Howard “Mel” Melson by Gene Gordon

Howard Melson, Gone But Never Forgotten

 

From TOPS Magazine, January 1961, by Gene Gordon:  “Magicians are always intimating that the spirits do return to the scenes of their past triumphs. If such a thing is possible, then our new Editor, Neil Foster, can be sure that he will have spiritual aid in publishing this magazine from its former Editor, Howard Melson or as he was know to all of us, Mel. He loved his work as editor and he should be very happy to know that it will be carried on by a young man that he admired very much. Mel passed away on December 12th, 1958, in the Veteran’s Hospital at Ann Arbor, Michigan. Mel’s association with the Abbott Company begin in 1940 when he left the excitement of New York to go out to Colon on a six week’s assignment to do art work for the next catalog. The six weeks stretched out to eighteen years. He was a sophisticate and remained one to his death … but he was charmed by the small town life of Colon and was never happier than being there with real friends. Witty and often cynical, his plans to improve on life were not so materialistic as idealistic. He knew that he could only sleep on one bed and only eat three meals a day so money could buy no more,

His thoughts always followed a clear and personal logic. They were no mere fantasies but were founded on reason. He would argue against his own beliefs to hear what others had to say and then draw conclusions to make his own decisions. His great sense of humor drew him to Humorous people. He respected anyone who had independence of thought and he had little use for conformists. With restrained enthusiasm, he liked to speak of his projective thinking.

When you arrived at an Abbott Get-Together, Mel was one of the first to greet you and his welcome was as warm for a first time visitor as for a big name performer. When I would get worn out just watching Percy travel from dawn to dusk at break-neck speed, I would recuperate by spending a few minutes in the quiet serenity of Mel’s company. It was hard for me to look over the book display at the last gathering and not see Mel behind the counter.

He was born in Steubenville, Ohio, on January 6th, 1890, but moved at an early age to Buffalo where he attended grade and high school as well as the Chown School of business. And early bent for cartooning won him a first prize in a contest conducted by a breakfast food company. This led to his enrollment in the Buffalo Art Institute and later Cleveland’s Landon School of Cartooning. He was not a boy magician … his real interest started not long before he went to Colon.

Mel spent many years in the reportorial and editorial end of newspaper work. He was Art Director for the Magazine of Wall Street and his creations appeared in many other magazines. His work brought him into close friendship with many prominent figures in the theatrical world such as Bob Hope, Olson & Johnson, Edgar Bergen, Al Jolson, Rosa Ponsell and many others. Since he passed away just before Christmas, it was my sad duty to help his family here in Buffalo sort the magic greetings from his personal cards and I was amazed at the wide scope of friends that he had made over the years.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army March 8th, 1918, where he served at Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas. He later toured with the Kelly Field Players over the Pantages and Gus Sun Circuits as Mel, the Chalk Cartoonist. He also did a sand painting act and also appeared at many magical conclaves around the country. I always looked forward to his annual visit to Buffalo where he came to be with his family — three brothers named Jim, Bill and Dr. Oliver and a sister Mrs. Marie Jones. I know Jim’s Son Doug and I know that in his estimation, his uncle was TOPS.

A sad part of his passing was that within a few days he would have been married to Sally Banks, formerly of the Blackstone show and well-known to many Colon visitors at the Get-Togethers.

Mel was buried in Buffalo’s Forest Lawn, Cemetery on December 14, 1958 and Ring 12 Members attended the services. His body is there but the real Mel will always be in Colon, enshrined in the hearts and memories of his friends.

 

Hugh Frisbie on Monk Watson

     My Time With Monk Watson!

 

By Hugh Frisbie: ”Like most boys in Colon, Michigan after WWII we biked, fished, swam, played baseball and watched or sold popcorn at magic shows. But mostly knew “Monk” as the magician that traveled in the “Casite” decorated station wagon. In the fall of 1948 I was a high school freshman and my less than 90-pound weight made it foolish to join my friends in going out for the football team. With time alone I started to learn to juggle some rubber balls after watching someone on those early TV shows. With about 5 weeks of after school practice in the backyard I could juggle three balls and practice continued with plates, knives, and 4 solid wooden clubs that would crack my knuckles if I didn’t catch them right. My classmates in Colon High were putting on a school carnival and to advertise it they put signs on a truck to drive around town. My contribution was to ride on the top of the truck cab juggling the wooden clubs. “Monk” saw this and came over to our house to talk to me. First about not riding around on the roof of a truck and then about juggling. I have since read “Monk’s biography of some dangerous things he did as a kid and I thank that may have been our initial connection.

