardou wrote his play for British star Henry Irving, thereby spawning a flurry of plays about the French Revolution–all with huge casts. Robespierre had 60 characters. The Man in the Moon, a play in preparation in 1899, was said to have 75 speaking parts. Citizen Pierre had 35 speaking parks. There was some question whether Coghlan based it on Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities or not. He included scenes of condemned men spending their last hours feasting and singing. This was his first play after The Royal Box, so the theatrical world was watching closely. The Washington Post reported on April 2, 1899 that the cast would include “Robert Drouet, Barton Hill, Charles Stanley, Claude Brooke, James W. Bankson, Charles Chapelle, Frank Tannehill Sr., Margaret Anglen, Rose Eytinge and some others quite well-known.”
Alas, the show flopped, and on April 18 Coghlan, who played the lead, refused to appear. The press blamed “the refusal of his manager to pay royalties.” Manager Jack Reed came out on stage, apologized to the small audience and had ticket money refunded. Coghlan died before appearing on stage again in NYC.
Claire and The Forge Master
Jan. 18, 1902, Grand Opera House Stock Company in San Francisco
Mary Bankson was the Marquise de Beaulieu in this four-act drama. Laura Nelson Hall was Claire. This play dated at least to the mid-1880s.
A Contented Woman
Opened March 3, 1902, Grand Opera House in San Francisco
Mary Bankson played in the Opera House Company’s third straight Hoyt comedy. Comedian George Ober was the headliner.
The Countess of Somerive
John possibly in production that opened Oct. 26, 1880 at Park Theatre in NYC
Former President U.S. Grant and New York Governor Alonzo B. Cornell were to attend this opening. But was this the one John Bankson’s obit referred to when it said that he played Joseph in a production that starred Clara Morris? Maybe. Maybe not.
Miss Morris, a top star of her era, had been ailing for several years. She was booked at the Park for late November 1880. But the Park’s October offering, a play called Baffled Beauty, was bombing. The theatre manager talked Miss Morris into coming a month early. John Bankson could well have been in this NYC show; or he and Miss Morris could have played it elsewhere. The same applies to Article 47.
As for the play itself, the Baroness de Prevois called it La Comptesse de Somerive when she wrote it. Augustin Daly adapted it, calling it Alixe in his 1873 version at NYC’s Fifth Avenue Theatre. With copyright protection lacking, it’s anybody’s guess just whose script this 1880 production was using. Miss Morris, incidentally, played Alixe, not the Countess.
The Crust of Society
December 1901, Grand Opera House in San Francisco
Mary Bankson appeared as Lady Downe in this already-old society drama. The star, Minnie Seligman, earned good reviews this time. So did Mary and Laura Nelson Hall, as usual. The play apparently had some slightly risque elements. One of the characters was once described as “a woman of troublesome alurement.”
Cyrano de Bergerac
July 2-7, 1900, Her Majesty’s Theatre in Montreal
James Bankson played villainous Count de Guiche in Edmond Rostand's masterpiece of 1897. Leading lady Lotta Linthicum was Roxane. William Farnum had the title role in this well-received show, as good today as ever. (Baldwin-Melville Stock Company)
April 16, 1900, Star Theatre in NYC
John Bankson doubled as detective Edward Nailor and priest Father Raymond in this four-act melodrama about millionaires. Future film actor Taylor Holmes played Mark Raby, the city clerk. But note that his dates with the Sapho company overlap. A clip in the scrapbook says this play had done well in England. The Star was at 844 Broadway from 1861 until demolished in 1901. It also was called Wallack’s at one time or another.
December 1901, Grand Opera House Stock Company on Mission Street in San Francisco
Mary Bankson played the Marquise de Rio Zares in Victorien Sardou’s famous play. Minnie Seligman was the star, but Mary and Laura Nelson Hall got the good reviews. This play had debuted at Wallack’s on Broadway at 13th Street in 1878. It was revived on Broadway at the Empire on April 15, 1901. Incidentally, Miss Seligman, billed as the new Bernhardt, seems to have left scant record.
Don Caesar de Bazan
Opened Jan. 20, 1902, Grand Opera House in San Francisco
Mary Bankson played la Marchionesse de la Rotunda. The star, Edwin Arden, augmented the Grand Opera House Stock Company, which included Laura Nelson Hall as Maritana, the street singer. A reviewer called this the opera Maritana without the music. Actually, d'Ennery and Dumanoir wrote this, then Irish composer Vincent Wallace did his opera from it. (The title caught the public fancy. Newspaper columnist/poet Eugene Field named his children’s pet burro Don Caesar de Bazan.)
