History of Santa Clara County
Early Days of the Drama in San Jose--The First Theater--Stark's Disgust--Other Theaters and Interesting Reminiscences of Actors, Professional and Amateur--A Few of the Old-Time Minstrels.
Those who are left of the pioneers of San Jose, the sturdy, adventurous men and women who planted the stakes for the advanced civilization of today, look back with pride and pleasure to the early days of the drama in San Jose. They recall the professional work of actors and actresses of world-wide fame, whose performances, if given nowadays would awaken the highest interest, and they linger long and lovingly over favorite names and plays, peerless productions and delightful dramatic incidents. Those were the days of stock companies, in which the actor to win a high place in the profession had to study and strive years upon years and to appear in such a round of characters as to establish a perfect claim to dramatic versatility and merit. In the mimic world of that day lived and flourished Junius Brutus Booth, Edwin Forrest, Charlotte Cushman, Edwin Booth, Julia Dean Hayne, E. L. Davenport, James E. Murdock and James Stark.
To James Stark is due the credit of establishing the first theater in San Jose. The year was 1859 and he was then in the height of his fame, having but recently returned, with his wife, from a highly successful engagement in Australia. Of all the tragedians who came after him, but one bore any resemblance to him in style, appearance and ability and that one was John McCullough. It must in justice be said, however, that Stark had the finer intelligence, and that in the parts calling for deep, dramatic insight and the interpretation of the subtler shades of human emotion, he excelled the genial McCullough, whose forte was not exactly in the line of the purely intellectual, but in the delineation of the heroic and the muscular. Endowed with a splendid physique, an imposing carriage, a deep, resonant, finely modulated voice and true conception of dramatic requirements, added to a rare, personal magnetism, Stark compelled attention and won the most enthusiastic plaudits for his performances. In the summer of 1859 he purchased a lot on First Street, opposite the site of the present Victory Theater and upon it erected San Jose's first place of dramatic amusement. The building, which was of wood, had an excellent stage and all the appliances of the regulation theaters of those days. The grand opening took place on the tenth of October and the bill was Richelieu with Stark as the "Cardinal Duke" and Mrs. Stark as "Julie de Mortimar." The price of admission to all the plays was one dollar, both for dress circle and parquet. Each program printed by the late C. L. Yates, contained the announcement, "Children in arms not admitted."
Mrs. Stark was a star, as well as her husband. Her first husband was J. H. Kirby, the tragedian, who died in San Francisco after playing an engagement at Maguire's Opera House. His great specialty was Richard III, and so powerful was his acting in the death scene that it became the delight of the gallery and perpetuated the well-known request, "Wake me up when Kirby dies."
Belle Devine, the ingenue of Stark's company was a great favorite and during her stay in San Jose she was the idol of the male younger set. After her season at Stark's Theater she married George Pauncefote, an English actor, who in 1866 engineered a remarkable polyglot entertainment at the American Theater in San Francisco. The play was Othello. The title role was enacted by Pauncefote in English, "Iago" was given in French, "Cassio" in Danish and "Roderigo" in Spanish. The audience was large but the play only ran one night. Afterward Pauncefote went to China and never returned.
Two very popular members of Stark's company were Harry Brown, who did the juveniles and walking gents; and Nellie Brown, his wife, who was the soubrette. Brown afterward joined the stock company at Maguire's Opera House, San Francisco, and some years after the death of his wife married Mrs. Harry Jackson, an English actress of high reputation, whose "Lady Macbeth" was considered one of the finest assumptions in the history of the American stage.
In building the theater Stark was financially assisted by the late James R. Lowe, Sr. The obligation was satisfied out of the proceeds of the first five weeks' performances. During these five weeks, though San Jose then had less than 5,000 population, the houses were large and the interest intense. The same patrons would attend the theater night after night, so strong and well balanced was the company, so meritorious the plays and so attractive the personality of Stark and his talented wife. The leading man of the combination was Walter Bray, who, when his engagement ended, forsook the sock and buskin to bask in the smiles of Momus. A few years later he was known as one of the brightest and most successful Ethiopean comedians on the Coast. For a time he was associated with Joe Murphy, then more appreciated as a bone player than a negro minstrel.
At the conclusion of the five weeks' season, Stark took his company to Sacramento where the San Jose success was repeated. Then came what old San Franciscans will always remember--the phenomenal engagement at Maguire's Opera House in which Stark appearing in his round of Shakespearean characters, was hailed as one of the few great interpreters of "Hamlet, "Othello," "Macbeth," "Brutus," "Richard III" and "King Lear."