Young Hugh Frisbie and Neil Sweet

With “Monk’s advice to my parents about where they could send for 3 real professional juggling clubs for my birthday, more practice and help from Monk and Fred Merrill, the former vaudeville juggler who worked in the paint shop at Abbott’s Magic, I had the start of a juggling act for high school events. Monk saw one and came by with a costume and asked if I would come along on his shows. So in 1951, 1952, & 1953 I went with him to Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Grand Rapids, Battle Creek, Fort Wayne, Sturgis and places in between in his now “Miracle Power” decorated station wagon for all kinds of shows: Lion’s Clubs, American Legion, Company picnics and some for his sponsors A-P Parts Corp., Miracle Power clients or potential customers. The audiences were from after dinner shows on a stage the size of a table or several thousands in auditoriums. I sometimes did 4-6 minutes of juggling and sometimes I only helped bring his props and set-up for his 45 to 75 minute show. Although I liked showing off my juggling of 3 & 4 balls, knives, plates and tennis rackets, the best part was watching Monk’s show as no two were ever the same. Sometimes there was 10-15 minutes of jokes, music, pantomime or magic I had never seen before.

The Monk Watson Show was so much more than magic because of the comedy pantomime and Monk’s unique ability of adapting to any audience from farmers, little old ladies, businessmen and waitresses with the result being a true standing ovation at the end of every show. The jokes about his time in the military were as funny and as rapid as any big time comedian and the unique pauses and facial expressions in the delivery were enough to incite laughs well before the punch line. The facial expressions during his pantomime of a lady putting on her make-up while driving a car would always cause some lady in the audience to go into uncontrolled laughing spells, thus doubling the enjoyment to the rest of the audience. There were laughs in all the magic sequences, but the comedy and pantomime segments were so well placed throughout the show that the result was that the audience had no idea what to expect next. This element of surprise was also displayed in magical effects thus increasing the “ooh’s” and applause that many other magicians would not receive.

Absolutely nothing about Monk’s show was unrehearsed, thought about and re-practiced. In fact, right up to show time his whole thinking was about entertaining that audience. My first real “lesson in showbiz” occurred when Monk was nervously pacing backstage before the show and I told him, “Why don’t you just relax, you know you’ll be a big hit.”  Monk paused and let me know that if you don’t think about doing everything for your audience, you should not be in showbiz.

One night we arrived to set-up on stage and a 5-piece orchestra that was hired to play before and during the banquet dinner was on break behind the curtain and Monk talked to the leader and asked if they would also provide opening music for the magic show. The answer being a definite “No, we were only hired to play until the end of dinner.” Monk said, “Well I hate to have to play myself on stage.”  He picked up a clarinet and played the heck out of it to the obvious amazement of the leader and the band members who then agreed to do anything he wanted.

Certainly one of the toughest shows I saw was for a national salesmen’s meeting for Kirsch Curtain Company at Klinger Lake Country Club near

Sturgis, Michigan. The printed schedule stated 5:30 to 6:30 for drinks, 6:30 to 7:30 dinner, 7:30 Sales Manager’s Review, 8:00 entertainer Monk Watson, Magic.

We arrived around 6:30 and found a very small stage in one corner of the room, which was mostly filled with drinking, talking and laughing. We were set-up and ready at 7:30 with drinks and laughing the only thing happening in the room, same thing at 8:00, 8:30 and 9:00. at 9:00 dinner was served with more drinks and around 10:30 many were under the tables or had a face in their plate.

The manager strode up and with less than 25% of them listening said he would be brief so we could start with the entertainment. He said a few things and introduced “Monk” at a little before 11:00.

“Monk” stood up, put his fingers in his mouth and blew the loudest, shrillest, longest whistle I have ever heard. Some heads rose from plates and some came out from under tables. In a loud clear voice he said, “Hi!, I’m Monk Watson and I’m here to give you the best show you have ever seen.”