After 1888 and before summer 1892, place unknown
Mary Bankson listed this domestic drama as a credit on her business card in 1892. James A. Herne and David Belasco had written it in 1888, so that narrows our time frame. The play dealt with fishermen and their families in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Herne had faith in it, but, despite 250 performances on tour, it never made much money. Specifics are sketchy: it first played in NYC during the 1888-89 season at a theatre on the Bowery. After Herne rewrote it, it opened March 4, 1889 at the 14th Street Theatre. It played there again that fall, then a reconstructed version opened Jan. 5, 1890 at the Windsor in NYC.
Probably about 1897 at the Lyceum in Chicago
Mary Bankson played Cornelia (“Miss Corny”) in this production starring Eda Clayton. We learn this from a clipping pasted on the same scrapbook page as the Black Crook and Oliver Twist items, indicating that these were likely staged between 1893 and the end of the century. But note that Eda Clayton and Horace Vinton were also mentioned in the Chicago Tribune’s information about The Runaway Wife in 1897.
Incidentally, Lotta Linthicum was acting in East Lynne when Jimmie was ill, and he almost certainly was supposed to have played in it with her. Anna MacGregor played Miss Corny in that presentation in Montreal.
Mrs. Henry Wood, an Englishwoman, wrote the novel East Lynne in 1861. One of the epic tearjerkers of its era, it was dramatized that same year. In 1863 American actress Lucille Western paid playwright Clifton W. Tayleure $100 for his version, then virtually lived off it for years, averaging about $350 a night for herself. The play was one of the most popular in America for at least half a century. In the complicated story, Archibald Carlyle brings a bride named Isabel (often Miss Western) to his home, called East Lynne. His sister Cornelia disapproves but generally treats Isabel decently. Dastardly Francis Levison breaks up the marriage, shamefully wronging poor Isabel as the women in the audience weep.
Fanchon, the Cricket
Oct. 2, 1879 at DeGive’s Opera House in Atlanta
The review (see below) definitely says that Birdie didn’t perform. But Mary and John must have; why else were they traveling with the troupe? Annie Boyle played the lead.
George Sand wrote La Petite Fadette in 1849; it was translated into English as Fanchon, the Cricket about 1860. That was the year that a dramatization was done especially for Maggie Mitchell; she played Fanchon in New Orleans before the year ended, making it her signature play. The movie version of 1915 starred siblings Mary, Jack and Lottie Pickford. (Some film historians say it also included Fred and Estelle Astaire in their film debuts.) In the story, Fanchon is an elfin outcast that a rich young man saves.
The Fisherman’s Daughter
About 1902, Armory Theatre, probably in Bay City or Saginaw, Michigan
Mary Bankson played Aunt Samanthy, who liked to cook.
The Fisherman’s Daughter
Christmas 1902, Marietta, Ohio
Lotta Linthicum thoughtfully telegraphed holiday greetings to her former in-laws while they were playing in Marietta. John probably was doing Capt. Manley, and Mary probably was playing Aunt Samanthy.
The Fisherman’s Daughter
1902 or ‘03, at Park Theatre in Manchester, New Hampshire
This production starred comedienne Hilda Thomas as John Bankson’s daughter. John played an old salt, Capt. Ben Manley, and Mary Bankson probably played Aunt Samanthy. The clipping doesn’t mention Mary, but John’s obit says this touring show was his swan song. Leading man Lou Hall sang a few songs while romancing Miss Thomas. There was a second romance, too, involving a young lawyer.
The Fisherman’s Daughter
Jan. 8, 1903, site unknown
Comedienne Hilda Thomas played John Bankson’s daughter. This touring show was his swan song, according to his obit. Mary Bankson played Aunt Samanthy. Lou Hall again had the lead. A clipping gives a Thursday Jan. 8 date but reveals neither year nor location. A universal calendar shows that the year must have been 1903. (The show of Jan. 8 couldn’t have been in Manchester; clippings show Olive North was in the cast in Manchester but not on Jan. 8 .)
Follies of a Night
Probably summer 1903, the Lagoon near Cincinnati
Mary Bankson played Marie but nothing more is known.
