A Drum Under the Bed

     A Drum Under The Bed

 

 

From Abbott’s TOPS Magazine, December 1967; by Monk Watson: ”So I’m a cornball … and I hope I stay that way as long as I live when it comes to loving music, as I have been doing since I learned to talk and walk. My mother was so anxious to have me play the piano that she gave up her lessons as soon as I could lift my little finger. She lifted me up on the piano stool and taught me the scale of C. Since those early days I’ve looked forward to the new songs as they came out and we first heard them on the cylinder records of the Edison, and later on the flat records. I learned to play a tin whistle and from there to the clarinet and drum. Not drums, but just one snare drum.

My first drum was one that I found under a bed in a hotel in Jackson, Michigan: The American House. My father had taken my mother and me to see Teddy Roosevelt as he passed through the city. He even lifted me up so I could shake his hand. It seems there was a parade going on down the main street enroute to the MCRR depot. I had discovered this big old snare drum under the bed in our room and hauled it out and started to beat a march step … runp-rump-rump-rump-rump. I walked up and down the halls until the manager told me to put that damn drum away. I yelled my head off and asked my father to buy it for me. “Nothing doing,” I was told, because that drum had been played in the army. … well, I yelled so much that they finally told me to take it home with me … that was to Colon, and the year was 1898. I took lessons on that old drum, (after I had cut it in half, like a darn fool). Today the half still lays in my basement … no heads, no sticks and no snares … but it’s my drum and I love it. So what’s all this got to do with my being a Cornball? As I said, I love music, and I’ve had the great pleasure of having one of the best bands in the country and that gave me the chance to pick out the type of music I liked and also the type of audience I liked. How happy I am that I lived in an era of good music that one could hum along with or whistle along with and not this FAR OUT JUNK we have today.

Recently we had two great Specials on TV … Tin Pan Alley 1967 with George Burns as MC. How this old man got in on that show I’ll never know, but he’s good in anything, for my money. They also featured Nancy Ames, who is a good-looking dish and I guess she can sing. When she was on “That Was The Week That Was” I thought she was great, but she was new and hadn’t learned those FAR OUT songs. On this Special she did nothing that one could ever remember for two days, or could hum or even find the tune. I listened because there was another show coming up that I felt would be good. IT WAS GREAT … “The Belle of 14th Street” with Barbara Streisand. Well, no matter how this show went over with the millions watching it, I’m sure of one thing, she made a hit with one Monk Watson when she opened up with “Alice Blue Gown” … How corny can you get? I’ll bet that this song will outlast any of the new songs on the market today. The new children growing up heard it for the first time that tuneful night perhaps, but when they hear it again they’ll be able to hum along with it and as it repeats, they’ll say, “Gee, I heard the craziest song about a gown that was blue … crazy, man, crazy … what’s a gown?”

Why all of this about a song of the old days? It also goes for Magic and some of the tricks of the old days. Before I get off the subject of music I’d like to tell you about an experience I had with my bank in 1928. The new tune was, “There’ll Be Some Changes Made.”  One of my arrangers made an arrangement of this tune with all of the OUT passages he could write. The members of the band were so thrilled, knowing it was the latest thing in arrangements I listened and remembered what one of my old dancing instructors had said, “If they can’t beat their feet to the music, take it out.” So in the back of the books I had them put in a waltz, “The Same Silvery Moon,” just in case we needed it. I could have bet what would happen and it did. The big new arrangements went over like a lead balloon … not a hand … so I then introduced the waltz, telling the audience I had a request to play it. I put all the showmanship I could muster up into the directing and the number stopped the show. Why? Because the people could hum the tune and could remember it as a great song of the day.

Now, back to magic. Dig out some of your old tricks that have gone over in the hands of the masters … Rings, Rice Bowls, Egg Bag, etc., and work on them. You’ll be surprised how they’ll go over with the new audience of kids and even grown ups. I dug out my Rice Bowls and they’re the hit of my act again. As write this I’m also listening to Bill and Sally Tadlock on their tape that they sent, telling me how much Bill enjoyed “The Senator” at the
Baltimore show. Sally was busy with their new son, Bill, Jr,, so she didn’t go. Crandall was never better in his life, says Bill. He has seen Crandall many times so he knows what he’s talking about. After the show Crandall and Bill got together for hours and this made Bill very happy as he is sure a fan of this great artist. As for me, well, I can take him or leave him, as when I have him I’m left in a daze brought on by being happy with laughs like I never have anymore it seems. Crandall is the one and only of his kind and I hope he outlives me by a hundred years.”

