EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is another article on Findlay area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier. Information for the current series on Findlay “live” theaters came from the research of the late Don Smith of Findlay.
By R.L. HEMINGER
When the Marvin Theater burned down in November 1930, the book was closed on a period of time that had seen history made in the entertainment field within the local community.
The list of theatrical stars who appeared on the stage of the Marvin Theater, between the time it opened in 1893 and through the ensuing 37 years it was a Findlay institution, is a very long one. It has not been preserved in its entirety, but enough names can be recalled to tell the story.
On the Marvin’s stage, some of Findlay’s own talent made early appearances in their careers. Tell Taylor, of “Down by the Old Mill Stream” fame, appeared before the public for the very first time at the Marvin in a home talent production. Marilyn Miller, the famous musical comedy star, was seen here a number of times in the popular “Five Columbians” act, in which members of her family shared billing. Marie Dressler, when still a young girl who had come to Findlay with her musician father during the oil and gas boom in the early 1890s, was seen in home talent shows on the Marvin stage. She later, of course, went on to fame as a great star of stage and movies.
Some of the figures of towering importance, theatrically, who trod the Marvin’s boards included Lillian Russell, Schumann Heink, Eva Tanguay, Anna Eva Fay, Douglas Fairbanks, Ruth St. Dennis, Minnie Maddern Fisk and George Arliss. Today’s generation may not remember them, but in their time they were the ruling stars.
Bands and orchestras of fame were here frequently. The huge stage of the Marvin provided them lots of room and they were glad to appear here for that reason.
On April 18, 1903, Victor Herbert brought his musical organization to Findlay to appear at the Marvin. “Master of Melody Delights large crowd at Marvin Theater” read the headline in the Morning Republican the next day. “Victor Herbert’s superb orchestra wins full-hearted praise from music lovers of the Brilliant City,” continued the article. At that time Findlay was known as “The Brilliant City” because of its well-illuminated Main Street, where arches of gas lights had spanned the thoroughfare at frequent intervals when the boom was at its height.
John Philip Sousa, a musical leader of equal fame in those days, came to Findlay Sept. 23, 1903 for a program at the Marvin. The theater was then celebrating its 10th anniversary.
Minstrel shows were always popular at the Marvin. A.G. Fields and other minstrel celebrities came here regularly. They always gave a parade down Main Street to attract attention to their show.
Prominent figures in the sports fields — Bob Fitzsimmons, once boxing title holder, and John L. Sullivan, also a champion — were Marvin attractions. Fitzsimmons, who had as his manager Frank James, brother of the famous desperado Jesse James, had a trained lion act for the Marvin audience.
There were lecturers of note who spoke from the Marvin stage. William Jennings Bryan, three times unsuccessful candidate for president of the United States, was here several times. James Whitcomb Riley, Hoosier poet, read his poetical works at one time early in the 1900s. Russell Conwell, of Philadelphia, famous as the author of “Acres of Diamonds,” was heard at the Marvin. Booker T. Washington, the famous black leader, spoke at the Marvin once.
Nov. 9, 1917 saw Madame Sarah Bernhardt, of France, on the Marvin stage. She would probably rank as the greatest theatrical star to ever appear at the Marvin. Some years before she had lost one of her lower limbs, and thereafter always appeared on the stage, seated on a lounge. When here, she gave some of her famous characterizations, such as Cleopatra and Portia. “It was worth going miles to see her,” said the Morning Republican the next day. The newspaper’s review was written by Miss Florence Blackford, for some years a news writer for Findlay newspapers.
Mme. Bernhardt traveled in a special Pullman car, which was switched off at North Findlay. She was then driven to Findlay. With her in her car was her special rosewood coffin in which she wanted to be buried when she died. She carried it with her at all times.
Next: A new theater appears on the scene in Findlay.