Francesca da Rimini
May 11, 1903, Payton’s Fulton Street Theatre in Brooklyn
Mary Bankson played Theresa, the old nurse. Some versions of this play had Mount Vesuvius erupting and other special effects. Actually the playbill calls this “J. Sydney Macy’s beautiful romance” and gives it a French/Spanish “de” instead of “da.” Francesca da Rimini is a character from Dante’s Devine Comedy, which spawned D’Annunzio’s tragedy of 1902, Tchaikovsky’s symphonic fantasia of 1876, 30 operas (including Zandonai’s), etc.
The Girl in the Barracks
Oct. 14-20, 1901, Alcazar Theatre on O’Farrell Street in San Francisco
Mary Bankson played Claire in this comedy. The program doesn't reveal the leading lady; there were no familiar names. (Alcazar Stock Company)
A Golden Game; or, Spiders and Fly
Aug. 30-Sept. 11, 1880 at Standard Theatre in NYC
John Bankson had a minor part in this comedy. Its author, Joseph W. Shannon, was also its star, as was his custom. He’d also done Champagne and Oysters and Bouquets and Bombshells. In this one, Shannon plays Max Strauss, a prosperous German-American determined to save his daughter from phony noblemen seeking her money. Strauss often lapses into heavily accented German, much to the audience’s amusement. The New York Times critic loved the play but identified only four cast members: Shannon, George R. Edeson, Cora Tanner and Laura Le Claire. (George Parkes is mentioned in the review of the performance in Washington, D.C., below.) The only flaw, according to the Times, was that the play was too long. The dialogue was reworked slightly.
A Golden Game
Opened Sept. 20, 1880 at National Theatre in Washington, D.C.
John Bankson was doing this show in the nation’s capital when newspapers noted he’d been charged with forgery. Press notices don’t get much worse than that. Unfortunately, we never do learn his role in this play. The Washington Post’s review lauded George Edeson, who played wild young Bob Sampson, and reported that Miss Cora Tanner was well-received as Clara Strauss. The review reveals one more cast member: among “minor characters,” George Parkes was memorable as Baron Mobetzki.
Although clumsy, the Post’s review provides a good look at comedy of the era. The show begins with a prologue, set at the NYC firm of Strauss and Larkspur. Oliver Thorndyke, the bookkeeper, and Bob Sampson, a clerk, learn that one partner, John Larkspur, is about to abscond with the firm’s funds. Then “Thorndyke is bought over for $10,000, and Sampson is left for dead with a broken head.” But Strauss uses his wife’s fortune to save his credit. The play then jumps ahead 17 years to Nice, France. There, two phony noblemen, Baron Mobetzki and Chevalier Carniolla, are trying to win the hearts of Clara and her aunt, Miss Plummer. The aunt is awaiting the return of Strauss from Australia, where he and Sampson have amassed a fortune. Will Max want the two women to marry into supposed nobility, or will he prefer that Clara marry fiance Cyril Brinkworth? The two schemers hire a stranger (naturally, Max, who’s come back incognito) to impersonate Max, with instructions to encourage the women to marry the fortune-hunters. Max, of course, steers things right, and the miscreants are exposed. But just when Clara is about to marry Cyril and live happily ever after, it turns out that Cyril’s father is actually John Larkspur. And just when matters are about to degenerate again, it’s learned that Cyril had been adopted; that changes everything. Max lets Clara marry Cyril, partially forgives Larkspur, and everything ends happily. The show didn’t draw well in Washington.
His Other Son
Probably summer 1903, the Lagoon near Cincinnati
Mary Bankson played Mrs. Atwood.
Probably about 1906 at Columbia Theatre in Portland, Oregon
Mary Bankson played Mrs. Joe Vernon in Augustus Thomas’s popular old comedy from 1893. Set in Clay County, Missouri, it’s the story of good-hearted but rough Jim Rayburn, who educates the girl he loves (apparently a daughter), thereby widening the intellectual gap between them. After finishing college, she hardly wants to return home. One review in 1913 called it a “good, old-fashioned rural melodrama.” This had been one of Nat Goodwin’s big hits. (Columbia Stock Company)
The King’s Musketeers
July 10-22, 1899, McCullum’s Theatre at Cape Cottage near Portland, Maine
James Bankson played D’Artagnan opposite Lisle Leigh's Lady De Winter in this successful presentation by McCullum’s Stock Company. Lotta Linthicum was Anne of Austria. This show was to run one week but was held over. See The Three Musketeers below for a similar production in Montreal. There's much confusion about these titles and scripts. Alexandre Dumas' novel was entitled Les Trois Mousquetaires. English translations usually call it The Three Musketeers. A goldmine for dramatists, it started the theatrical world on a Musketeer craze in 1898. Rival versions abounded: The Three Musketeers, The Guardsmen, The Three Guardsmen, etc. Bartley McCullum, proprietor of the Summer Theatre, tinkered with someone else's version and called the result The King's Musketeers.