Fresh from his metropolitan triumphs Stark returned to San Jose and for three weeks crowded the benches of the theater, easily repeating the success of his opening season. Now it was that he determined to make the Garden City his permanent place of residence, for from the substantial patronage bestowed upon him in the past he had acquired the faith to believe that the future was filled with golden promises. He purchased the property bounded by Second, Julian and Fourth Streets and the line of the proposed Western Pacific railway and upon it erected a handsome dwelling. Subsequently he went to Virginia City, Nev., to open a theater there and made considerable money. Seats for the first night sold as high as $500 each and the late Senator William Sharon was credited with haying paid $500 a night for a set of seats for his friends for the entire engagement.
Again returning to San Jose Stark began his last series of performances in the theater upon which he had builded so many, glowing hopes. He had advertised a three weeks' season, but owing to the scarcity of money which prevailed at that time, the attendance diminished so that the three weeks were shortened to two. On the night of the closing performance there was a "beggarly array of empty benches." Then the distinguished tragedian came forth in his wrath and made a speech to the audience in which he reproached the citizens of San Jose for their lack of appreciation of his efforts, closing with the announcement that he should never appear in that theater or in San Jose again. He was as good as his word. He sold his theater property to Judge William T. Wallace and his fine residence property to Hon. S. O. Houghton.
Shortly before this there had been differences between Stark and his wife, which after a time culminated in a divorce. Mrs. Stark remained single for a few years and then married Dr. Gray, of New York, who possessed a handsome fortune which became hers when he died. Her last husband was Charles R. Thorne, Sr., a veteran actor and manager and father of Charles R. Thorne, Jr., and Edwin Thorne, the actors.
Misfortune overtook Stark in his later years. For a time he played with Edwin Booth, but after a stroke of paralysis, was forced to abandon the stage. His fortune was exhausted in endeavoring to obtain relief and when in dire pecuniary extremity he was remembered by his wife of former days, who sent him a large sum of money. He died in the East about forty years ago. Mrs. Thorne passed away in San Francisco in 1898.
Samuel W. Piercy, who died of small-pox in Boston in 1882, after having reached the top of his profession as an actor, made his first appearance on any stage in Stark's Theater in 1865. The theater was also the scene of the debut of John W. Dunne, who became a popular actor and manager and is now a resident of New York City.
After Stark's departure the theater, with name changed to the San Jose Theater, was turned over to traveling companies whose engagements were few and far between. The last performances given within its walls were on the 15th and 16th of March, 1867, by Robert Fulford's San Francisco Dramatic Company. The plays were Michael Erle, Don Caesar de Bazan and The Lady of Lyons. In Michael Erle the principal characters were taken by Fulford, Harry Colton, W. M. Martial, E. T. Sawyer, Miss Teresa Berrie and Belle De Nure. In April, 1867, the theater was converted into a carriage factory and leased to Hunt & Add. Alterations for other classes of business were made as the years rolled on. The building still stands, but there is nothing in its appearance to convey the faintest suggestion that it once covered the appurtenances of a theater.
From 1867 to 1870 San Jose theater-goers had to content themselves with the meager and unsatisfactory accommodations of Armory Hall on Santa Clara Street, near Third. Robert Fulford did play "Hamlet" there on an improvised stage with a few rickety wings constituting the entire set of scenery and the ghost arrayed in a horse blanket besprinkled with small squares of tin to represent a coat of mail. When "Hamlet," stepped on the end of a floor board which had not been nailed down, causing the other end to strike the "King of Denmark" and knock him against the wing, there was a quick collapse of the whole stage furniture and an inglorious termination of the performance.