He started and continued at a very fast pace but as he went on more and more were applauding to the tricks and by the end of a shorter than normal show, 90% of the audience gave him a resounding applause and the manager came around to sign up for another show next month. WOW!

As good as Monk was a performer, he was also one of the first to be fully sponsored by a product company. First by Casite, then by A. P. Parts, and then my Miracle Power. These appearances consisted of a rented auditorium, advertising for an audience of 1,000 to 5,000. The shows would start with a raffle of cases of the products and proceed with Monk’s solo 70 – 90 minute magic show, which included about 10 minutes of magic with direct reference to Miracle Power and improved performance to your automobile. Think about it. Monk was the only person on stage. Most of the time there were no assistants, no orchestra, no scenery, lights “on or off”, no sound man, no curtain openings/closings, and no props from the back of a station wagon.

Monk’s use of some standard magic effects like “Linking Rings” and “
Free Card Repeat” while boring by many magicians, his perfect execution and pauses as thou something had gone wrong always increased the impact of the tricks. The main reason he perfected the execution of magic effects was not to show off his skill, but to allow him to watch and interact with the audience during every effect. This became a very important element in my later development of kid’s shows. The most difficult effect was probably the “Think Of Any Card” trick that even the most skilled magician can’t always be effective. He used it mostly in small offstage gatherings to impress potential clients, businessmen or my college fraternity brothers who talked about it a long time afterwards.

To this day, I have never seen a performer better than Monk Watson who had the multi-talents of Jackie Gleason, got an audience’s attention and response as quickly as the Las Vegas show of Sammy Davis, Jr., or had the music and miming comedy of Victor Borge. In addition to profiting from his advice to go to college, then helping me get my first engineering job in San Diego with Convair working on the Atlas Missile, which would put the first U. S. Astronaut into space. His inspiration provided much benefit in turning my part time Southern California juggling into over 3,000 clown, magic and juggling kids shows, many from my own designed, fully portable McDonaldland stage.”

 

Hugh Frisbie has appeared with T.V. stars Jerry Vail, Mr. Rogers, and Bozo the clown. He was recognized by the San Diego Fire Department for his in-school Fire Safety Shows as well as the San Diego City & County award for outstanding contribution to San Diego schools, hospitals and special events.

Hugh is one of the few clown acts that have appeared at the Abbott’s Get together (1955 and 1994).

Madame Marantette

Emma Peek, aka “Madame Marantette”

By Linda Wilbur

Due to an extraordinary family intermarriage pattern, I am related in four different ways to Emma Peek (1849 – 1922), born in 1849 to John G. and Matilda (RICHARDS) Peek of Mendon, St. Joseph Co., MI. Emma’s first husband was Patrick Henry Charles MARANTETTE, also of Mendon, MI. Charles, a son of Patrick Godet Marantette, a very Roman Catholic pioneer fur trapper and his wife, Frances MOUTON. When Charles decided to marry the very beautiful, but very Protestant Emma, the family definitely did not approve! From what I have heard, this ongoing family disapproval weighed heavily on the marriage, which lasted less than a year and ended in divorce.
In 1882, Emma was taken in hand by Daniel H. HARRIS and trained as an equestrienne. Apparently, the ability to gracefully manage a horse while riding sidesaddle must have run in the Peek family. Emma’s younger sister, Myrtle Viola “Myrtie” Peek (HOFFMAN) was also a trained equestrienne. She was not nearly as famous as her older sister, but that might have changed if she hadn’t died prematurely at the age of 33 of pneumonia.
In addition to retaining her first husband’s surname as her professional name, Emma also named her famous horse “St. Patrick” after her former husband and his father! While she was actively performing, she carried everything she owned…including her dogs, several horses and an ostrich trained to pull a two-wheeled buggy…in a pullman car with “St. Patrick” and “Madame Marantette” boldly painted on both sides. I know for certain that she appeared for at least one season with Ringling Brothers and also traveled to England to perform. I have also heard, but haven’t been able to confirm, that she knew William Cody and performed in his Wild West Show. Her specialty was training high school horses. Additionally, she and St. Patrick held the high jump record of 7 feet, 10-1/2 inches…which may still stand, as it was accomplished while riding sidesaddle! It is known that Emma was an active performer well into her sixties. My mother told me about having seen her driving her ostrich and cart in a Colon, Michigan circus parade in the summer of 1916. (Emma would have turned 67 that year.) Emma eventually married her trainer, Daniel Harris, but they never had any natural children together. I understand they did adopt a daughter, but have not yet been able to discover who she was or whatever became of her. Emma Peek Marantette Harris aka “Madame Marantette” died in 1922 at Mendon and lies buried in the Mendon Township Cemetery, Mendon,St. Joseph Co., MI.