McCullum's Theatre was at Cape Elizabeth, Portland Harbor, Maine. It was a picturesque actors colony in summer, offering bathing, fishing and a fine beach. Mary kept a photo of Jimmie as D'Artagnan. It's marked "The Musketeers, June 99." The handwriting appears to be Jimmie’s. The photographer's embossing says Portland, Maine. A clipping does verify that the play was in July 1899, although it could have been shown earlier, too. Or perhaps Jimmie was rehearsing or his memory was vague.
A Lady of Quality
June 2-8, 1901, Morosco’s Burbank Theatre in Burbank, California
Mary Bankson played old Mistress Wimpole. The young heroine’s role was considered rather lurid. (Ralph E. Cummings & Co.)
A Lady of Quality
January 1902, Grand Opera House in San Francisco
Mary played Mistress Wimple. Minnie Seligman was the star of this play, which was at least several years old. (Grand Opera House Stock Company)
Lady Windermere’s Fan
April 21, 1901, Morosco’s Burbank Theatre in Burbank, California
Mary Bankson played the Duchess of Burwick in Oscar Wilde's famous comedy about a Victorian woman who erroneously suspects her husband of infidelity. The cast included Laura Nelson Hall, Edith Lemmert and William Elmer Booth. (Ralph E. Cummings & Co.)
Life in Jersey
Opened May 10, 1889, Red Bank Opera House, probably in Red Bank, New Jersey
This matrimonial farce had Mary Bankson as Martha Smith, and John Bankson as Henry Smith. The show was billed as a benefit for the Eureka Base Ball Club. (“Baseball” was always two words in those days.) Red Bank is just south of New York City. The ad is headlined “Skank,” apparently a catchword of the day. It’s not in my dictionary. People in Georgia use the word for small lizards.
Lights o’ London
Oct. 30, 1882 at Grand Opera House in Rochester, New York
The University of Rochester has a poster advertising this performance. The staff’s research into old local newspapers reveals that Edna “Birdie” Bankson was in Collier’s No. 1 Company for the performance. The poster, a color lithograph, shows a women and two men on the snowy and moonlit road from Chatham to London. Obviously, Mary and John Bankson would have been traveling with Birdie and appearing in the show, too.
The Lights o’ London
Probably about 1882, Opera House in Joliet, Illinois
Edna Bankson played the waif sleeping in the park. A newspaper noted: “. . . the acting of little Edna Bankson . . . was a phenomenal bit of work that has seldom been equaled in this city.”
The Lights o’ London
Probably about 1882, place unknown
Edna Bankson again played the waif. One review stated: “It was as pretty a bit of acting as we have seen in a long time.” A florid review: “Those who have witnessed . . . the wonderful character delineations portrayed by ‘La Petite Bankson’ as Tim . . . will be pleased to know something of the child personally, as the leading child actress of America. . . . Edna Bankson has won unstinted praise all over the country . . . Edna is a beautiful child. Her face . . . is a pure oval; eyes a shadowy gray. . . . The child owes much of her strength of character to the gentle mother . . . Edna is a devout little church-goer . . . The genius that sways an audience is a spark divine . . . that will crown her the hope of the American stage.” The Shook & Collier Company had one of the touring shows; Mary’s business card lists that company.
The Lights o’ London
Probably about 1882 in Music Hall in Lowell, Massachusetts
Edna Bankson drew praise as the waif, and Mary and John likely were in this historic show, too. Certainly, Mary had a card printed giving it as one of her credits. All four Banksons were in it one time or another. Mary’s scrapbook has several reviews; one apparently was for the Music Hall in Lowell; others say only “Music Hall” or “Opera House.” The operators of one of the Music Halls were named Keeshin and Butler.
The Lights o’ London
Probably about 1884 at unknown location
Jimmie Bankson played the waif, so Mary and John likely were in this production, too. Jimmie’s obit says he did it “with Ida Van Cortland, in repertoire.”