In 1870 Gustav Brohaska, the proprietor of Armory Hall, converted the place into a first-class theater and named it the San Jose Opera House. The opening night was August 18, and London Assurance was given in superb style by the John T. Raymond Dramatic Company. Raymond, than whom a neater low comedian never tickled the risibilities of an American audience, was "Mark Meddle" and his wife, handsome and popular Marie Gordon, was "Lady Gay Spanker." Then followed a season of prosperity, of fine actors and good plays. At this house appeared such popular favorites as John McCullough, Barton Hill, James O'Neill, Robson & Crane, "Billy" Florence, Thomas W. Keene, Lawrence Barrett, James Carden, James A. Herne, Harry Courtaine, Joseph Proctor, Joe Murphy, Sue Robinson, Jennie and Alicia Mandeville, Fay Templeton, Ellie Wilton, Mrs. Sophie Edwin, Mrs. Judah, Annie Louise Cary, Clara Louise Kellogg and Caroline Richings. Proctor's connection lasted several years as he was then man aging a circuit of theaters. He was the creator of that wonderful character in melodrama, "The Jibbenainosay," for many years the piece de resistance of the Bowery.
H. A. De Lacy was the lessee of the theater in 1874 and one of his first attractions was Fay Templeton, the charming vocalist and child actress. James A. Herne, whose "Shore Acres," netted him a fortune, was a member of the company. One of his great parts was "Rip Van Winkle," declared by David Belasco to be superior to the "Rip" of Joseph Jefferson.
It was at this theater that Eleanor Calhoun, afterward a popular London actress and at present writing the wife of Prince Lazarovich of Serbia, made her first appearance on any stage in E. T. Sawyer's military drama, "Loyal Hearts." The cast was a local one, John T. Malone and H. A. De Lacy sustaining the leading male roles. Malone, who was deputy district attorney at the time, afterwards adopted the stage as a profession, became an eastern star and died while officiating as secretary of the Players' Club, founded by Edwin Booth, in New York City.
On the morning of July 5, 1881, the Opera House was burned to the ground. But San Jose was not left without a place of amusement, for the California Theater on Second Street near San Fernando, had been running for several years.
The California Theater was erected by Hayes & Downer in 1878-79 and was formally opened on May 12th, 1879, by a company of amateurs. The play was "Evadne" and the performers were J. J. Owen, editor of the Mercury; J. H. Campbell, for many years dean of the law department of the Santa Clara University; Charles F. Macy, who died in Chelsea, Mass., in 1898; Prof. J. G. Kennedy, city school superintendent, now with the dead; Charles M. Shortridge, lawyer, newspaper publisher and state senator, who passed away in 1919, and Miss Mattie Patton, who afterward became the wife of J. J. Owen. She died a few years ago. For the occasion a poem written by the late S. W. De Lacy, then proprietor of the Times, was appropriately recited by Mrs. Ida Benfey, the elocutionist.
During the few years of its existence, the California was managed most of the time by the late Chas. J. Martin, who served as mayor of the city for three terms. He made many notable engagements. It was at this house that the famous production of "The Rivals," with Joseph Jefferson and Mrs. John Drew in the cast, was given. Edwin Booth, W. E. Sheridan, Lawrence Barrett, Thomas W. Keene, Louis James, Frederic Warde, W. H. Crane, Stuart Robson, John E. Owens, E. S. Willard, Joseph G. Grismer, Nat Goodwin, Louise Davenport, Minnie Maddern (who later became Mrs. Fiske), Ada Cavendish and others appeared.
Like the Opera House the California Theater went up in smoke on the night of July 2, 1892. In the same fire the buildings on the block half way to Santa Clara, together with the South Methodist Church and other buildings across the street were burned.
Two months after the destruction of the California Theater the Auditorium was doing business under the management of Walter Morosco, of the San Francisco Grand Opera House. The building had formerly been known as Horticultural Hall, but was without a proper stage or theatrical appointments. Some of these necessities were furnished when Morosco took charge, others by Chas. P. Hall when he came in as Morosco's successor.
Other lessees of the Auditorium with its later name, the Garden City Theater, were Webster & Ross, Frank Bacon and a vaudeville combination. During its few years of existence there appeared such attractions as Thomas W. Keene, Ward and James, Robert Downing, John W. Dunne and Mary Marble, Richard Mansfield, Nat Goodwin, Mme. Modjeska, James A. Herne; De Wolf Hopper, John Drew, Henry Miller, The Bostonians, Herbert Kelsey, Robert Mantell, Maxine Elliott, Mrs. Leslie Carter and Fannie Davenport. Fire destroyed the building in 1918.
The Victory Theater, erected by Senator James D. Phelan, was opened to the public on the evening of February 2, 1899. An audience that filled every seat applauded to the echo the fine acting of the performers in "The School for Scandal," the play selected for the occasion. Louis James, Frederick Warde, Harry Langdon and Kathryn Kidder had the principal parts, and the performance as a whole was a clean-cut exhibition of high dramatic art. Charles P. Hall was the first lessee. He was succeeded by F. A. Giesea, who was in charge until 1918 when M. B. Haas came in as lessee.