the world record achievements and self-promotion of one of the most colorful citizens of the village of Mendon, Michigan. A horsewoman of impeccable standards and ability, Madame Marantette set world records in horsemanship while riding side-saddle in a skirt. She later became known as “Queen of the Saddle” and traveled for several years with the Barnum & Bailey Circus.

 

 

 

 

Kempton Komedy Kompan, Ralph Clement

Kempton Komedy Kompany

 

From the Colon Express newspaper, March 29, 1967, by Ralph  Clement: “THE KEMPTON KOMEDY KOMPANY – The beautiful new Hill’s Opera House was opened in 1897-98 and not many seasons later the Kempton Komedy Kompany was there with its road show. The Kempton’s liked the town with its fine lakes and, especially they liked the new opera house. After the season closed they came back to Colon and made arrangements to put some 10-20-30 shows on during the summer. With the help of local talent, practice commenced on some of the old time “melodramas”!

The first show opened with a full house – 500 seats. The show was a big hit. During the entire summer season, a new play was put on every two weeks. Some of the Colon boys formed an orchestra, which furnished music. John Hawk played first violin, Oscar Hartman, the bass viol. I do not recall the others, but they played pretty good music. Every performance drew a full house.
By the end of the summer the Kemptons had made up their minds to call Colon their home. During the winters they went on the road, playing throughout the Midwest. Then they came back to Colon to play “summer stock”. This continued for some years and they acquired a large show tent and, during the summer, the troop played one-week stands throughout the Midwest. One year they got out into Utah. The crops were very good that year and shows in that territory were few and far between. People came from long distances and a full house was had every performance.

They went on to Omaha, Nebraska, where they secured a lot on the edge of the city and set up the tent, preparing for a one-week stand. All was in readiness for the first show the following night. The Kemptons went into Omaha to shop. When they arrived back at the lot in the later afternoon it was a sight to behold! During the afternoon a cyclone had struck the tent. Everything was almost completely lost. The tent, the scenery, chairs, baggage, personal belongings, were either gone or strewn over a wide area.

Mrs. Kempton and her daughter took a train for Colon. Mr. Kempton picked up what little he could find, and then he returned. They were all discouraged.

The following season they joined the famous “Slout Family Shows” and continued with them for several years.”

 

Interview With Skippy LaMore

Troupes Are Called Rural “Opera Houses”

 

COLON, Michigan, April 19, 1941 – Show-wagon wheels again are rolling. Throughout the rural communities of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, five established dramatic companies which last year played to 600,000 persons once more are touring the “kerosene circuit.”

The tent shows are modern open houses for rural communities, according to Skippy LaMore, of Colon, owner of one of the largest dramatic tent shows in Michigan, which has its winter quarters here.

 

Shows Divide State
Working under a tacit agreement among themselves not to infringe upon one another’s territory, the Jack Kelly company and Caldwell’s Comedians cover the Northern counties of the lower part of the state, while Norma Ginnavan and Frank Ginnavan (which are brother and sister troupes), and LaMore’s show work in the Southern tier of counties. LaMore explains that the present-day tent show is a far cry from those of yesteryear, for the modern tent show is an up-to-date road show “on wheels.”

“Automotive facilities made life easier for the tent-show people,” LaMore says, “We can play towns 200 miles apart now just as easy as those near by. Automobiles have increased attendance, too. It is not uncommon for families to drive 25 miles to attend performances and often they follow up the show in several different towns.

 

Trailers Are Big Help

“Theatrical people always have had to ‘live in trunks’ more or less,” he says, “but the house trailer has changed that for our actors. The entry of the tent show into town now is a regular cavalcade of trucks and automobiles with house trailers.