A Lively Legacy
April 19-21, 1900 at Empire Theatre in Albany, New York
James Bankson and wife Lotta were in this new comedy’s debut. The main gimmick was that a young couple’s wedding ceremony was interrupted again and again. Something always went wrong. The audience approved, especially liking the elaborate mechanical effects. The advertisement/playbill specified days of the week and month but not the year; nor does it reveal the producer or company. A universal calendar establishes the year. The Washington Post’s weekly theatrical review establishes that the play was in Albany that week.
A Lively Legacy
Opening April 23, 1900, Columbia Theatre in Washington, D.C.
James Bankson and Lotta did this farce, set in Florida. The Hanlon brothers produced it. A clipping in the scrapbook summarizes nicely: a practical joker swipes a sea captain’s will, substituting a bogus one that tricks the widow and daughter into absurd situations. The daughter, for example, must be married on the Atlantic Ocean in January. Hurricanes and railway wrecks complicate matters. (The date was obtained, not from the scrapbook, but from old issues of the Washington Post.)
A Lively Legacy
April 30, 1900, Ford’s Grand Opera House in Baltimore
James Bankson and Lotta Linthicum were in this farce (summarized above).
Probably 1906 or later, Empire Theatre in Portland, Oregon
Mary Bankson played Matty with the new Louise Brandt-Edgar Baume Company. The presentation was scheduled to run a week. Another of Clyde Fitch’s hits, it was first produced in 1901.
April 20-25, 1896 at Academy Theatre in Washington, D.C.
The scrapbook doesn’t mention this show, but the April 21, 1896 edition of the Washington Post tells about it and says that James Bankson was in it. The Post, obviously taking a swipe at New Yorkers, reported: “Edgar Selden . . . began a week’s engagement. The attraction is hardly up to the Academy’s standard, though the playbill boasts a 500-night run . . . in New York. How the metropolis survived it is not explained, though part of last night’s audience appeared to be amused. There is no especial plot to the play, and such characters as retired milkmen, society chappies and hod carriers are mixed up in a general confusion. A number of songs were introduced by Mr. Selden, which were well-received. The song ‘Baby,’ appropriated from The Lady Slavey, was a hit. In the cast were Frank Keenan, James Bankson, Ed Conroy, Miss Kittie Hill, Miss Wolf and a number of pretty chorus girls.” The farce dates as far back as 1889. It’s not in the Broadway data base; it likely was a loosely packaged musical review-type show. Comedians Barry and Fay wrote it.
Opened Sept. 3, 1881 at the Academy of Music in New York City
John Bankson was in this production but his role is unknown. The first dramatization of Jules Verne’s novel appeared in France, then another version played in England. An American producer bought the rights to both and announced in August 1881 that he planned a Broadway version. A French version opened Aug. 29, 1881 at Booth’s Theatre. D’Ennery, the French playwright, did that one. On Sept. 3, a rival version opened at the Academy of Music. An American, A.R. Cazauran, did that one. The Times reviewer found Englishman George Rignold a little rough as the hero. He rated the scenery as “about as good” as at Booth’s, but said the Academy’s ballet was much the better. He wondered, though: why have a ballet as the hero is struggling from Moscow to Irkutsk? It was somewhat “ridiculous.” In a wrapup of the season, the Times knocked both versions, calling d’Ennery “an untiring French hack.” The Times called his handiwork an “hysterical Gallic drama,” but did admit that the scenic effects were nice. Cazauran fared worse.
A Midnight Bell
Feb. 24-March 2, 1902, Grand Opera House in San Francisco
Mary Bankson played the Widow Gray. George Ober, “one of America’s foremost comedians,” starred as Deacon Lemuel Tidd, “the local poo-bah,” and got immense help from the Grand Opera House Stock Company’s huge cast. This was another of Charles H. Hoyt’s comedies.
A Model Husband
Date unknown, Peavy Grand Theatre in Sioux City, Iowa
John Bankson played the villain, Count Polkato, who, among other crimes, threatens to stab the hero of this complicated marital farce. It focuses on a husband who misbehaves while his wife is away. The star, John Dillon, was a well-known Midwestern actor in his sixties. (He was not the Hollywood actor John Webb Dillon, who was born in 1877 in England.) Also performing was Margaret Owen, said to be a granddaughter of utopian Robert Dale Owen, founder of New Harmony, Indiana.
