Sunday, May 10, 2009

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.

Go to Chapter 3
Go Back to Chapter 1

1 comment:

Robby Cress said...

Wonderful post! I love that people used to write postcards and letters. Today, so much of this correspondence would be lost in emails and phone texts. It's a shame.