Jan 1st – 100 Years Ago in Winnipeg Vaudeville

On January 1st 1920 there was a lot of variety on the Winnipeg stages.


Orpheum Theatre 283 Fort Street. Heading the bill is Charlie Grapewin. Another veteran vaudevillian that we’ve all been watching on the big screen for years.

Still don’t know who he is? Here’s a bit of his bio from Wikipedia:
Born in Xenia, Ohio, Charles Grapewin ran away from home to be a circus acrobat which led him to work as an aerialist and trapeze artist in a traveling circus before turning to acting. He traveled all over the world with the famous P. T. Barnum circus. Grapewin also appeared in the original 1903 Broadway production of The Wizard of Oz, 36 years before he would appear in the famous Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film version.

So who did he play in the Wizard of Oz?

Also on the bill is Lois Josephine, seen here with her husband and dance partner Wellington Cross.

Also on the Orpheum bill was Francis Renault, one of the most famous female impersonators.

Antonio Auriemma was born in Naples, and was raised in Providence, Rhode Island. In the early days of his career, he worked in Vaudeville as Francis Renault. He got his break replacing Julian Eltinge in a touring version of his Broadway show.

++In 1913 he performed in Atlanta and contested local ordinance banning cross-dressing, to the consternation of the local police.

He made his reputation impersonating the famous actress Lillian Russell, and like her he wore expensive gowns. Renault’s show became famous for his costumes, and each Friday afternoon they would be displayed for ladies to come and see. He also had a great falsetto voice.

In 1924, after a European tour, he opened his own club in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Unlike Julian Eltinge he would wear his female costumes in the street in towns where he was touring. This created publicity for the show, but he was arrested several times, notably in Dallas where a policeman who had seen the show and recognized him, arrested him while he was on his way to Weil’s Department Store to exhibit his $5,000 wardrobe.

Out of costume he was a strong and masculine man, with many male admirers, one of whom was the young Archie Leach before he changed his name to Cary Grant. In his last years, Francis sang at Carnegie Hall billing himself as ‘The Last of the Red Hot Poppas”.

In 1945 he was crippled with polio, and was paralyzed for two years. He overcame this and returned to performing at Carnegie Hall.

And this is just a small sampling of the Orpheum Bill. 100 years ago there were over 40 theatres in full-swing in Winnipeg.

This is just a sampling from the Orpheum Bill. Just look at the other theatres, attractions and movies 100 years ago in Winnipeg.

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