 

 

Three Rivers Show by Monk Watson

Three Rivers Show in 1931

From Abbott’s TOPS Magazine, November 1967; by Monk Watson:

”I’ve had fun reading some of my old Seven Circles official publications, printed back in 1931 … Where have the years gone, and those wonderful friends of those years? The convention notes were really something to look back on, like ‘Dorny and Monk were MC’s on this and that show. That team is still hard to follow … let me write one program for you … I believe it was 1931 and the place was Three Rivers, Michigan.

 

“In case of rain the American Legion Home will be open to all members as a meeting place.”

“All newspaper and moving picture men please report to Chet Shafer, (Grand Diapson of the Pipe Organ Pumpers Guild) who will be your host while in our city.”

“If you drive a car the Chamber of Commerce will issue you a Courtesy Sticker for your windshield. This sticker will allow you to park overtime anywhere and will extend every courtesy the city is able to offer while you a re in our City of Friendly Waters.”

 

FREE ACTS THURSDAY JUNE 18

 

1:30 – At Wood St. Bridge, Blackstone, World’s Master Magician, will attempt to escape from a heavy wooden box after it has been weighted with iron, securely roped and lowered in St. Joseph River. (Note: Harry came up from the box, went back down, got into the box and the box was then brought up and he was tied with ropes in the box).

2:00 – Axel Hellstrom, noted Mental Telepathist of Hamburg, Germany, will attempt to find Miller Dunkel’s lost watch. The watch is hidden in a bank and Raymond Linsley is the only person who knows where it is. The key to one of the vaults containing the watch has been hidden somewhere in Three Rivers by Mr. Linsley. (Note: Axel found the watch and also the wooden Indian that had been lost for years.)

 

Friday – June 19

 

1:30 – On platform in front of City Offices, Dr. Gentilly of Cleveland. It’s impossible to tie him with ropes!

1:45 – Charles J. Colta of Harrisburg, Pa., will be beheaded on a guillotine.

2:00 – Alexandra, of Budapest, Hungary, the man with the X-Ray Eyes, will be twice blindfolded and his head will be covered with a hood of two thicknesses of heavy velvet. Watch him drive a car through the streets. (He almost hit me.)

Saturday – June 20th

1:30 – Blackstone will be put in a heavy iron boiler and welded in by the Petre Sheet Metal Works and will attempt to escape on a platform in front of City Offices.

 

The Evening Shows

Friday – June 19th – 8:00 P.M.

 

1 – Prologue by “Dorny.” Member of the Council of Seven of the International Magic Circle and National President of the Society of American Magicians.

2 – Monk Watson – Michigan’s Most Famous Master of Ceremonies.

3 – Walter Gibson – Novelties in Magic. Gibson is a well known newspaper man and author from Philadelphia, Pa.

4 – Colta and Colta – The Merry Magicians of Harrisburg, Pa. (note: Mr. Colta is to be beheaded Friday afternoon but is expected to recover in time for his act.)

5 – J. Elder Blackledge – Who Works Modern Magic.

6 – Yuan Chan Foo – “The Greatest Oriental Entertainer”

7 – Walter Harris – Kalamazoo’s Magical Insurance Man.

8 – Blackstone – President of IMC and World’s Master Magician.

 
 

Saturday – June 20th

 

1 – Presenting “Dorny”

2 – Noffke – Versatile Entertainer (Mr. Noffke is a Vice President of IMC and President of I.B.M. of the east.)

3 – Dr. Harlan Tarbell – You all know him. (Founder of the famous Tarbell Institute.

4 – Little Johnny Jones – The Fashionable Conjuror.

5 – Rita Del-Gardi and Girls – Feminine Mystifers.