Date unknown, Cordray Theatre in Portland, Oregon
Mary Bankson played Angela in this comedy that Ralph E. Cummngs & Co. presented. The Portland Oregonian mentioned it.
Opened Sept. 16, 1899 in Trenton, New Jersey
“J.W. Bankson” played the king in this dramatization of Dumas’ The Three Musketeers novel. This obviously was John’s type of role, not James’. (Besides, the latter was doing The Royal Box.). James O’Neill played D’Artagnan. The Los Angeles Times of Aug. 6, 1899 reported in a national theatrical roundup: “James O’Neill in The Musketeers will open his season at Trenton, New Jersey, Sept. 18. Mr. O’Neill’s support will include Maude Odell as Milodi [sic], Nora O’Brien as the queen, Edmund Breese as Richelieu, Edgar Forest as Rocheford, J.W. Bankson as the king, Gertrude Bennett as Constance, Jaques [sic] Kruger as Bonecieux, George Johnson as Buckingham, Mark Ellsworth as Aramis, Jefferson Lloyd as Athos and J.W. Thompson as Porthos.”
June 20-July 6, 1892 at McVicker’s Theatre in Chicago
While Chicago readied for the world’s fair, James Bankson played in what was billed as James A. Herne’s “new Irish comedy.” Herne had written himself a role, and the cast also included William Courtleigh and George Fawcett, stars of the day. (But Tony Farrell was the headliner then.) Although advertised as new, it had played successfully in the East before its scheduled week in Chicago. It did so well that it was held over. After closing at McVicker’s, the show played at the Haymarket, then at Chicago’s Empire, where it was still playing into November. Farrell was the star then, so perhaps the production had simply switched from McVicker’s. Incidentally, the Tribune reported earlier that the My Colleen company had been doing Herne’s Uncle Nat for the previous three weeks. That’s probably when Mary Bankson did Uncle Nat/Shore Acres.
My Friend From India
April 18, 1904, Grand Opera House, city unknown
The Glazier Stock Company presented this comedy starring Harry Glazier. Mary Bankson played Mrs. Arabella Beekman-Streete, and Hazel Harroun was Gertie Underholt.
Harry Glazier also was leading man in the production of The Royal Box that Mary Bankson was in. But again, the playbill revealed no city. It wasn’t NYC–at least it wasn’t advertised in the Times. ProQuest turned up many refs to Glazier, but not in 1903-04. He’d been leading man in Toledo in 1902. When he joined the Burbank company in 1906, the LA Times said he was popular back East.
My Old New Hampshire Home
Monday April 20, probably 1903 at Gotham Theatre at Broadway and Fulton streets in Brooklyn
Mary Bankson played Mrs. Hulda Slocomb in this four-act comedy. It likely was at the historic Gotham in Brooklyn, which has its own Broadway. The clipping doesn’t specifically say Brooklyn, but it identifies the intersection. Brooklyn’s Fulton Street does intersect Broadway. San Francisco has streets of those names but they’re parallel. A universal calendar establishes the probable year. The Times didn’t have ads at the appropriate time but Brooklyn theatres seem not to have advertised much in the Times. (Elite Stock Company)
1888, places unknown
Bartley Campbell (1843-88), a newspaperman in Louisville, Cincinnati and New Orleans at one time or another, wrote this melodrama about two friends in love with the same woman. A hit at the Union Square Theatre on Broadway in 1879, the play went on the road, scoring well even in London and Berlin. John Bankson was stage manager for one of Chapman and Sellers’ companies touring with this play. We have no idea where it played when John was with it. Campbell was making so much money he became his own producer. A couple of turkeys then put him on the skids, both financially and mentally. He died in an insane asylum while My Partner was still touring.
The Mysterious Mr. Bugle
May 26-June 1, 1901, Morosco’s Burbank Theatre in Burbank, California
The review in the scrapbook, from an unknown paper, was scathing; only Mary (as Luisa Tate) and one other actor drew praise. This was the only clip in this scrapbook that was unfavorable. One big reason was that leading lady Laura Nelson Hall was ill. The reviewer definitely disliked understudy Edith Lemmert. Ditto for Charles Giblyn, who played the valet Chickwell “with an idiotic smirk.” The Los Angeles Times’ review, available through ProQuest, was favorable. The Times’ man found Miss Lemmert “fairly successful.” Opening night drew a packed house that liked the performance. Madeline Lucette Ryley wrote this farce.