While the city show producers lament the decline of the legitimate stage and blame the “talkies” and radio for attracting the public’s interest, from stage shows. LaMore argues that the tent shows have seen in these inventions new opportunities for their business.

“The radio has provided the tent shows with one of its greatest improvements,” says LaMore. “We used to have to work out all kinds of devices for off-stage sounds. Now we use the sound-effect records made for radio use. There are records for every imaginable sound from lightning crashes to barking dogs and stealthy footsteps.”

Today’s tent shows are more realistic in other ways, too. The movies have led audiences to expect more lavish settings, LaMore says.

“For instance, if the stage setting is to be a grocery store, the audience won’t stand for us using a painted backdrop of shelves of groceries. We have to have a genuine store scene and us a stock of real merchandise.

An old-time tent show could easily get its equipment into a couple of baggage cars, he point out, but the tent show today requires four or five trucks and a working crew of 15 men.

“And the efficiency of the crew is second only to the big circuses” he says. “The trucks have to move on schedule and the crew has to be ready for any transportation emergency. For our show we use five trucks. The one carrying the tent must get through ahead because it takes nine hours to complete the tent set-up. Another truck carries the stage properties, the wardrobe trunks and piano; a third hauls tent chairs and seats; the fourth takes all the stage equipment, and the fifth – known as the trouble shooter – carries lighting equipment and tools of all kinds.”

 

Shows Provide Costumes

Since the actors are required to provide only street clothes, the show owner has to make a tremendous investment in special wardrobes. Winter quarters here provide for 33 trunks of wearing apparel.

LaMore says that although his patrons look upon the tent show as only a summer activity, in reality running a tent show is practically a year-round job, since the show owners spend the winter in preparation for the coming season. The actors usually work in such shows in the South in the winter and transfer to Northern shows for the summer.

LaMore last winter read through approximately 100 three-act plays from which seven were selected for summer production.

“We know what our patrons like and they don’t change,” he smiled. “They want the hero to marry the heroine and the villain to get his just desserts, with plenty of comedy mixed in.”

 

Skippy Lamore died in 1942

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minstrel Show Change 1940

LIONS CLUB MINSTREL SHOW CHANGED TO TUESDAY

 

From the Colon Express newspaper, October 31, 1940: “The date of the Lions Club Minstrel Show has been changed from Friday night, November 8, to Tuesday night, November 5th.  This change was made necessary because Monk Watson, one of the leading actors in the show, has a week’s engagement at the Colonial Theatre in Detroit as master of ceremonies, opening with the well-known Milt Britton Band next week, and Monk will be compelled to leave for Detroit on Wednesday, or immediately after the Minstrel Show Tuesday night.

The big show will be staged at Hill’s Opera House, and everyone will be glad of the opportunity to return to the favorite play house for this grand show of the season.

The Lions have sold tickets for the show in advance, and while they have been very successful, there are many good tickets available. The reserved seat board is at Niendorf’s Pharmacy where you can secure your seats any time, however, better get busy as they are going quite rapidly. It really appears like a “packed house.” All tickets purchased from the Lions must be exchanged for reserve seats at Niendorf’s not later than 7:00 o’clock the night of the show, as all remaining tickets in the reserved seat board will be sold at the opera house ticket office after that hour Tuesday night.

In case you purchased tickets in advance for the show and the change of date makes it impossible for you to attend, you have the privilege of returning the tickets to Niendorf’s and your money will be refunded.

And now something about the show. Really, folks, it’s going to be an outstanding entertainment, and how could it be otherwise with Colon’s own outstanding show people – Skippy, Jean and Monk – among the leads? Jupie Stevens, who is well known here and who was with Skippy’s Comedians for several years, will swing the minstrel music.

Just an outline of the show. In the first part, Jean LaMore will be the interlocutor. The premier and end men, Skippy LaMore and Monk Watson will be assisted by Bob VanDeventer and “Ray” Ward; and in the grand black-face circle, Virg Farrand, Chax. Williams, Mel Flowers, Don, Bubb, Carleton West, Lawrence West, Edwin Loudenslager, Earl Brown, Ralph McMurray, Geo. Conklin. And what a lot of comedy that group has in store for your amusement.