6 – Dave Coleman – Originality.

7 – Axel Hellstrom – Experimental Psychologist.

8 – A few minutes with “Dorny” (who killed them, as usual).

9 – Walter Domzalski – Michigan’s Famous Lawyer Magician.

10 – Blackstone – The Incomparable.

 

 

 

 

 

Monk Watson out of Hospital 1965

Out Of The Hospital

From the December 1965 issue of TOPs Magazine, by Monk Watson: “How I have missed writing the column even for one month and I how this will make up for it.

First, I want to thank Neil and Jeanne for sending out the letters to my readers and to the dealers about my operation. Abbott’s paid the postage! It has taken me Seventy-One years to find that I have so many friends in Magic. The cards, letters, flowers, were so much help in bringing me back out of a very dark hospital room. It was really an experience that I don’t want any of my friends to have to go through, but if you do it is a pleasure to know that the advances in the world of research in medicine and surgery is far, far ahead of the days when I had a similar operation.

The greatest advance of all is the Intensive Care room. They just will not let you slip off the beam in any direction. Two nurses at your side every minute with a thermometer and telling you, “You must eat or we’ll give you the I.V.” I didn’t know what they were talking about so I said, ”I can’t eat — and what is this business of I. V.?” They explained that it was feeding via intravenously (I think that’s right). Regardless, I didn’t want another needle stuck into me, so I ate anything … but J E L L O. That I couldn’t take after the third spoonful, Water? I hated it, but I had to drink gallons.

The answer is that I must have improved very quickly as on the next day following my operation they told me to walk around the bed. That, I thought, was impossible, but I did it. I had heard that LBJ had gone under at the same hour that I had, so I didn’t want him to get ahead of me. I walked and walked. Then up to my room for the rest of the week, and then out with the stitches, and the doctor said, “When do you want to go home?” I said, “As soon as you get out of my room!”

So a week and one day and I was home, reading my Get Well cards, looking at the Portfolio that I had received from Tommy Windsor, along with a long letter (his first to sick friend) telling me about the fun we used to have at the Get-Togethers of years ago when he did his act and his wife Jeanne did her Vent. A picture of David Hoy, as Mr. Goliath … enough to make a guy creep back into bed and pull the covers over his head. He saw something in my future, he said, and I hope it is good. A card from Duke Stern, about two by three feet, hand-drawn stars with the names of everyone working in the Abbott factory written in the stars, so the title of the card was, “It’s written in the stars, Get Well Soon!” This was the first thing I saw when I came back from cloud nine, and what a great feeling it gave me. Every day a new clever card from Neil and Jeanne Foster and also the funniest cards I have ever seen, from my new friend, Dan Waldron. He found in the Museum of Modern Art, cards with the pictures of the old stars – like Chaplin in a bathtub, reading, “How does that Watson do it? He gets a review of his ‘Opening’ at the Leila Post Hospital!” Says, “It’s probably the first time his audience had HIM in stitches!” This is a funny idea from a very funny fellow, who is making use of his talents by writing commercials for our television shows. Dan never missed a day, while I was in the hospital, with phone calls, cards and flowers.

I wish I could mention everyone who sent me card or letters, but there would be no room left for Crandall or Johnstone or Dorny to blast each other, so I will not take their space away from them.

I could hardly write a column without a mention of a young man whom I met on his first trip to Colon – Karrell Fox. He had a handful of money that would choke an ox, which he had saved for the day when he could come to Abbott’s and buy what he wanted in Magic. I mentioned that I was a Magician and from that moment on he was at my side, asking me about this and that trick. When he left he said that he’d always remember that day, and he has. Through the years he had Birthday Parties in a Detroit hotel and the room (Ballroom) would be crowded with his friends in Magic. He worked in different Magic Dealer’s shops, and by selling tricks over the counter he learned to do so many tricks in the different phases of the profession. This gave him a backlog of hundreds of tricks. Now in TV as Milky the Clown, in Detroit, he has enough material to go on and on forever. I’m sure that his visits to my Casite and Rislone shows didn’t hurt him, because now he is hard at work for almost every automobile company, traveling from coast to coast for their meetings, new showings, and just in there pitching. He’s one of the funniest men in any part of Show Business, and could do any Broadway show if he went for it. Ideas fall out of his brain like lightening. Clever Boy, this Fox, I’m glad I was a part of his early start.”

