Thursday, May 14, 2009

Samaroff and Sonia - A Love Story in Postcards - Chapter 4

The trip into Canada appears to included stops in Victoria, British Columbia, and Vancouver. He was touring with his partners.

Performing as the Bellatzer Sisters, Ella and her family continued their tour.

Ella sent this card from Topeka. In it, she references the postcard from Donat that included a bit of Russian.

A card dropped in the mail in Kansas City and postmarked the 16th of February notes a two hour layover before they could board a train to Chicago.
A second card, also postmarked the same day from Kansas City adds a little more detail and her plans to soon send a letter. The letters were not included in the collection.

Postcards to Ella are sent to Chicago, addressed general delivery, from Seattle on February 18, but don't catch up to her until March 9th.

Donat's cards from Vancouver are sent to the Hippodrome in Cleveland, Ohio. Another stop on the tour for the sisters was Shedys Theater in Fall River, Mass.

Donat was off to Spokane, Washington, where he lost his fountain pen, then to Missoula, Montana, where he wrote about a fire and his new pen. Ella was on her way to New York City. She would settle at 265 W 38th Street in what appears to be an apartment or boarding house. The sisters were on a break from the road.

From the Times Square Station she sent Easter greetings to her husband as he made his way across Colorado.

Based on the postmarks, he spent around six weeks in and around the Denver area.

In Billings, on March 31st, he spoke of the snow, and his desire to get to Denver.

On April 7th from Denver, he sent Easter greetings, followed a day later by a Birthstone card to his bride. Her birthday would arrive at the end of the month.

Around April 12, he played his first show at the Earl Theater in Pueblo, Colorado after a week in Denver.

He sent Ella this card, joking

"Send money, I am stranded. I am walking to New York to see my D."

Donat would often use an abbreviation of "D. E." to start his cards.

On May 4th Donat celebrated his birthday.

He followed with another card.

"I hope we want have (sic) as many."


In total he sent seven cards from Colorado Springs between May 4th and May 11th to Ella in New York, including this beautiful double card.

He followed the Colorado Springs shows with a week in Cripple Creek, a former ranching area that boomed with the discovery of gold in 1891. "It's 12,000 feet above the Sea Level," noted Donat. "Its very hard to breed (sic)."

On May 21 he dropped a card in the mail with an image of the U.S. Government building in Kansas City. It was postmarked Chicago. After months on the road, separated from his wife, Donat was finally headed home.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Samaroff and Sonia - A Love Story in Postcards - Chapter 3

According to the Elks News article,
Donat immediately fell in love with her and one week later they were married in Los Angeles.
Based on the postmarks, it appears the courtship was quick, but the time that elapsed was closer to a month. They were married on January 21st.

The article continues.
They formed a double act with the dogs and did Russian dances and as a team played together for twenty five years.
While the statement is true, it condenses a tale of true love that should be told.

If indeed, absence makes the heart grow fonder, the young couple were about to find out.

A card postmarked Los Angeles on January 28, was sent to Miss Ella Bellatzer Bedini. Featuring the name "Bedini" written next to the groom and "Ella" written next to the bride, it was sent to Denver - the next stop on the Bellatzer's tour.

On a card showing Main Street in L.A. dated the 28th, Ella penned a note to her new husband,

Dear Donat,

Leave to day for Denver with best love and kisses

Your Wife


It was sent to him at the Grand Theatre in Reno, Nevada, where he was scheduled to play.

Note the tilt of the stamp.

En route to Reno, Donat sent the following card, postmarked January 30 in Plano, California, with a reference to her heritage.

He then sent a leather postcard to his new bride once he arrived in Reno, later in the day.

On February 8, his bride dropped a matching postcard, featuring artwork by the same postcard artist, to Donat from Denver. It was addressed to him in care of the Pantages Theater in Portland, Oregon, his next stop on the tour.

A postcard, not in the collection, shows the theater in Portland.

Donat may have thought this was his Valentine from his bride. He was touched, and responded with the following card, postmarked February 9 from Portland. Ella and her family were headed east, with the next stop in Topeka, Kansas, and he addressed it accordingly. Note the stamp.

Following his first performance at the Pantages, Donat prepared his Valentine's Day card for his wife. It is postmarked February 10.

She followed up with yet another leather card, postmarked on the 13th of Feburary and sent from Denver. This may have been the card she intended as her Valentine gift to her husband.

Next, Donat played shows in Seattle. He was headed to Canada.

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Samaroff and Sonia - A Love Story in Postcards - Chapter 2

As one would expect, the life of a vaudeville performer was filled with adventure and travel to mysterious cities in far off lands. This was especially true for those that made their move from the old country to the land of promise known as America.

For Donat Butowick (or Butterwick, as he was called in the April 20, 1948 edition of the Muskegon Elks News and the Reporter), life began on May 4, 1877 in Samara, Russia, a village located on the Volga River.

At the tender age of eight years he left home to join a Chek organ grinder and learned to be an acrobat and contorionist (sic), and spent the next two years with him. He then joined a circus in Rostoff (sic) and apprenticed himself until sixteen and took up acrobatic tight wire acting and trick horse riding. When he reached the age of sixteen, he was a finished circus performer and receiving 25 rubles a month, or $12.50 on which he was required to feed himself. He played with several circuses in Russia until he was 21 and then having no desire to serve in the Czar's Army leave (sic) Russia for England.
Butowick joined the Lord George Sanger Circus, one of the largest in England. The circus played a command performance for Queen Victoria at Balmoral Castle in 1899.

By 1906, Butowick had worked up a dog act, moved on to vaudeville and had crossed the ocean, performing with the stage name Bedini. Entertaining in the United States from coast to coast, acquaintances and friends stayed in touch via postcard.

(Click on the images for a larger view of the document)

(An advertisement for the 5 Bellatzer Sisters, performing during the week of August 18, 1907 at the Luna Park in Buffalo)

In late December of 1907, he was in California. While visiting San Jose, he was watching a high wire trapeze act when he fell in love.

Miss Ella Bellatzer, another vaudeville performer, was part of a family act, touring as the "Five Bellatzer Sisters". Of German descent, currently little is known of her background.

Their acquaintance was brief as both were on the road. Vaudeville performers, in general, would move from theater to theater and from town to town on a weekly basis. Ella and her family would soon head to San Francisco to perform at the 16th Street Theatre. Donat was scheduled to perform in San Jose in January.

But that did not prevent a courtship.

Ella, it appears, sent the first postcard. Bedini was performing, coincidentally, in San Francisco.

"A Cat and a White Rat", she notes on the front of a leather card postmarked December 26, 1907 and addressed to Donat in San Francisco. The White Rat statement is, no doubt, a reference to the union formed by performers to battle powerful theater owners and vaudeville managers in 1900.

Awaiting the delivery of his baggage, Donat sent the next card from San Jose.

On January 8, 1908, he mailed two more to Ella in San Francisco.

"Did you get my letters and p.c" he asks on a card postmarked January 12, 1907 that shows the ruins of San Francisco's business district following the earthquake of April 18, 1906. On the back he notes that he's headed to Bakersfield.

Apparently, the card arrived after the Ella's family had departed, and the card was forwarded on to Stockton.

A card postmarked January 14th, 1908 addressed to Miss Ella Bellatzer showed Donat posed with, one assumes, other performers in front of the Wigwam Theatre. Bedini was second on the bill of acts.

The next postcard showed a flower, and was sent to the Novelty Theatre in Stockton.

"You have not changed your mind yet have you." wrote Donat on a card postmarked January 16th.

The following day, he sent another.

"Wait till Los Angeles," were Donat's only words.

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