The songs they will sing– Opening Chorus “Strutters Ball” by entire cast.

Introduction of premier end men, Skippy and Monk.

“Smiling Thru” – George Conklin.

“Cecelia” – Monk Watson.

“Gold Mine in the Skies” – Chas. Williams.

“Liza Jones” – Skippy LaMore.

“Bells of the Sea” – Melvin Flowers.

“Why Do You Sit On Your Patio?” – Skippy and Monk.

“God Bless America” – Circle, and for the second chorus the audience is invited to join. Following an “intermission of ten minutes, sure” as the program states will come the grand second part.

The opening will be a special musical treat, a marimba solo and drum solo by Mary Joan Ward, of Brunson, who was out in front with the first prize as a marimba artist in the state contest, and won second place in the international contest.

The second act, “Back Stage,” courtesy Elsie Janis, with the following cast – Monk, the stage manager; Skippy, wants to be a singer; Jean LaMore, temperamental star; George Conklin, props. Song number, “Too Young for Love” (by Elsie Janis).

The scene “Back Stage” was produced by Elsie Janis and played for one year in London, featuring Lapino Lane, international comic; also played in the United States for one year, featuring Monk Watson. This scene is now being sought by the largest film producers.

The third act – “Arkansaw Travelers” by Carleton and Lawrence West, who are well known to Colon as musicians and entertainers. Their song numbers will be “Hiccough Rag”, “Wabash Blues”, and “Alabama Jubilee.”

And the final act, “The Crazy House”, featuring Skippy, will be a side-splitter from start to finish. As the program states, anything can happen here. Hang onto your hats and stuff.

As a fitting line to describe this show we go back to the old Kempton Komedy Kompany headline, “You Laugh, You Scream, You Roar.”

That’s just what you are bound to do, if you see the Lions for the show, and the band will give a short concert before the curtain.

We advise you to get your reserved seats at Niendorf’s now.”

Lamore’s and Watson in Lions Minstrel 1940

THE LAMORE’S AND MONK WATSON ASSIST IN LIONS MINSTREL

 

From the Colon Express newspaper, October 24, 1940: “The script is written, the rehearsals are under way, and the Lions Club Minstrel, to be presented at Hill’s Opera House on Friday evening, Nov. 8, promises to be the leading attraction in the line of entertainment of the season.

The fact that Skippy wrote the lines is sufficient evidence that the show will be a mirth-provoking affair from start to finish.

Another reason why the Minstrel will be a real attraction – Jean and Skippy and Monk Watson are all doing their bit. Jean LaMore will be the interlocutor, Skippy, Monk, Bob VanDeventer and George Conklin the end-men – and what a snappy show combination that will be. And along with these professional actors is a minstreal group of ten local people who can all do their bit for entertainment.

The tickets will be sold by Lion members or you can get them reserved at Niendorf’s Pharmacy, where the ticket board will be on display. The admission will be 15¢ for children, 28¢ for adults.

It’s all being done to secure funds for the Lions Club, to be used at Christmas time. Just what the Lions will do this year is a question as yet. There is some thought of changing from a Christmas party for children to a planned distribution of Christmas baskets to the needy and shutins. Regardless of which plan they follow, funds will be needed.”

Caroline Merrill

Caroline E. Merrill

 

 

From the February 1991 issue of TOPS magazine.

“Caroline E. Merrill, 90, of Colon, died January 16,1991 in the Sturgis, MI. hospital.

She was born May 31, 1900 in Columbus, OH. She was the daughter of Samuel J. and Sarah (Jordon) Hensel. She graduated from the Columbus school systems and attended Business College. She worked, early in her life, in the accounting department of the Neil House Hotel in Columbus.

On January 3, 1925 she married Fred R. Merrill in Covington, KY. He died in March of 1976. Survivors include: a daughter, Merrillyn R. Merrill; two sisters, Mrs. Fauna Petit and Mrs. Ralph (Jean) Tutella (both of Columbus); and several nieces and nephews. Mrs. Merrill was preceded in death by three brothers and two sisters.