 

Monk Watson by Daniel Waldron

The End Of The Palace Theatre

 

 

From “The Detroit Free Press” newspaper, November 14, 1965. By Daniel Waldron. “A RED-HAIRED RUBE dived headfirst from the hayloft, disappeared into an old-fashioned well, and came up spouting water like a sass hose. Chickens cackled and a dozen gap-toothed farmhands kalumped to the rescue.

It was Monk Watson, and it was a perfectly normal entrance for him onto the stage of Detroit’s Grand Riviera Theater in the heyday of vaudeville.

The chickens were real, but the barnyard was a painted set, the farmhands were really bandsmen in overalls, and Monk Watson was just acting his role as music man, master of ceremonies, and “Jazz Jester” to a rollicking generation. From 1927 to 1930 Monk Watson and the Keystone Serenaders were star attractions at the Rivera Theater: it was a record-breaking run.

Monk was recently back in town reminiscing about those days. “They booked me into Detroit for 50 shows,” he said. “I ended up playing 5,000. The Roaring Twenties were at their peek and boy, how we helped them roar!”

You can almost hear the roar still. Monk’s shows featured big name vaudeville acts (Jack Benny, Van & Schenk); a roster of ukulele players, comedians, and specialty acts; a snappy line of chorus girls (“I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate”); and upbeat music full of banjos, saxophones and joyous rikki-tik.

The band performed on stage, never in the pit, and every show had a theme. One week it was “Hayloft Varieties” (with that diving entrance) and next week “Watson’s Inferno,” set in Hell with Watson sailing through the gaping jaws of Satan and out over the audience by means of an invisible wire. The next week it would be “Circus,” with the band dressed as clowns and a part of the audience seated on bleachers onstage. In “Toyland,” the girls were dressed as dancing dolls. “Harem-Scarem” was a zany version of the Arabian Nights.

Skits were intermingled with the music and acts. “Hayloft Varieties” featured one that capitalized on the growing interest in the sensational new medium, radio. Watson, of course, played it anything but straight. The broadcast took place from the roof of a chicken coop. The announcer ended up eating the microphone, which happened to be a doughnut on the end of a fork.

With Watson in that skit was Pat Barrett, who later became “Uncle Ezra” of WLS Barn Dance fame. Another promising performer booked by Watson (who was responsible for staging the shows and obtaining the talent) was a youthful unknown named Bob Hope. Another was Ginger Rogers.

But it was mostly Watson and his chuckling, mischievous grin, his twinkling eyes and his dancing feet (he could do trick steps with ease) that captivated and packed them in for four straight years.

Robert Casemore, then of Detroit and now of Lathrup Village, recalls, “I didn’t feel my life was complete unless I’d seen the latest Monk Watson production. And I saw quite a few because the bill changed every week.”

Allan Wilson, another frequent member of the audience, remembers the Watson timing and his topical humor. “He had the unique faculty of appealing to men and women, youngsters and grown-ups alike. The young set, especially, idolized him. He was an institution.

Monk’s offstage antics had something to do with it too. He had a chauffeur-driven Packard that was fire engine red – a daring thing in those days – and a police escort to clear the way from the theater to the radio station WJR where he also performed. His hi-jinks at the Tuller Hotel, where he lived, were legend. One night the “Serenaders,” bent on a little Prohibition fun, gathered in his suite. When he arrived he found the room filled with potted palms from the hotel lobby — and the “Serenaders” well on the way to joining them. Before he had recovered his privacy a tree had plummeted to the street and the commotion had grown deafening. “The ironic thing,” he observed, “was that I don’t even drink!”

When did the Monk era end? In the upheaval of the Depression years when show business was knocked for a loop. The days of the big theater bands were over and he moved on.

