The holiday season is often a time for families to attend musicals, plays, concerts, and movies. My first introduction to this was Thanksgiving night in 1986 when my parents took us to see Richard Harris (yes, the first Dumbledore and the Man Called Horse) in a production of Camelot at Memorial Hall. The highlight of the evening was meeting a very friendly Mr. Harris as he was leaving through the stage door. Harris is just one of the many entertainers who have performed in Dayton over the holiday season.
Traveling back 100 years ago this week to December 1916, Dayton had no less than three famous performers, two here in person and one on the silent screen, competing for viewers. The headliner that week was world famous illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini, who entertained audiences with two shows daily from December 11-16 at the B.F. Keith Theatre, once located on Main Street between 5th and 6th Streets. According to the paper, all seats to see “Handcuff” Houdini were 10 cents and the show included a total of 7 different acts. Houdini, obviously having a keen sense of self promotion, appeared almost daily in the pages of Dayton Daily News.
He would also dazzle lunchtime crowds by performing an outdoor escape midway through the week. At 12:15pm on Wednesday, December 13th, Houdini performed his famous straitjacket escape, while suspended upside down in front of the Daily News Building, to an estimated 6,000 people who gathered in the streets to watch.
The week started and ended with the brothers Barrymore, John and Lionel, the grandfather and great uncle, respectively, of actress Drew Barrymore. Both brothers were talented actors of the stage and, later, the big screen. John Barrymore visited Dayton on December 8-9, 1916, to perform in the stage play “Justice” at the Victoria Theatre. Seat prices ran from $0.25-$2. His brother, Lionel Barrymore, appeared December 15-16 in the silent film “The Brand of Cowardice” at the Auditorium located at 32 E. 4th Street. Incidentally, Lionel Barrymore would later go on to win the Best Actor Oscar in 1931 for his performance in A Free Soul.
Do you have a family tradition of going to performances and/or fond memories of a particular holiday show you attended?
All of the photographs are from the Dayton Daily News Archive (MS-458), while the newspapers are from the Dayton Daily News on microfilm. Click on a photo to enlarge.