Mrs. Merrill had lived on Palmer Lake in Colon since 1935 after moving from Detroit. She was a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and its Ladies Aid and was a past president of the Colon American Legion Auxiliary.

Caroline had worked for the Abbott Magic Company for over twenty-five years. During that time she was primarily responsible for the creation and fabrication of magical feather flowers. In the early days, this involved receiving a shipment of dirty and dusty goose and swan feathers; sorting by size and shape and quality; cleaning; dyeing, boning the feathers (reducing the stiff spine of each feather); and the final assembly into blooms, blossoms and flower growths. All this, in addition to other company duties. Mrs. Merrill’s techniques and standards have resulted in the prestigious level and high regard with which Abbott Magic Company’s feather flower are greeted throughout the magic world, up to the present time.

Services were held at the Schipper Funeral Home with Rev. Terry Keefer of St. Paul’s Luthern Church officiating. Internment was made at Colon’s Lakeside Cemetery.”

Kemton Komedy Kompany by Monk Watson

Kempton Komedy Company

 

 

 

Colon Express, March 17, 1965, By Monk Watson: “When you try to write about people who have gone for such a long time you just have to make a few mistakes. So, if I forget to mention some names or mention a few that some have forgotten, please excuse me. I’m just trying to give some thought to an entertaining story now and then. I’m going to cover a couple of shows that stand out in my memory that perhaps changed my whole life. I have asked several people if they remember this and that, and you’d be surprised the number of people who never heard of some of the things I’ll write about.

My first movie, and how it impressed me, I believe it was where our ballpark is now located, that a big black tent was put up. Maybe things looked bigger then, but as I remember it I believe about a hundred people could be seated at one showing. In order to get into the tent you had to go through about three folded doors of canvas. This was done to keep the light out. The power for the movie projectors was a couple of tanks of acetylene gas. This gave out enough light to throw the picture on the screen. There was no plot to the picture we’d see. Some tricked-up water scenery with a big frog on a lily pad, or more like a toadstool. This frog was a contortionist, whom I met later in vaudeville. He sat there on that toadstool with both feet licked in back of his head. For months I tried that trick .., Then there was the wire walker on a slack wire. Well, that put the idea into my head that perhaps I could walk a rope, so one was put up between two trees in my grandmother’s front yard. I might add that my admission to every show was earned by peddling handbills house to house (same practice is still being done by a pal of mine). I don’t believe I ever paid to see a show in my first twenty years. I was always working for the manager in some way. Dog shows would come to town and I’d water the horse or lead a dog in the big parade down Palmer Avenue, and down through town. The dog show were put on in back of our old school where the playground is at this time.

Now I meet a great Man and a great Lady; Mr. and Mrs. George Kempton. They were the first I ever met to put shows on in the Opera House. Most of the cast was made up of local people. Pearl Van Slyke was almost always the leading man; if not, he always had an important role in the production. My Uncle John was in a lot of shows, too. I’d try to attend all of the rehearsal, and dream of the day when I could be up there, too. I’ve got to go and visit with a lady whom I loved in those days, but she never knew it. Mrs. Wm. Kieffer (the leading lady and heroine in those days, Toisa Hovis) was happy to help me with some names I had forgotten. We recalled the best show that she did, Triss”. It was a Western, and she was the fastest gun in the West. One scene that I remember very well from that show was where the hero (Kenneth Legg, or Clint Garman, or Chet Wagner) was left hanging from a rafter, and just as he breathed his last, Toisa (Triss) jumped through a window and shot the rope and save the hero. (Sounds like some of our late, late shows on TV).

Hill Opera House in Colon

So I had seen a rehearsal at the Opera house and now I was ready to do the show myself, but not until I had gone to the LKG (Lamb Knit Goods) factory and watched another rehearsal. It seems that Pearl Van Slyke worked in the winding room and between this room and another room were several windows, open, used to pass yarn through. They were going to rehearse the scene where Toisa jumped through the window and shot the rope. This was during working hours, and just as Toisa jumped through the window, Jeff Hill walked in swinging his gold headed cane, and yelling, “What’s going on in here?” That was the cue for everyone to jump back to their work. He saw me and said, “What are you doing here?” I said, “Mr. Hill, I work here, too.” I was about ten years old at the time and I was turning gloves, for some of the regular turners, for TEN CENTS a day. My work was put on their ticket, I’m sure, so Mr. Hill had never known that I really did work there. As soon as he was out of sight the rehearsal went back into action again. The show was a smash hit and Toisa was the Queen of the Show and of Westerns, for sure. I loved that girl and used to eat more popcorn just so I could be near her. She worked at Hartman’s bakery at the time. Today, as I visited with her, I could still see that spark in her eyes that made men swoon. Do you know that she still has that dress that she played “Triss” in? I will have her show it to me.