During the past twenty-two years the Victory has presented the cream of the eastern dramatic attractions booked for the Pacific Coast. Among them may be named Maude Adams, Billie Burke, Mrs. Leslie Carter, Margaret Anglin, E. A. Sothern, William Faversham, Otis Skinner, Forbes Robertson, J. E. Kellerd, Robert Mantell, David Warfield, Sarah Bernhardt, Anna Held, Geo. M. Cohan, Walker Whiteside, Ethel Barrymore, Hilda Spong, Henry Miller, Julia Marlowe, Louis James, W. H. Crane, Nat Goodwin, Blanch Walsh, Blanche Bates, Annie Russell, W. H. Thompson and several opera companies.
The Hippodrome, located on South First Street, near the corner of San Carlos, was erected by the Southern Development Company in 1919 and was leased to Marcus Loew, a circuit manager. He is represented in San Jose by Ackerman & Harris; B. B. Levin is the local manager. The theater has been used mainly for vaudeville and motion pictures.
The T. & D. Theater, a motion picture house, on South First Street, near San Antonio, was built by the Southern Development Company in 1913. The lessees are Turner & Dahnken and the local manager, A. M. Miller.
The Lyric Theater, a small amusement house for motion pictures, located on North Second Street, opposite the Evening News office, has as lessee Geo. S. Jones. Louis Lieber is the owner of the building.
The Jose Theater on North Second Street, between Santa Clara and San Fernando Streets, was built in 1904 by David Jacks, of Monterey County. It was first leased by Nolan & Blum. After a few years Nolan retired and Blum was the lessee until his death in 1920. James Beatty is now in charge.
The Liberty (motion picture) Theater is located on Market Street, between San Fernando and Post, was built in 1914 by James Beatty, the present proprietor.
The first amateur dramatic company in San Jose was organized in the fall of 1865 with the following members: Charles De Lacy, Samuel W. Piercy, J. A. Leach, Charles A. Cleal, Thomas L. Cleal, John E. Pillot, Edgar M. Foster, J. F. McMahon, W. D. J. Hambly, W. W. Thomas and E. T. Sawyer, Misses Mary Yoritz, Jessie Gavitt, Ellen and Clara Skinner. In 1866, A. P. Murgotten, Amherst J. Hoyt, John W. Dunne, E. M. Skinner, J. W. Johnson and A. L. Hart joined the company, several of the 1865 members having removed from the city. In the years up to the early '80s, the members included H. A. De Lacy, F. E. York, A. S. York, Charles M. Shortridge, Frank Bacon, A. W. White, Eugene Rosenthal, Chas. W. Williams, S. W. De Lacy, W. H. Sarles, W. G. Lorigan, H. C. Hansbrough, John T. Malone, Beatrice Lawrey, Mary Westphal, Louis Lieber, Geo. W. Alexander, Chas. E. Howes, Geo. C. Knapp, George Comstock, James Carson, Henry Beach, Jennie Weidman, Eleanor Calhoun, Virginia Calhoun, Holton Webb, A. Majors Jr., W. G. Miller, Harry Botsford, Guy Salisbury, Chas. W. Oliver, Clyde Frost, F. G. Hartman and others whose names the historian does not recall. Many of the members afterwards achieved eminence on the professional stage. Sam W. Piercy was one of the foremost actors in America when death called him in 1882. He came to California in the early '50s and the family home for many years was on Julian Street near Sixth. He was a student at the San Jose Institute when he joined the dramatic club. In the fall of 1866 he left San Jose to enter upon the study of law in San Francisco. In 1870 he was invited to read the Declaration of Independence at the Fourth of July celebration. He acquitted himself so well that Col. W. H. L. Barnes, a personal friend, advised him to give up law for acting. The advice was followed and in November of that year he made his debut on the professional stage as "Iago" to the "Othello" of John McCullough. It was a complete success and McCullough said he had never witnessed a more satisfactory first appearance. After a tour of the state with Frank Wilton's barn-storming company, he played with Joe Murphy and other stars for a time and then he left for the East. For three years he developed his art by playing with such stars as Clara Morris, John McCullough and Charlotte Thompson. In 1876 he sailed for London to play the leading part in The Virginians. The press notices were so laudatory and his reputation was so enhanced that on his return to New York he was at once engaged as leading man at the Grand Opera House. The next year he joined Edwin Booth's company and was with that great actor until the manager of Niblo's Garden offered him the position of stock star in the company playing regularly at that popular place of amusement. His best parts during the engagement were "Lagadere" in "The Duke's Motto," "Badger" in "The Streets of New York" and "Claude Melnotte" in the "Lady of Lyons." There followed an offer from San Francisco to come and play the leading part in "Diplomacy." The offer was accepted and a prosperous season was the result.