Probably early 1890s, place unknown
Mary Bankson played Mrs. Corney, and leading lady Rose Stahl was Nancy Sykes. The play dates to at least 1839. This clipping is on the same page as The Black Crook review. E.P. Sullivan, billed as “the romantic actor,” was the leading man. He later appeared with John Bankson in The Rev. Griffith Davenport.
Probably Sunday June 5, 1903, the Lagoon near Cincinnati.
Mary played Mrs. Dobbinson, according to the caption on a photo that’s preserved in the scrapbook (and that appears up front in this book). The billings are on another page in the scrapbook, but, otherwise, we know nothing about this show.
Jan. 24-Feb. 5, 1881 at Grand Opera House in New York City
John Bankson’s obit says he played Major Samprey in Lester Wallack’s production. Old newspapers, which provide the above dates, tell us that the show starred Wallack and that his company included H.M. Pitt, J.W. Shannon, Mr. W. Eyre, Miss Kate Bartlett and Miss Marion Booth. (Shannon had appeared with John a year earlier in A Golden Game.) Englishman Tom Robertson wrote Ours, which had opened Dec. 11, 1866 at Wallack’s. Robertson introduced what were called “modern and natural comedies.” These were “cup-and-saucer” plays, cozy affairs set in charming interiors; the dialogue was sophisticated and low-key. Wallack, a top star, lived 1820-88.
Date probably 1897, place unknown
Mary Bankson kept a photo, taken in Berlin, Wisconsin. It appears to be marked: "Clergyman in Our Strategist, Jimmy Bankson, picture made May12, 91.” But the photo shows an adult; Jimmie was about 13 judging by the date. At first glance, the photo would more likely be John. The problem likely is in reading the date. Common sense dictates it must have been 1897. After all, the handwriting obviously is Jimmie’s.
Pearl of Savoy
Probably in 1879 but details unknown
John and Mary Bankson likely performed in this play while touring the South in 1879. They were scheduled to do it in Atlanta, along with Fanchon and Charley Ross, but the company arrived in town a day late. (See material below about stop Atlanta.)
Private John Allen
Sometime in 1900, at the Grand in Augusta, Georgia
John Bankson toured the South and Midwest as Uncle Sie, often stealing the show with his blackface routine. Charles B. Hanford, best-known as a Shakespearean actor, headed this company and ventured into so-called romantic comedy in the title role. Despite the lightness of the early going, things get heavier when Hanford is about to become governor of Louisiana. Suddenly, scoundrels accuse him of having deserted the Confederate army years earlier. After that crisis, our hero does a good deed by declaring he’s the father of an illegitimate child, a lie that saves a lot of trouble.
The reviews weren’t totally favorable, especially because the real villain doesn’t get his comeuppance. Certainly the tour generated countless thousands of words in small-city newspapers. Reviewers liked the sets and women’s gowns, but, really, shouldn’t the author have punished the bad guy? Some reviews noted Hanford’s resemblance to William Jennings Bryan.
Private John Allen
Oct. 31, 1900 in Mobile
John Bankson toured with this play. The date is handwritten on the clipping in the scrapbook. The company probably next played New Orleans..
Private John Allen
Date unknown, Capitol Theatre in Little Rock, Arkansas
A clipping in the scrapbook tells of the performance and mentions that John Bankson had been stationed in Little Rock in 1863 with General Merrill’s staff.
Private John Allen
Dec. 26, 1900 at Crawford Theatre in Topeka
John Bankson apparently wrote the above date on the clipping as his tour continued into the Midwest. There was, or is, a Crawford Building in Topeka, but there’s no indication that it was ever a theatre.
Private John Allen
About Jan. 4-12, 1901 at Coates Opera House in Kansas City
The Kansas City Star ran a notice that this show was coming to town, then carried a second story saying the show would run a week. The Coates, the city’s best theatre, burned to the ground Jan. 31, 1901, a couple of weeks after John departed and one day before Sarah Bernhardt arrived. She played the Auditorium, instead.
Private John Allen
Date unknown, Hannibal, Missouri
John Bankson wrote "Hannibal" on one of the notices in the scrapbook.
Private John Allen
Date unknown, Sweeney & Coombs’ Theatre in unknown town
A long clipping in the scrapbook details the plot but gives no clue to time or city.
