Crystal Theatre Lineup Makes You Smile

What secrets does this small vaudeville playbill from the Crystal Theatre hold? A couple very interesting ones . . .  

It dates from the 1909-1910 season, making it a century old and a bargain for $6. While it’s not quite the Roaring Twenties, there was little difference in vaudeville between that decade and the next.

Let’s investigate the program. A jewelry store advertisement on the back (genuine diamond engagement rings anyone? Only $25-$150) reveals that the theater is in Milwaukee. An old city map from 1910 shows it on Second Street; further checking places it there from 1903 until 1929. It was demolished sometime shortly thereafter. The Crystal contained 1032 seats, so it’s boast of being “High Class Vaudeville” (also known as Big Time) rings true. Another clue to quality is the fact that the theater had its own orchestra. Few did. You’ll note the orchestra opens the program.

My research failed to turn up anything about most of the acts. The Four Magnanis, described as “Musical Barbers,” must be a Barbershop Quartet. I haven’t a clue as to the third act, nor did I find any information about the novelty sister act of Lester and Mildred. Lester doesn’t sound like a girl’s name, so maybe that’s the novelty? Nor could I discover anything about the short play that followed or about Carroll & Cooke, and I’ve already mentioned the Holmen Brothers (Swedish gymnasts) in a previous blog. So far, nothing interesting. But wait! They saved the best ‘til last. Crystalgraph: Animated Pictures.

Crystalgraph had me stumped for a while. 1910 is too early for cartoons as we know them, so what could they mean by “animated pictures?” I believe it was a film, “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces,” made by J. Stuart Blackton in 1906—the very first animated film ever. Honest! It has to be–it was literally the only one from those years. Mr. Blackton drew comical faces on a blackboard, took a picture, stopped the film, erased one face to draw another, and filmed the new face. Audiences were amazed.

Here—join the 1910 audience and have a look yourself, courtesy of the Library of Congress. The film is only 3 minutes long and I know it will make you smile.


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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Mary,

    I enjoyed your latest post. My great uncle was in Vaudeville with his wife but I can’t find any trace of him. His act was “Lew and Lulu” and they were out of Chicago. I do have each of their professional photos and I great one of them that must have been used to advertise their act. When Lewis Ernest Trudell dies a widower in California in November 1962, the obit said he died amongst his many newspaper clippings of his act. His stepdaughter lost them or threw them out. He played in Olympia Washington and was a member of the Western Vaudeville Managers Association. He was originally from Racine Wisconsin. If you ever come across play bills from places in those cities I’d love to know, even if his act isn’t in them. Keep writing those posts- I love reading them!

  2. Thank you, Marilyn. What a shame that your uncle’s stepdaughter threw out the old clippings! Not that they are valuable from a monetary standpoint, but they are certainly valuable from a historical standpoint. I’d love to see your professional photos of your uncle’s act. Can you scan them and e-mail them to me? My address is

  3. Found your blog by accident and find it fun, and thought-provoking too. Keep it up!

    It strikes me that the sister act you speak of (Lester and Mildred) is probably Mae West and her sister. Mae crossdressed early in her career & performed male for a gag with her sister in that city and elsewhere.

    –That also answers your question on why a “sister act” could have one performer with a male name in it. (Perhaps Mae & hers were not the only sister act to do it.)

    By the way, my grandfather Victor Vandervere was a musician (horns & woodwinds) in vaudeville–after having truly run away with the circus (Haverstock’s) as a youngster.

    Odd how many children–including Mae West, Mary Pickford & my grandfather–had professional careers and lived on the road in those days.

  4. PS. Mae’s sister was Mildred. (How many sister acts in which “brother” was called Lester and sister Mildred?) Later, Mildred West called herself Beverly Arden. Your $6 program just went up in value, significantly!

    • This is so interesting! I’m delighted to own a vaudeville program that features Mae West! It’s probably worth millions! Or at least double the $6 I paid. 🙂 Mary Mary Miley Theobald

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