In 1878 Piercy opened the San Jose Opera House, as enlarged and improved, presenting "Diplomacy," "Craiga Dhiol" and "Othello." In the last named play he appeared as "Iago" to the "Othello" of John T. Malone, a rising San Jose actor. In 1881 he rejoined Edwin Booth's company and the engagement was still on when he was stricken with small pox and died. Just before his illness J. H. Haverly, the well-known manager, was negotiating for his appearance as a star. In 1879 Piercy married the daughter of William Dunphy, the cattle king. She died in Philadelphia in 1881, leaving one daughter, who is now a resident of San Francisco.
Eleanor Calhoun was a Normal School student in San Jose when she resolved to make the stage her profession. This was in the late 70s. She was pretty and graceful, had a charming manner and an unconquerable ambition to succeed in life. Her father, a nephew of John C. Calhoun, the South Carolina orator and statesman, was a justice of the peace in Fresno County and her mother had removed to San Jose for the purpose of giving her daughters an education in the educational center of the state. Nellie (she did not call herself Eleanor until after her departure from California) displayed remarkable dramatic talent at the Normal School and after leaving there gave elocutionary recitals in a tour of the coast counties. After this experience she entered the dramatic school of Mrs. Julia Melville Snyder, mother of Emilie Melville, the popular actress and vocalist of the '70s and '80s. It was while she was studying for the stage that she was induced to come to San Jose and play the leading female role in E. T. Sawyer's military play, "Loyal Hearts." She gladly consented and made her first appearance on any stage at the San Jose Opera House in February, 1880. Hugh A. De Lacy, John T. Malone, Louis Lieber, the sign painter, and Miss Mary Westphal (now Mrs. Judge Richards) were in the cast. At the conclusion of the week's engagement she was tendered a benefit, as her exceptionally fine acting had made her a public favorite. The house was packed to the doors and the young actress in the glow of her success returned to San Francisco and arranged to appear at the California Theater, then under the management of John McCullough. She made her debut on the professional stage as "Juliet" to the "Romeo" of John T. Malone. The critics praised her acting and the engagement was continued until she had exhausted her small repertoire. Soon after the engagement she left for the East and for a year played leading parts in a stock company which gave performances in middle eastern and southern cities. London next called her and it was not long before she had worked herself into a leading position in one of the high class theaters. Under the auspices of Lady Archibald Campbell she played "Rosalind" in "As You Like It" in an al fresco production, to the warm approbation of the large audience assembled. She was next heard of in Paris, where she studied French, attaining such a mastery over the language as to give her confidence to appear before the Paris footlights in a French play with the great Coquelin as leading support. About a dozen years ago she was married to Prince Lazarovich, a claimant to the throne of Serbia. After her marriage she made several visits to San Jose. A few years ago her London and Paris reminiscences were published in The Century. Written in a chatty style and directed mainly to a recital of her social triumphs and of meetings with the notables of the day, including Alfred Tennyson and James Russell Lowell, they made interesting reading. One of her sisters (Jessica) is married and lives in Los Angeles. Another sister, Virginia, was a teacher in the Hester school on the Alameda, until she decided to follow in the footsteps of Eleanor and become an actress. Her first appearance on any stage was, like her sister's, in "Loyal Hearts." The performance was given at the California theater on Second Street in 1882. In the cast were Frank Bacon, Jennie Weidman (afterward Mrs. Bacon), Louis Lieber, Geo. W. Alexander and other local lights.