Monk Watson left Detroit but he never left the stage. Today he does an act featuring comedy, music and magic. It was through magic that he got into show business as a boy. “My first show was almost my last,” he said. “The druggist who sold me the ingredients for the “wine to water” trick forgot to tell me not to drink the stuff. I darn near died!”

He now lives, with his wife, Mary, in Colon, Mich., the “Magic Capital of the World” because Abbott’s Magic Manufacturing Company, the world’s largest builder of magic apparatus, is located there. For many years it also was the home of the famous magician, Blackstone, whom Watson knows well.

Watson performs for theater and private shows, conventions, sales gatherings, clubs and sponsored programs. He still is an active AGVA member. He still commands a respectable fee. And he still can bring an audience to its feet in a storm of applause at the end of a show. Though his hair is pure white and he is close to 70, his laugh is still as infectious and his manner as genial as ever.

Like every showman, he loves to talk about the past: Such as the year he played three separate engagements at that pinnacle of vaudeville success, New York’s Palace Theater. Or like the days of trouping with
Elsie Janis, the Broadway star who took entertainment to the trenches during World War I, and earned the nickname of “Sweetheart of the A.E.F.”

It was in World War I, and under fire, that Donald Watson became Monk Watson. When one of his buddies saw him dive for a shell hole wearing a red wig with the same acrobatic flip he later perfected on stage, he hollered: “Look at that monk!” and so Monk he’s been ever since.

During World War II the same kind of monkeyshines helped make life a little pleasanter at five Air Corps bases in Texas where Monk was morale director. “Today,” he will tell you, “it never ceases to amaze me that no matter where I play there’s usually someone in the show who remembers me from my Army, Air Corps, or Rivers days.”(He calls it “Rivers,” omitting the second “i” as do so many native Detroiters.)

But even though he loves to talk of the past, he lives entirely in the present. “My next show …” is always on his lips.

A recent engagement brought him to Detroit, and before the performance he drove out to Grand River and Joy Road to look at his old stamping grounds.

He eyed the “Open All Nite” signs, studied the gaudy marquee, and quietly drove back downtown to the hotel where he was entertaining a reunion of the 32nd Division. Many of the older veterans in the audience had seen him perform in the front line in France during World War I.

As the welcoming applause died down he went into his routine. A pantomime sketch with music, where a fright-wigged symphony conductor guides an invisible orchestra through a concert in – of all places – a railroad yard! In the middle of the music a train is heard approaching: the maestro frantically changed into a switchman’s red-necked railroader’s gear, calmly taps his baton, resumes the music where he left off, and leads to the feverish finish of what must surely be one of the most oddball concerts in symphonic history.

There were no “Keystone Serenaders,” no shining spotlights, no vaudeville troupers waiting in the wings. But Monk Watson still was going strong, smiting the air with his baton, grinning and mugging and putting it across just as he used to do at the Riviera. Five thousand times.

 

Monk Watson by Dorny

“Monk Watson” By Dorny

 

 

From The “New Tops” Magazine, July 1965 By Werner Dornfeld: “Hold onto your hats, everybody! If you will look at the picture above you will see the face of the most incurable “Nut” in the entire realm of magic. He’s been around a long time. And all of that time in show biz! In almost every branch of that noble (?) profession at that. He is one of the most versatile men in the business. Does magic; juggles; plays a flock of musical instruments; directs a big band; acts as a master of ceremonies; does comedy and he dances. And what else is new? A veteran of World War Number One where he entertained service men all over Europe. It was here he first met Miss Elsie Janis, who was also busily engaged entertaining the troops after having given up a very successful and lucrative long run engagement in a London revue. At the end of the war Miss Janis organized an all-soldier show called “Elsie Janis and her Gang.” ‘Monk’ was one of the very first to be signed up for this opus, as was your scribe. We had thirty-eight wonderful weeks on tour with the show, playing the best theatres coast to coast.

At the end of the trip ‘Monk’ was booked in Vaudeville thru the efforts of Miss Janis. He did a comedy act with another chap at this time. Later on he was engaged as the personality bandleader and emcee of the La Salle Gardens Theatre in Detroit, Michigan. Here he proved to be such a success that he and his show ere moved to the much larger Grand Theatre. He remained there for 4 years … 5,000 shows. He had many opportunities for displaying his versatility as the show was completely changed every week. Several standard acts were booked on these bills and many of them later became big names in the theatrical world.