Now for the gruesome ending of the story of Triss … I had a theatre of my own to do shows in, Side’s barn. Harold and Raymond and I put some red and white and blue bunting across the middle of the barn loft. Some chairs were put in front for theatre seats, and for a couple of pins you could see anything from Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Ben Hur … So now I’m going produce “Triss”. Instead of a girl jumping through a window we dressed up one of the boys in a dress and told him to jump from off stage and shoot the rope that held another boy from a rafter. The rope was put around his neck and also around his shoulders and then we kicked the box from under him. The boy (Heroine since he wore a dress) jumped on stage and shot a real twenty-two just above the hanging boy’s head. Well, the rope didn’t break, but the boy (Hero) turned a slight blue … so help was called to get him down before he died. The last I heard of this Hero was in 1929 when I was playing the Paramount theatre in Los Angeles. A fellow came back to see me and told me that he had lived in Colon. Claude Mangel was his name. I often wondered how he lived so long.

Toisa corrected me about the first shows in the Opera house. There was another man who came to town and produced shows with the local people. His name was Fairchild. I remember him well, and how he used to dress in a big fur-rimmed overcoat, and now and then a cape. He wore a top hat part of the time, and drove a horse and buggy around town. She also recalled a fine doctor, Eck Doran, who used to take part in the shows.

Wish I had more time, but I’ve got a show tonight. Yes, that kid who peddled bills is still doing shows.”

 

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.

 

Abbott’s 10th Get Together by Mel Melson

Abbott’s Tenth Get-Together

 

TOPS Magazine, July 1943, by Mel Melson: “To tell the truth, this is a story I did not think I would be writing this year, but so many fellows wrote in saying they were planning their vacations for the Labor Day week end and were expecting to come to Colon and a host of others urged us on, so we are making plans for Abbott’s Tenth Annual Magic Get-Together in Colon on Sept. 9th, 10th and

11th.

As a matter of fact, we had a flock of reservations for rooms and seats before it was definitely decided and before we even had any kind of a show lined up, and they are still coming in. Most of the fellows are playing smart and reserving seats early, remembering the mad scramble at the last moment other years. As in the past two years, all seats at the Opera House are reserved, and all reservations for seats must be accompanied by covering check — 50 cents a night for Magicians, and for others, 75 cents for adults and 25 cents for children.

The public shows this year will be well worth while as the following line-up of talent will suggest: Don Sweet, Bill Williston, Harlan Tarbell, Tom Osborne, Judge Carter, Jack Herbert, Ruth Oakes, Lester Lake, Karrel Fox, Harry Cecil, Chuck Kirkland, Al Minder, and Pingalli and Pinella.

In addition, an unusually fine program is being arranged for the Victory “Night Before party, which this year will be longer in order to include sixty minutes of patriotic presentations, for the best of which a War Bond is to be awarded. Other War Bonds will be given lucky ones at the public shows. The usual al fresco Magicians’ show will be held on Saturday afternoon.

As a special feature of the gathering this year, Dr. Harlan Tarbell will conduct his No. 2 Magic Course, which will be available for a stipulated fee to all Magicians attending the affair. Tarbell also will appear on the public shows both nights, presenting acts of Magic. And of course there will be the usual feast of Magic aside from the various shows, for demonstrations will be carried on at the

Abbott plant throughout the affair, at all times when other activities are not in progress. And it looks as though getting to Colon will be less difficult this year, for while repairs are being made to Route 112, Greyhound busses on the Chicago-Detroit route are rolling through the town. Colon is not a regular stop, but passengers from the West may buy a ticket to Bronson and the bus will stop to discharge them at the Magic City — those from the West buying tickets to Sturgis for the same accommodations.”