John W. Dunne joined the San Jose Amateur Club in 1866. He was a boy of sixteen when he made his first apparance [sic] on the stage. In preparing for the production of "The Golden Farmer," no woman could be found willing enough to play the part of "Elizabeth," the heroine, so Dunne was called in to fill the breach. He was a handsome fellow in those days, beardless, peachy-cheeked and with a voice that was soft, light and clear-almost like a woman's. When on bended knees, with clasped hands and streaming eyes he besought heaven to "save me from a fate far worse than death," the audience shivered and appealing eyes were cast on the villain, who seemed to hold the fate of Elizabeth in his hands. And that villain, who stood over the shrinking heroine, with his six feet of stature, blood-shot eyes, gleaming teeth and hands red with gore, was none other than that mild-mannered, upright, progressive citizen, Alex. P. Murgotten. Dunne's success as an amateur decided his destiny. He became a real actor. After playing all sorts of parts, from utility to leading business, he departed for Salt Lake City to accept a position in the Mormon Theater. There he played for a year or more and then set out on a territorial tour, acting as leading support to Mrs. Annie Adams, the mother of Maude Adams, America's foremost actress. Next he associated himself with the elfin star, Patti Rosa, soon married her, became her manager and until the death of his talented wife played in Hoyt's comedies from one end of the country to the other. He was next heard of as the husband of Mary Marble, a worthy successor to Patti Rosa, and engaged in a similar line of work. They toured the country until vaudeville became the rage, then went into pocket-edition drama and became public favorites. He was a San Jose visitor in 1919.
Frank Bacon is (1922) one of the most talented and popular of the great American actors. He is a former San Josean and the city was the scene of his first stage experiences. He was in his early twenties when he arrived in San Jose. He tried photography, experimented with newspaper work and drifted into other lines of work, but none of them succeeded in holding his interest. His ambition in those early days was to become another John McCullough, Edwin Booth or Lawrence Barrett. He turned up his nose at comedy and so when "Loyal Hearts" was produced at the California Theater he was rejoiced when he was asked to play the part of the Union officer. The press notices were commendatory. The allusion to his magnificent voice made him more than ever determined to become a tragedian. Miss Jennie Weidman, a very talented amateur actress, was one of the performers. She and Frank became great friends and soon friendship resolved itself into love. They were married soon after the performance at the California.
It was after Frank left San Jose to try his luck on the professional stage that he stumbled upon his proper line of work. The portrayal of a "rube" character on the Alcazar stage in San Francisco, gave the critics a chance to say all manner of nice words. Frank took notice and very soon decided to drop "straight" business for "rube" comedy. He had everything in his favor. He was a slow speaker, had a dry way of saying things, and his deep, flexible voice could at will be used to evoke either tears or laughter. The years went by, his art ripened, the coarse, low comedy "rube" was fashioned into the human countryman and culmination came in the creation of "Lightnin' Bill," a lovable shiftless old coot, in many respects a latter-day "Rip Van Winkle." The play called "Lightnin'" has had a run of three years on Broadway, New York, is now (1922) enjoying a phenomenal run in Chicago, and Frank Bacon has been acclaimed as one of the finest character actors of the century. He has a charming orchard home near Mountain View, in Santa Clara County, and every year his vacations are spent there.
John T. Malone, another San Josean, who made good as a professional actor, was a graduate of Santa Clara College. He studied law, was admitted to the bar and when the stage bee buzzed in his ears he was deputy district attorney of Santa Clara County. After appearances on the amateur stage he went to San Francisco, supported Eleanor Calhoun, during her engagement in that city and afterward went east to become a member of Edwin Booth's company. After Booth's death he took out a company of his own, playing in legitimate drama as long as there was any demand for it and then gave up the stage to accept the position of secretary of the Players' Club, New York. He died in New York several years ago.
The late Charles W. Williams, former proprietor of the Evening News, would have won fame and fortune on the stage if he had gone from amateur into professional work. He was a born comedian and the most talented and popular laugh-maker who ever appeared before the footlights in San Jose. He came to California when a mere boy and for some years was a clerk in Cassius Morton's music store on First Street. He was a fine piano player and his services in the store were very valuable. From the store he graduated into newspaper work, starting first as business manager of Charles M. Shortridge's Times and winding up as the proprietor and editor of the Evening News. It was after he became a newspaper publisher that he dallied with stage work. His first appearance was a negro boy in "The Octoroon." He made a hit in the part and followed up his success by joining Charles R. Bacon's New York and San Francisco Minstrels, organized for performance in San Jose only. He was one of the end men and convulsed the audience by his inimitable dialect specialties. In 1881 he became the manager of the California Theater and in April, 1882, was the recipient of a complimentary benefit. His songs brought many encores. In the same year he played an Irish comedy part in "Loyal Hearts." The press notices spoke of him as one of the great Irish comedians on the American stage. Shortly after this appearance Williams resolved to forsake straight theatricals for operetta and musical comedy. He had a fetching singing voice and under his management were produced "The Mikado," "Olivette," "The Mascot," "Patience," and the popular operettas. His "Ko-Ko" in "The Mikado" was very artistic and mirth-provoking and so well pleased with the performance was a San Francisco manager that he induced Williams to repeat it at the Tivoli. Williams consented to go, made a success of the trip, but could not be induced to give up newspaper for stage work. San Jose suited him and he was an actor for the fun of the thing. His last appearance as manager and performer was about a year before his death, which occurred in 1917.
