As one of the world’s oldest trade magazines — dating back to 1894 — the Billboard archive is an invaluable historical record on American culture and its revolutionary entertainment industry. Welcome then to .Biz’s regular From The Archive column, which delves into content from our 119 year history. This week: volume 20, issue No. 46 from Nov. 14 1894, when our publication, then called “The Billboard,” covered “Theatre, Circuses, Parks & Fairs” and cost a whopping 10¢. Here are taciturn circus elephants, skating rink news, “equilibrists” like The Two Franks, Wurlitzer ads and even references to the 31st Presidential election between William H. Taft and William Jennings Bryant.
The cover subject, actor Henry E. Dixey, turns up in a glowing review in the Greater New York column on the theatre production of “In The Devil,” which played at New York’s Garden Theatre on Nov. 2, 1908. Dickey, who plays the devil, is called “one of our most versatile actors, one of the most popular ones who always gets a rousing reception…”
Interestingly, in 1908 the Billboard masthead listed only one staffer: W.H. Donaldson, the managing editor. The magazine the was published out of Cincinnati and our phone number in 1908 had only four digits. 115 years ago Billboard had an office in Melbourne Australia — where today our top-notch correspondent Lars Brandle carries the torch.
The book opens up with “Observations of the Stroller: On Amusement Life and Environment Stories & Anecdotes” column, which, much to the cover line’s promise, begins with an anecdote from the circus. The yarn involves a volatile baby elephant from the Barnes Show circus named Ruby. While the pachyderm laboriously rehearsed new tricks to the tune “The Merry Widow’s Waltz” performed by a live band, a gust of wind blew the bandleader’s sheet music to the ground. Ruby then “seized upon the objects of her aversion and with true elephantine neatness dispatch them one by one with her trunk to her mouth and proceed to chew them up with much gusto…The leader of the band made a frantic effort to rescue his precious waltz, but Ruth was not to be cajoled, even by the aid of lumps of sugar offered to tempt her to spit out the quavers and demi-semi quavers of Lehar’s masterpiece.”
The last piece Billboard did on an elephant was likely the White Stripes album.
In November of 1908 the issue coincided with the 31st Presidential election which saw Theodore Roosevelt’s successor William Taft square off against populist William Jennings Bryant. Under the headline “Elections do Little Damage to Business In Kansas City,” the report by Roderic St. Fleure examines thriving theatre scenes in cities across the American heartland, including Kansas City, Omaha, Milwaukee and Minneapolis — despite “fever-heat interest in the election”.
While the music section from 1908 may bare little resemblance to today’s Billboard Music Section (our current issue‘s Music section opens with rock-rapper Tech N9ne whose YouTube video for “Demons” featuring Three 6 Mafia has so far received 6.6 million views), it does include stories on forty European opera singers who arrived via French ocean liner who were to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House; a story on the renovation of the Shapiro’s, a sheet music concern; new songs by Witmark Music for theatrical productions including one called “How’d You Like to Be an Octopus?” and another entitled “If You Were I and I Were You” which is described as a “catchy little duet that should appeal to lovers of classy songs”; and a story on Miss Helen Murray, “a little Girl with the big voice.” The page-long section also features dispatches from Philadelphia, Chicago and Cleveland.
How could Billboard live up to its claim of “America’s Leading Amusement Weekly” without a Skating Rink column (or lucrative ads from skating concerts like Richardson Roller Skates — “the good kind”)?
The above Military Band Organ ad by Wurlitzer, marketed to skating rink owners, is of course “far better than a human band, and you can own one for what the band would cost for only a few months’ work…after that your music costs you NOTHING except for a few new paper music rolls occasionally …”
Anyone need a railroad car?
You had us at Ostrich Farm.
We see the Lyman Twins but who are the sextuplets and octuplets?
We’re sure sending thier “regards to all friends” was
what got The Two Franks “booked solid”