The Golden Age of Indianapolis Theaters
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Opening a window on a storied past, longtime Indianapolis television journalist and lifelong theatergoer Howard Caldwell presents the story of the magnificent theaters of Indianapolis. Caldwell shares with us the pleasure these majestic spaces brought to thousands of Hoosiers during their glory days―when an outing to the theater was a special event and film was still a marvel of technology. He discusses the roles played by the greatest stars of the day and relates the origins of Indy’s famous theaters: the Murat, the Circle, the Indiana, the English, and the Lyric, to name a few. Caldwell points out which theaters featured burlesque shows and vaudeville routines, explores the traditions of regional and national theater productions, notes when the first motion pictures and talkies came to town, and highlights old time musical reviews and symphonic performances. Vividly illustrated with rare photos and anecdotes, The Golden Age of Indianapolis Theaters celebrates the city's rich theater tradition.
theater traveled with complete casts. By the 1890s, resident companies were history for the most part, and most of the major traveling productions were acquired by theatrical combines. Daniel Blum’s Pictorial History of the American Theatre states that “powerful managers and theatrical combines found it more profitable to send complete productions on tour from city to city.” Indianapolis’s newest theater opened with advertisements announcing that “eminent actor” Lawrence Barrett would star all
and George. George, of course, would become a legendary entertainer and producer on Broadway. The Cohans returned four years later for another visit with George’s first musical hit, The Governor’s Son (this show returned within three months), followed by Cohan’s second big hit, Running for Office. During these early years of the twentieth century, the Park was enjoying success. Evidence of this was management’s decision to extend its fall-winter season with a stock company that would provide
acts. In a local newspaper review Fields was praised as “an eccentric juggler of much ability who is remarkably deft and clever. He sets off his most serious work with bright and novel comedy.” Other performers headed for stardom who appeared in vaudeville at the Grand were Will Rogers, comedian Victor Moore, and a wildly personable vocalist, Eva Tanguay, who would become the highest-paid performer in vaudeville. National boxing celebrities continued to draw audiences, whether they were still
fighting or not. Former world champ James Corbett had retired from the ring and had a new career when he appeared at the Grand. He had become a stand-up comedian with the emphasis in his dialogue on happenings from his worldwide travels. One newspaper critic wrote that Corbett “keeps his audience interested and laughing without a break for twenty minutes.” The theater’s most frequent visitor during this period was Gus Edwards. He created a musical act with what he called promising youngsters.
Sanford noted that Sinatra was making his very first appearance with Dorsey that week of February 2, 1940. Other highly regarded orchestras who appeared were led by Jack Teagarden, Paul Whiteman, Red Nichols, Raymond Scott, John Kirby (with vocalist Maxine Sullivan), and Joe Venuti (with the Andrews Sisters). The Lyric’s onetime prime competitor in vaudeville, the Keith’s, continued to struggle into the mid-1930s. Ironically, the Lyric’s Olson leased the facility for a week to play a highly