Felix G. (better known as Phil) Hartman was one of the early Sdn Jose amateurs. He played small parts, sometimes acted as stage manager but more often as property man and scene shifter. He was easily excited and in his excitement would frequently lose his head and make the most ridiculous blunders. At an entertainment given in Saratoga, Hugh A. De Lacy sang "Old Black Joe" in character. To give a touch of realism to the song and the acting it was arranged that "Joe" should die and that the dying should be done to slow music and red fire. Phil Hartman was the scene shifter and property man, and in the hurry of getting his props together he forgot to provide himself with the fire powder and its accessories. "Never mind, Hughie," he said to De Lacy, "I can fake it so the audience won't know the difference. I'll go out, get some fire crackers, take out the powder and light it." De Lacy had his doubts about the substitution, for he knew Phil's optimism, displayed on other occasions, had not always been vindicated. However, there was nothing to do but take chances. Phil secured the powder, placed it in a tin plate and stood ready in the wings to do the lighting. Soon the time came for him to act and as De Lacy sang the last line of the last verse, Phil lighted his first match. The powder wouldn't burn. Then another match was tried. Same result. De Lacy kept on singing, but with one eye on Phil, who struck match after match on the seat of his trousers, the perspiration meanwhile running in streams down his face. De Lacy, hoping against hope, sang the last verse over again, but no fire was forthcoming. At last Phil gave it up in despair. Turning an agonized face on De Lacy, he said in a voice that could be heard all over the hall, "Go on and die, Hughie, for I can't make the darned fire burn." Hughie died in a hurry, for his fingers were itching to get at Phil's throat.
Still later Phil gave a magician's show at the San Jose Opera House. As scene shifter and handy man for the "Fakir of Vishnu" he had learned many of the tricks of that old time juggler and illusionist. Phil called himself the "Fakir of Ooloo" and what he expected to be his best act was one of levitation--the suspending in mid-air of a woman subject. There were steel rods concealed under the clothing of the subject and an upright rod support was also hidden from view. The subject was a heavy woman, while Phil was a lightweight. When all was ready Phil made his explanatory talk and then began to lift the woman to a horizontal position in the air. Once in that position two rods would snap into place and the suspension would be an accomplished fact. But Phil, try as he would, could not raise his subject to the horizontal line. As he tugged and perspired the machinery squeaked and the audience roared. He made several attempts, letting down his burden between times in order that he might recover his breath, and finally gave up in disgust and sat upon the floor. The performance was as good as a circus and the spectators, though the advertised program had not been carried out, felt that they had received their money's worth and applauded accordingly.
John T. Raymond was California's star comedian. He made several professional trips to San Jose and always played to full houses. His most popular role was of "Col. Mulberry Sellers," taken from Mark Twain's Gilded Age. Mark did not like Raymond's interpretation of the character, claiming that it was a gross exaggeration, almost a burlesque, not at all like the "Sellers" his brain had conceived. But Raymond's audiences liked the interpretation and money always flowed in at the box office whenever Raymond's "Sellers" was the attraction.
Raymond was very fond of practical jokes and he played them so often that his fellow actors grew to be afraid of him, for they could not guess what was hatching in that queer brain of his. Such tricks as finding their shoes nailed to the floor when they were in a hurry to make ready for a performance, or wigs grotesquely queered, were always to be expected. But there were unexpected variations. On one occasion when a lurid melodrama was on the boards, there was a scene in which the victims of the villain appeared before him. The villain was John McCullough, and Raymond, James A. Herne, Harry Edwards and Julia Corcoran, were the victims. All except Raymond were in line on the platform. He had painted his nose a fiery red and with a most serious expression pointed both hands at McCullough. The audience roared, then hissed and the curtain was rung down.
