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.”

Skippy LaMore

     Skippy LaMore!

 

June 18, 1942, The Colon Express: “Skippy LaMore’s Comedians are showing this week in Vicksburg. Skippy is carrying on with his part in the regular performance, but is unable to do his specialties. That theatrical people really cooperate when emergencies arise was proven this week. Blackstone, the magician, went over to Vicksburg Monday night and put on an act of magic between the acts of the regular show, and Monk Watson assisted another night, taking Skippy’s place with a specialty. Mel Melson and another Colon theatrical people are standing by to do a bit any night they are needed.

Blackstone will appear again on the show Friday night and Monk will probably do another act before the show leaves Vicksburg. The show is billed for Hillsdale next week.

***

July 2, 1942, The Colon Express: “Skippy LaMore, who collapsed on the show at Angola, Ind. Monday night, was taken to the University hospital in Ann Arbor this forenoon.

The opening night of the show in Vicksburg, June 1st, Skippy collapsed after doing his specialty and was taken to the Vicksburg hospital where he remained for nearly two weeks. He recovered to the extent he was able to carry on and the show played two weeks ago in Vicksburg and last week in Hillsdale. The company moved on to Angola over the week and, billed there for all this week.

Monday night, after the first act, Skippy collapsed and could not carry on. He was taken to Angola hospital. This morning he was taken by the Conklin ambulance to the University Hospital and is in very critical condition.

The show was compelled to close and there is very little chance it will be taken out again this season.

***

July 9, 1942, The Colon Express: “SKIPPY LaMORE DIES AT U. OF M. HOSPITAL. Earl “Skippy” LaMore, widely known comedian and entertainer, passed away at the University Hospital at Ann Arbor, Wednesday, July 8th, at 9:15 a.m. When the word reached the home folks here in Colon Wednesday afternoon it cast a pall of sadness along the business section and in every home. It was difficult to believe this man who was a friend to everyone, young and old, and who had lived to make others happy, and as a comedian had created a million laughs, had been taken from us.

It was known by intimate friends that Skippy was not in the best of health before going out on the road this summer, however no one realized his condition was serious until his collapse on the show. The opening night of the show in Vicksburg on June 1st, he became suddenly ill, and he was confined to the hospital for three weeks. Being true to the showman tradition, “the show must go on”, Skippy and his company fulfilled their engagement the third week under most adverse conditions.

From Vicksburg the show moved to Hillsdale the following week, and then went on to fill the booking for a week at Angola, Ind. On the opening night, Monday, June 29th, after the first act, Skippy became suddenly ill and was again taken to the hospital. On Wednesday, July 1st, his condition became most serious and he was taken to the University Hospital in Ann Arbor for observation in charge of the country’s most noted brain specialist. He died of a repeated cerebral hemorrhage.”

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Extract from The Sturgis Journal, July 9, 1942: “Funeral services for Earl (Skippy) LaMore, veteran showman and a resident of Colon since 1929, will be held Sunday at 2 p. m. from the Conklin Funeral home here. Burial will be in Lakeside Cemetery here, where the Masonic Lodge will conduct it rituals.

Lamore was born in Ohio, Oct 17, 1894. his mother died when he was only two and a half years old. On Dec. 11, 1913, he married Miss Jean Rozelle and they worked together in vaudeville, as a team, for 12 years, touring all over the United States and Canada on “big time”, and playing in New York City for several seasons. In 1930 Mr. and Mrs. Lamore opened their own show and have since covered Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. Mr. LaMore paid his first visit to Colon 27 years ago as a vaudeville entertainer. Traveling through here on the train they saw the beautiful lakes and attractive surroundings and decided to stop for a day. That was 27 years ago and they have made their home here since 1929.

LaMore shared the Michigan Tent Show Circuit with four other dramatic companies.

Beside his wife Mr. LaMore leaves his aged father in Dayton, O. He had no children.”

 

Skippy LaMore by Monk Watson

Final Curtain Skippy LaMore

 

August 1942, by Monk Watson: “”The show must go on” is a pet saying by a lot of people who, if they were ever put to the test, would fold up like an old umbrella, and high tail for a soft spot. Such, however, was not the case with the late Skippy LaMore.

In my last column I mentioned that Harry Blackstone, Mel Melson and myself had gone over to Vicksburg to help him out. Skippy was so bent on putting on his show, so that the others could go along without a layoff, that he overdid it. They placed his cot up on the stage and he would relax on it between his lines. He did this for two weeks, and every­one seemed to think he was getting better, but after his first show in Angola, Ind., he fell again. He was rushed to the hospital in Ann Arbor, where the best brain specialists could study his case. Skippy passed away last Wed­nesday morning, July 8. Sunday he was buried in the Lakeside cemetery here in Colon.

One of the fine things I have to remember was how he pulled his cot up in the entrance so that he could watch me do my act. He laughed so loud, and when I came off stage he told me that it was the best laugh he had had in years. That was better than all he could have ever paid me.

I believe in the saying “The show must go on,” but, when it is liable to cut your own life string just a little shorter, then I say, “Think well before going on.”

I was mighty glad to see J. Elder Blackledge walk in on my show in Traverse City the other night, and we had a nice chat after the show. We are going to trade a couple of tricks in the near future, and I’m sure that I’ll come out best. However, I have one for him that will fit his kind of work. I’d be very happy to see him in action, because I have heard noth­ing but good about J. Elder Blackledge.

I drove up to Allegan last Sunday to see Lewis Bros. Circus. Paul Lewis and I have been pals for years, and I thought it would be a good idea to see what he had to offer.

This will sound like a Ringling billing, and it was for a while, but Lewis is presenting Dorothy Herbert, the world’s greatest rider. I’ve watched this girl for a long time and have marveled at the way she takes the jumps, with head back on the horse and both hands free. She takes the horse over a six-foot jump with top pole burning. I understand that she had a buster one day and broke her leg. This didn’t stop her, as she finished the season with one leg in a cast and riding sidesaddle over the jumps. She took my daughter, Marnie, back to her dressing room and they had a long talk about circus life. Whitey Ford, “The Duke of Paducah”, is on the show, leaving it on Friday night to fly to Chicago for his broadcast. Whitey is a swell chap and does a fine act on the show. This is without a doubt the best little show on the road. They have five or six other acts that would be a credit on any circus.

I’ll never forget how I ran away from home, at the age of fifteen, to join up with a circus, and how I traveled all over Michigan, feeding the animals, and sleeping on the flat cars under the parade wagons. Spot Jerome was a clown from Jackson, and he was on the show, so he took me under his wing and before I left them I could turn almost any kind of a flip-flop, and had made a couple of dives in the high net. What a kick I get out of being able to recall some of my pals of those days, who are still headliners. Last year I saw “Blutch”, the Hippodrome clown. He looked at me and said, “I know you.” He should, too, because we were good friends back in the old days. I guess I’d better stop here or I’ll be out smell­ing some barn yard ere I go to bed tonight, just to get that old feeling again. Haw!

Mel and I are going over to do a show for the boys in Fort Custer tomorrow night. We’ll either give them some laughs or make them so mad they’ll want to go out and fight. Enough for now, I’ve got to write to Ed Little, and thank him for a nice letter, also Larry (Capt.) Niendorf. Bye Again, and Buy Again.”