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4. Holding the Stroll As he had done a year earlier, when the curtain had rung down on the final performance of The Husband Motts dismissed his stock company. But this time the return to vaudeville was to be more than just a summer respite. “No more stock companies for me,” he reportedly said as he contemplated the thousands he had lost on the season of farces and musical comedies.1 And for the next sixteen months the Pekin stuck to the two-a-night vaudeville plan that now pervaded the Stroll. “The ten-cent houses have come to stay,” wrote Will Foster, even before the stock company disbanded. “The same is the rule clear out to the coast. Vaudeville—nothing but vaudeville!”2 By the end of the summer Cary B. Lewis offered an explanation for its appeal, that “a new class of theater goers” had come to the fore: The short, snappy shows is what they care about, rather than your well joined, methodical plays with prologue and moral. In fact, the vaudeville idea is in keeping with the growing notion of today, that things must come in a hurry. The performers seem to know this and lose no time by way of introduction. They seem to adhere to the theory that time is money.3 This “new class of theater goers” did not seem to have much in common with the well-mannered clientele who had patronized the Pekin in the salad days of its first stock company. In December 1909 the Broad Ax disclosed with dismay an incident at the Globe Theater downtown. A black woman had complained “that the hats of the two Colored ladies sitting in front of her were so large that she could not see anything going on,” but they had refused to remove them: Holding the Stroll 93 After all three of them had disgraced themselves, in the presence of the large audience, by calling each other “stuck up black Nigger wenches” and so on, the policeman connected with the Globe Theatre, was forced to march up to them and threatened to arrest all three of them before they would quiet down and conduct themselves like decent and respectable women.4 The Defender reported a similar incident at the Pekin early the following year. “Why is it then,” the journal asked, “in a house managed and controlled like the Pekin is, such disgraceful scenes must occur? We are sure it’s not a hog-pen; why not respect it? We rather think it is our newcomers to the city who think they are at a camp meeting.”5 How prevalent were these newcomers? According to Allan H. Spear, in the first decade of the century there were only three other metropolitan areas in the country that could claim a higher percentage of out-of-state migrants than Chicago—Los Angeles, Denver, and Oklahoma City, “all young Western cities with highly mobile populations.”6 But wherever they came from, what more and more distinguished most pleasure-seekers on the Stroll by 1909 was an unwillingness to pay much more than five or ten cents for theatrical entertainment. In contrast to the previous summer, the dispersal of the stock company in 1909 was definitive. Most went into vaudeville. Harrison Stewart, Jerry Mills, and Pearl Brown played the Chateau Garden at first, while Lottie Grady, the most faithful of the faithful toward Motts, left Chicago to play with Bert Williams in Mr. Lode of Koal. Later she joined the Smart Set, as did Lawrence Chenault. Competition At first J. Ed. Green remained with the Pekin. On July 3 the Freeman reported that he was working with Sidney Perrin on a thirty-minute musical comedy, but one week later the same journal announced that he had resigned, and two weeks after that came the news that Green had gone into business with his protégé Marion Brooks and a third backer, A. W. Johnson: They have leased the Royal and changed its name to the Chester. After all kinds of trouble it opened up in full blast Saturday night, July 17. The new concern has a new system, and if carried out will give the Negro showman the only protection that he has ever had in the West, and every act will get its just dues. The house will be used as a tryout house and acts will be remedied, if necessary, before they are sent out. They will also have the colored end of...


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