Private John Allen
Probably about Feb. 10, 1901, in Keokuk, Iowa
John received special recognition and applause at the unidentified theatre in his hometown. The local newspaper gave him a nice writeup the next day. An advance story said said the play would be performed on a Tuesday. That story said that John was “believed to be the only Keokuk product who is now a professional actor. The story mentioned his old play, The Deer Lick.
Private John Allen
Monday Feb. 11, 1901 at the Grand Opera House in Burlington/Muscatine, Iowa
John Bankson kept two clippings, one from the Burlington Hawkeye, the other from the Muscatine Tribune. He dated each Feb. 12, 1901. The Hawkeye said the play was at the “Grand” on the 11th. The Tribune said the play was at the “Grand Opera House” on the 11th. Obviously each town could have had a Grand Opera House, and John could have mis-dated one clip. My guess, though, is that one clip came from a paper that carried news from a nearby community. Muscatine is 32 miles north of Burlington, or about 35 miles upriver. Incidentally, the Hawkeye noted that John Bankson was “an Iowa man.”
Private John Allen
Thursday April 11, 1901, location unknown
The scrapbook has a program showing that the company presented the “Fifth Annual Benefit of the Stage Hands. The six members are listed by name. The orchestra played, among other selections, The Light Cavalry Overture.
Private John Allen
Other performances included: Washington, D.C.; Lynchburg, Va.; Richmond; Charleston; Savannah; Montgomery; Shreveport; Houston , etc.
Other stops in the long tour are summarized above. Some of the cities listed appear on the back of the playbill in the scrapbook. It’s not fully pasted. “Ashville” also is listed; perhaps that was Asheville, N.C. The scrapbook mentions Hancock’s, the Academy and Sweeney & Combs, but their cities are unknown.
One numbingly dull review of this play meanders on for 26 inches--well over one newspaper column–and closes thusly: “Other good people in the cast are Joseph [sic] W. Bankson, H.G. Careleton [sic], E.P. Sullivan, Rachael Blake, Thomas Hunter and several more who would deserve special mention did space allow.”
The Private Secretary
Opened Feb. 27, 1896, Grand Opera House in New Haven, Conn.
James Bankson played the male off-lead, the role of young spendthrift Douglas Cattermole. His acting and singing were well received in this revival of William Gillette’s comedy.
The Prodigal Daughter
About May 1900, Grand Opera House in New Orleans
“J.W. Bankson” and Lotta Linthicum appeared in this play, which probably starred William Farnum. Walter S. Baldwin was the producer. “J.W.” was Jimmie, who played evil Maurice Deepwater. This play had debuted on Broadway in 1893 at the then-new American Theatre.
The Prodigal Daughter
May 28-June 2, 1900, Her Majesty’s Theatre in Montreal
James Bankson (as Maurice Deepwater) and Lotta Linthicum appeared in this play starring William Farnum. Walter S. Baldwin was the producer. William Farnum’s brother Marshall played Miserable Jim. Anna MacGregor was Mme. Delmard. (Baldwin-Melville Stock Company)
May 5, 1901, Morosco’s Burbank Theatre in Burbank, California
Mary Bankson played Puddin-Head’s sister Patsy Wilson in a revival of this Broadway hit of 1895. (Ralph E. Cummings & Co.)
About May 1900, Grand Opera House in New Orleans
Audiences liked the Baldwin-Melville Stock Company’s presentation, which probably starred William Farnum. James Bankson played Petronius, and Lotta Linthicum was Lygia. This play and others, plus the 1951 film, were dramatizations of Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novel of 1896. Two different dramatizations of the novel opened on Broadway April 9, 1900. One version (by Stanislaus Strange) ran 96 performances, the other (by Jeannette L. Gilder) 36. It’s unclear what version played New Orleans, or Montreal (see below). Sienkiewicz’s novel was entitled Quo Vadis?--with a question mark--which is how the ‘51 film is usually listed. The old plays were sometimes called Quo-Vadis (with a hyphem). Quo Vadis is Latin for “Where are you going?” or “Whither goest thou?” and appears in the Gospel of John. Sienkiewicz lived 1846-1916.
June 18-23, 1900, Her Majesty’s Theatre in Montreal
James Bankson (as Petronius) and Lotta Linthicum (as Lygia) supported leading man William Farnum. A reviewer praised them all but complained about the shrillness of Miss MacGregor (Poppaea), suggesting she tone it down. The Baldwin-Melville Stock Company probably had three MacGregor sisters, Ella, Anna and Helen, if the playbills were accurate. It’s unclear which sister offended the reviewer.