Donald “Monk” Watson, for such is the name of our boy, proved to be a tremendous “Draw” at this theatre and had sandwiches, sodas, sundaes and games named after him. He was really “In.” Magic was, and still is, his favorite form of entertainment. For the past years he has been gainfully employed doing commercial magic for various successful businesses, one of which was the Hastings Piston Ring Co., where he helped to introduce and popularize one of their products called “Casite.”

He now lives in Colon, Michigan, where the citizens of that bustling village elected him as mayor a few years ago. He has a host of friends all over America and he also has one antagonist who delights in taunting him thru his long silky moustache in the column of TOPS every now and then. But “Monk” takes it all in stride and writes it off as silly concealed professional jealousy. Naturally ole “Monk” comes back at his rival in the manner and all in all it provides provocative and interesting reading for the subscribers. ‘Monk’ is also an avid collector of all kinds of magical memorabilia as well as phonograph records. Oh yes! Tape recorders too. And that runs into money. I wonder what the poor people are doing?

 

 

 

 

Monk Remembers the Family Home

Monk Watson Remembers His Home In Colon

 

From The “TOPS” Magazine, December 1962. By Monk Watson: “It was grand to see Dai Vernon in action again, and he and I went over old times again. John Braun and I hashed it up as usual. What a thrill I had when I visited them in the old Watson home here in Colon.

I hadn’t been in the house for many, many years and I just sat there at the breakfast table and dreamed of the days when I used to climb the stairs to my bedroom and listen to my grandfather and some of his friends talk about lawsuits that he was working on. They had a language all their own. “I sez, sez I” and “sez he to me sez he”. Then they bring up some big words that I still don’t understand.

Grandfather never went to school but studied law like Lincoln, and he’d fight some of his cases for a bag of corn or things for the table. I have some of his diaries and looking through them I wonder how he ever paid for his home and brought up his large family. He was the man who saw to it that little Donald did his show in the church. He was pretty proud of me. All these things went through my mind as I sat in this old house with John and his guests.

I looked back on the day when my grandmother would stand on a six-inch platform so she could reach over the top of the old-fashioned cook stove and cook all the eggs we could eat on a Thanksgiving morning. I remember I had fourteen one morning, (I was just a hog) but it was fun trying to win a prize. Then we’d all go into the front room and gather around the organ and sing, and I’d do a trick like throwing a hand full of lycopdium (with a small colored hank palmed) into the flame of a candle. The flash would be big and then floating out of the flame would come the hank. The local druggist (Charles Niendorf) would give me a bottle of this every time I did a show … might give you fellows a thought … because it is still used I understand.

I might say that I only did a show about twice a year for the church or school. I remember going down in the cellar where apples were stored away, wrapped in paper, for the winter. How I got started on such a subject I’ll never know, unless I was just day dreaming about the fun we had.

Those were the days long before radio. I don’t believe we had more than ten telephones in town, and my grandfather had one. He used to tell me about the day when we’d see the person we would be talking to on the other end of the phone, no wires. When I see some of the television shows I think back on those days and remember what he said. Maybe that is the magic I wanted in this story. The magic of bringing water up on a chain open well … the bees in the back yard that would sting me, but he could walk into the bee house and have them hanging down off his whiskers and never get stung.

The magic of my standing in the door, where the hay was unloaded in the loft, and then sliding down the chute where the horses were fed and yelling, “Here I am”! Sounds like the girl running down the theatre isle doesn’t it? Maybe that was my idea at that. The magic of standing on the rafters and jumping out twenty feet and turning a flip into the hay wagon on the floor below. John, that is what I was thinking about that morning, and perhaps the reason why I didn’t eat. Funny what a little thrill can do for a guy, isn’t it.”

 

Monk appeared in Abbott’s Get-Together in 1942. 1944, 1946, 1957, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1974, and 1979. He wrote a long running column in Tops called “The Professional Touch”.  He died in 1981.