When Raymond gave "Col. Sellers" in San Jose the actors who had suffered from his jokes turned the tables on him. The most trying part of his performance was the eating of raw turnips, for he loathed vegetables and never ate them except upon compulsion. The members of the company knew this and one night they doctored the turnips. Raymond ate them, made a wry face but said nothing. The next night he called for apples, but when it came time for the repast he found he was compelled to eat raw onions covered with apple skins.
At another engagement Raymond was playing "Polydor" to the "Ingomar" of John McCullough. In the striking scene where "Ingomar" orders the barbarians to seize "Polydor," Raymond came around to the front of the stage and instead of dropping in front of "Ingomar" and clasping his hands in piteous entreaty, dropped, crawled between McCullough's legs, dived back and circled round "Ingomar," his teeth chattering in terror. McCullough laughed, the audience took the cue and the curtain went down amid a general roar of laughter.
Some of the old-time minstrels lived in San Jose. One of them, Johnny Tuers, adopted the stage as a profession, after he left San Jose. Charley Rhoades, Fred Sprung and Ned Buckley came to San Jose to reside after they had given up active work as entertainers. Tuers was an end man and flat foot dancer. He was the originator of this style of dancing and the champion of the Coast. He played in all the cities and towns from Los Angeles to Salt Lake but most of his time was spent in San Francisco. In the late '60s he quarreled with a man on Washington Street in that city. Pistols were drawn and an innocent bystander, James Dowling, a theatrical manager, stopped Tuers' bullet and ceased to live. Tuers was tried for murder and acquitted. "Billy" Tuers, Johnny's brother, stayed in San Jose. He was never on the professional stage, but appeared many times as an amateur, acting both as end man and dancer. In middle life he was stricken with blindness and died in Santa Cruz several years ago.
Charley Rhoades was the pioneer banjo player of the state. Not long after the discovery of gold his banjo was heard on the streets of San Francisco and in the northern and eastern mining camps. In the early '60s he joined a minstrel company and as end man and banjo player was before the public until his removal to San Jose in 1874. He was the reputed author of that popular old song, "The Days of '49," and up to his retirement it was the favorite song of his repertory. The style of the song is shown in the following verse:
There was Kentuck Bill, one of the boys,
Who was always in for a game,
No matter whether he lost or won
To him 'twas all the same.
He'd ante up, he'd pass the buck,
He'd go a hatfull blind,
In a game with death Bill lost his breath
In the days of '49.
Another verse refers to Reuben Raines, a Sacramentan, for whom the late Edward Johnson, a pioneer millhand of San Jose, sometimes acted as assistant. Johnson used to boast of his connection with the Raines' outfit and would recite with gusto the following verse:
There was another chap from New Orleans,
Big Reuben was his name.
On the plaza there, in a sardine box,
He opened a faro game.
He dealt so fair that a millionaire
He became in course of time,
Till death stepped in and called the turn
In the days of '49.
Rhoades was a consumptive and after a few years' residence in San Jose removed to Santa Clara, where he died about forty years ago.
Fred Sprung and Ned Buckley left minstrelsy to become ranchers and neighbors. Their homes were located on McLaughlin Avenue near the Story road. Sprung was a bass singer and interlocutor and in the olio appeared as a negro impersonator. Before he came to California he was a member of a band of minstrels organized to give performances on the Mississippi river boats. The band was a small one, but each member was advertised as an artist in his line. On these boats the gamblers, always in force before the opening of the Civil War, would frequently postpone a game to listen to a minstrel performance. On these occasions they would pick favorites and the performers thus singled out would receive donations far in excess of the amounts of their salaries. Sprung found it a happy, easy life and was sorry when the war put a stop to it. He died in San Jose about twenty years ago.
Ned Buckley, endman and comedian, did not stay all the time on his ranch. He had business interests in San Francisco which kept him away from San Jose more than half the time. Finally he sold his ranch and left San Jose for good.
Other San Joseans who have won honors, either
on the dramatic stage or in motion pictures, are Edmund Lowe, Howard Hickman,
Ed. Jobson, Frank Stevens, George Hernandez, Vernon Kent and Clarence Geldert.
Source: Sawyers, Eugene T. History of Santa Clara County, Los Angeles, Calif; Historic Record Company, 1922.